One of the hottest restaurants in my hometown of Chicago is Next. Chef Grant Achatz’s first restaurant, Alinea, has three Michelin stars and is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world. Achatz wanted his second restaurant, Next, to be unlike anything before it. Rather than a set menu and permanent decor, Next becomes a completely different restaurant every few months. It represents a specific era and location in each entity. Next began as “Paris: 1906,” then became “Thailand.” Later, it was “Chicago Steakhouse,” followed by “Chinese: Modern.” The staff remains the same, but everything around them changes to reflect the current theme. They cannot become complacent with their jobs or burned out because something new is always on the horizon. The almost constant state of flux keeps the restaurant in high demand with customers never knowing what will come next. It is impossible for patrons to grow bored with the food or decor before a new theme arrives. Next is the perfect restaurant for the Post-Modern/ADHD Generation. There is no there there, but whatever is there will not be there for long.
Here’s an uninspired prediction: A church will copy Next’s approach of constant identity shifting. Imagine, a church operates as a typical seeker-sensitive mega-church for three months. The next week, instead of exposed ductwork and video screens, the congregation finds a high-church sanctuary, complete with an altar, vestments, candles, incense, liturgy, and choir. Three months later, the church becomes Anabaptist, with house churches replacing the corporate gathering and the temporary suspension of church offices (the staff still gets paid, we aren’t that Anabaptist). Each individual shares how God speaks to him or her, rather than the pastor proclaiming, “Thus saith the Lord.” This theme could be followed by a season of Fundamentalist America. Men come to church in suits and starched collars; women wear dresses and hats. They sing hymns such as “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “Rescue the Perishing.” The pastor preaches like Billy Graham and stalks the stage like Billy Sunday. Every year or so, the church returns to its seeker-sensitive roots for a reset before it launches a new theme. Next church could move its location with each new theme, similar to a pop-up store. Rent the building of a dying mainline church for a Protestant Liberal identity, then move to a fair-trade coffee shop for a Hipster theme.
￼Next church could become the model for the Post-Modern era of ecclesiastical vacuousness. Those like Rob Bell who refuse to recognize any boundary of orthodoxy, even the Nicene Creed, can change their church’s theology as often as they change their water filter. Why have no confession when you can have all the confessions? Brian McLaren and other po-mo Christians who deny the exclusivity of Christianity could adopt a temporary theme of Buddhism or New Age. Rather than merely professing tolerance for other Christian traditions or non-Christian faiths, Next church actually becomes them. Post-moderns could maintain their doctrinal skepticism shrouded in faux humility as they walk in the shoes, or sandals, or purple Nikes of other traditions and religions.
I hope that I am as successful in uninspired prophecy as Harold Camping. Do not be surprised, though, if you see a billboard for Next church coming soon to a cathedral, converted warehouse, or biker bar near you.