The Ten-Year Century

August 12, 2009

In a fascinating article published this week, Tom Hayes and Michael S. Malone argue that we have entered the era of the “ten-year century,” by which they mean that the pace of life has so rapidly accelerated that what used to happen in a century now happens in a decade.

Changes that used to take generations—economic cycles, cultural shifts, mass migrations, changes in the structures of families and institutions—now unfurl in a span of years. Since 2000, we have experienced three economic bubbles (dot-com, real estate, and credit), three market crashes, a devastating terrorist attack, two wars and a global influenza pandemic.

We have all heard it said that the whole store human knowledge is doubling at an amazing rate. Some sources say every 14 months. Others say every five to seven years. The real point is that what used to take centuries now takes only a few years. In 2007 an Intel computer chip the size of a thumbnail completed one trillion mathematical calculations per second, making it the first teraflop chip. In 2008 an even more advanced computer broke the petaflop barrier, computing over one quadrillion operations per second. And then there is nanotechnology that creates machines that work at the molecular level (Sean Flynt, “The World in 2025,” Seasons, Summer 2009, pp. 16-17).

It’s not just change, it’s the dizzying rate of change. If things seem to be moving faster today, that’s because they really are. We see real-time events from the battlefield that would have taken weeks to report during World War II or months during the Civil War. Those same reports from distant lands might have taken a year or more to arrive in the ancient world. But we see in real time from Iraq or Afghanistan or some remote village in Pakistan.

So this is our world. Welcome to the Ten-Year Century. What does this mean for ministry in the 21st-century? 

1. We’ll have to learn faster how to learn faster.

2. Everyone in the church is now connected electronically.

3. Top-down leadership styles won’t work very well. People want to be included in the process.

4. Churches that refuse to use the Internet might as well put up a sign that reads, “If you’re under 30, look elsewhere.”

5. Long-range planning means thinking about 2010 and 2011. Forget about 2019. That’s a century from now.

6. We’ll need to focus more, find a few things we can do well, and communicate like crazy.

7. The same technology that allows us to multiply campuses will eventually create “global local churches.”

8. Attention spans are likely to be shorter because people are constantly being bombarded with information.

9.We’ll have to cut out some of the committee-laden bureaucracy that has grown up in many churches. It’s like spiritual kudzu, stifling growth by talking things to death.

10. Churches will have no choice but to adapt to change quicker than in the past. Those that don’t adapt will slowly wither and die. 

11. We’ll do more and more Bible teaching, discipleship, prayer and mentoring over the Internet. 

12. In urban areas (which is where most of the world will be living) churches will have to cope with highly transient populations. In the past we could count on having families stay in the same church for 30 years. Now we’ll be fortunate to have them for 18-24 months. That means rethinking our whole approach to discipleship. We’re going to train young leaders who will end up serving in some other church.

13. In an era of rapid change, building trust takes an even higher priority. 

14. Foundational teaching will become very important. We’ll have to go “back to basics” every year or so in our teaching and preaching. We can’t assume that our own people truly understand what we say we believe. 

15. And, finally, one of my favorite words applies here. Nimble. Check it out. In the era of the “ten-year century,” change is the order of the day. Tomorrow won’t be like today. Nimble churches will thrive in this environment.

I’m excited about all this. What an incredible time to be alive. In an ever-changing world, we have the privilege of pointing people to the never-changing Christ. 

What else would you add this list? 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?