With the acknowledged anti-institutional paradigm shift of religiosity in the Pacific Northwest, people from all avenues—ministerial, sociological and historical—are curious as to the future expressions and allowances of faith given the Sacro-Egoistical (radical individualism) embrace in modernity. The study and research done during the Knox 2007 McMinnville Project provided some evidence and clues to the spiritual paths of Oregonians.

Based on the survey data and personal interviews of random citizens in that typical Oregonian city, future believers will hold personal piety and spirituality as a major priority, although perhaps not as high a priority as God, Jesus, and the Christian faith. This will manifest itself in a social activism in the community (and often outside of normal work and home residency) wherein the church will try to reflect a merciful and gracious deity to the world and each other. Richard Flory and Donald Miller write,

Post-Boomers represent a new religious type, what we are calling ‘expressive communalism,’ in which they are seeking spiritual experience and fulfillment in embodied form through community and through various expressive forms of their spirituality, both private and public.

Dan Kimball states, “We need to be the light of Jesus and the living gospel to them [people outside the church], building their trust in us so that they will be ready to listen.”

Moreover, according to Kimball, future churchgoers will know that “Sacred space is not limited to traditionally religious buildings.” Mary Sawyer claims, “They must daily seek ways to be in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.” Calling oneself a follower of Jesus will come with a price and a duty—how did Jesus interact with the world, what were his priorities/goals, and what did Jesus expect of his Disciples? Thus, the church, according to Robert Wuthnow,

. . . will be less concerned with achieving its ends through politics alone and more devoted to the ideals of service, caring for the poor and disadvantaged, promoting community, reconciliation, and the transmission of values through teaching and training the young.

Future churchgoers in McMinnville will strive to avoid the old legalism of the past. They will seek a pure understanding of Christianity. One interviewee from McMinnville named Susan asserted, “What is important now is to draw close to God. Jesus was about action.” Again, it is as Soren Kierkegaard stated,

But I do maintain that I know with uncommon clarity and definiteness what Christianity is, what can be required of the Christian, what it means to be a Christian.

The future church will make great efforts to shake off the old reputation of the established Christian church for hypocrisy and complacency by replacing them with Jesus-inspired altruism and activism inside and outside of the church—being in the world, but not of the world. As Sawyer states, they (those in the future church) will,

. . . inevitably struggle with the same dilemma that has challenged prophetic, spirit-community Christians throughout history: maintaining a balance of inward spirituality and outward activism.

This new approach will most likely be an attractive element for new and existing members involved in the future church. Contrary to what some fatalists of religion are suggesting—i.e., Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, people continue to care about their spiritual journeys and take steps to cultivate their lives of faith in God. There is still commitment, albeit shifting from the church institution to more personal agendas.

An interesting characteristic observed in both the McMinnville Project surveys and the interviews was the fixture of Jesus and the Bible in people’s lives. In the congregational surveys, when asked, “Which of the following would you say is most important to you?” 36% of respondents marked, “Deepening my relationship with Christ.’ Also, when asked, ‘Do you believe in any of the following?” 90% of respondents indicated that they believed that Jesus was the son of God.

One person marked down that he had started going to church again as an adult because of his “Love for Jesus and His body;” another person wrote that he was attending because he “Loves Jesus.” One person said she was attending because she was a “born again Christian,” another said, “I accepted Christ in 1999 as an adult,” and one said she was attending because she “Came to a personal, Bible-centered relationship with Jesus Christ.” In the supplemental McMinnville Project Street Survey, one participant added at the end of the interview, “I am a big believer in the Lord and the importance of faith.”

Moreover, from the most conservative interviewee to the most liberal, several interviewees made mention of the personal importance and value of Jesus Christ in the way they worshiped, communed with God/the Central Force in the Universe, and related to others. Ben (Presbyterian) remarked, “I am hopelessly committed to the scandal of the exclusivity of Jesus.” Joan (Methodist), stated, “I see the Church dogma for what it is. However, if I see the true love of Jesus, I stay.” She explained that in her work at the Church, her “main job is to teach them about Jesus.” Susan (Methodist), said, “It [church life] is all about serving others, like Jesus.” Elizabeth (Quaker) mentioned, “To be good, churches need to focus on Christ.” Esther (Mennonite) stated, “The [church] alignment with political factions is taking the focus off of the message of Christ.” They may be resistant to the institution of the Church, but they are not critical of its founder–Jesus.

Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger provide the post-modern understanding of Jesus for ‘emerging’ Christians today. They state, “The kingdom is present wherever Jesus is present. Each person experiences the kingdom through God’s invitation, healing, and restoration.”  It is this omni-relevance to all the different Sacro approaches that keeps Jesus relevant and integral despite one’s approach to religiosity. He was anti-institutional when the Jewish leaders were oppressive (Sacro-Egoism), he often undertook personal sojourns to get right with God (Sacro-Egoism), he had several theophanies wherein God directly revealed himself to him (Sacro-Theism), he openly and magnanimously shared the good God-stuff with the marginalized and the empowered (Sacro-Communalism), and he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Sacro-Clericalism). He did not take an either-or approach to his religion or spirituality; rather, it was a holistic integration of all four approaches to spirituality.

Jesus knew where his true home was, and in his ministry on earth, he tried to help as many people as possible find the way back to the Father, to regain that righteous abode of divine love and holiness. This same goal is currently embraced by many believers in the Pacific Northwest, and it will, no doubt, be quite influential in the years to come.

Sacro-Egoism is not the only expression of faith in McMinnville. Oregon churches and religious centers will still exist for people embracing all Sacro-states. As Edward Hammett concludes, “Many are at different places along the journey—but all on a serious spiritual journey are valued and need a safe place to explore, to network, and to experience life together along the way.” As Lesslie Newbigin reflects,

We can envision a state (whether or not such a thing is a present political possibility) that acknowledges the Christian faith as true, but deliberately provides full security for those of other views.

Not everyone likes the Sacro-Egoism approach to religion; they may find it too self-centered or disrespectful. A few churches will keep the old pattern of two services—one traditional and one contemporary, but the majority of churches will adapt the more inclusive, inviting characteristics mentioned above or risk dying. As Wuthnow suggests,

as people in increasing numbers make up their own beliefs, rather than accepting established creeds, it will also be more difficult to determine whether their notions of God are actually oriented toward the supernatural or merely something higher than themselves.

No doubt some older believers will migrate to the church or churches offering a ‘traditional’ taste of old time religion (Sacro-Clericalism), but eventually the elderly there will die off and those churches, too, will feel the need for membership participation and will need to adapt to survive. As Ben (FPC) mentions, “I see the church heading to more community-based and it will take the primacy of participation out of the hands of the officials and into God’s hands.” Additionally, Elizabeth (Quaker) remarks, “I think it is important for people of different faiths to communicate with each other because I believe all seekers of truth will find parts of truth in their journey and therefore we can all learn from each other.”

In the early Christian church, during the Apostolic Period, believers regularly gathered together to worship Jesus Christ and to benefit from the fellowship. Acts 4:33-35 (NIV) states,

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

All who loved God were welcome at these love feasts regardless of their nationality or backgrounds—an aspect that drew many to this movement. Referring to the first Christians, Newbigin states:

They have become—from many races and nations—one family bound to one another in the brotherly relationships, the kinship bonds that were characteristic of the household of Israel in God’ intention.” As Flory and Miller remark, “The groups, whether newer ‘emerging’ churches or more established, [will] frame their approach in contrast to what they see as an overly institutionalized and inwardly focused church to one that is focused on building community.

The future church in the Pacific Northwest will seek the same goals–to demonstrate the respect of God for all regardless of their social standing, and to find unity in God’s love, grace, and service. It will be a place where once again, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” (Acts 4:32). Thus, a dramatic change in the operation of the future church will be its striving for unity, community, and harmony–both within the church body and with greater society.


  • John Knox

    Dr. John S. Knox is an assistant professor of biblical studies at George Fox University in Newberg, OR. He has taught on the Bible, Church History, and Religion for over a decade in traditional and online environments. He recently wrote a Christian History fiction novel called The Letter of Alon. He and his wife, Brenda, have been married for 22 years, and have two amazing boys.