Knowledge Velocity, Draft Horses, and the Future of the Church

May 13, 2024

The way people live has changed more between today and 1924 than it did between 1924 and 1024. Put another way, the human experience has changed more in the last 100 years than the 1,000 years before that. 

Knowledge velocity, or the rate at which knowledge doubles, has accelerated from every 100 years by the early 1900’s, to every 25 years by 1942. By 1982, our collective knowledge doubled every 13 months. And currently, it is believed to be every 12 hours. 

“I’ve been leading for a while now, but to be honest, leadership has never felt like this.”

These are words I’ve heard from countless leaders across continents, and the truth is clear: We are leading in unprecedented, uncharted times. We can tangibly sense how the world we live in continues to grow more and more complex, and less and less certain by the day. 

As we lead and plant churches with and for the next generation, we are increasingly at risk of irrelevance. Irrelevance occurs when the rate of change outside of an organization exceeds the rate of change within. Irrelevance is rarely intentional and often the result of past success. Our past successes are far more dangerous than our failures because success will have you repeat the behavior while failure encourages change. 

In an increasingly rapidly changing world the innovation birthed in failure can propel us to relevance and reach! Relevance being the ever-moving, accelerating target that it is, we need to become increasingly intentional in building innovative, experimenting, and agile environments more focussed on fulfilling our mission than preserving our methods.

Unfortunately, statistically the church in America, as in many places around the world, is falling behind with regards to relevance. 

Based on the current rates of retention and evangelism, projections suggest that we could see an exodus of 42 million young people from the church in the United States by 2050. It’s what some are calling “the Great Opportunity,” but many are experiencing as “the Great Dechurching.”

Martec’s Law is the principle that while changes in technology occur very rapidly, changes in organizations do not. Organizations, and leaders in particular, are finding it more and more difficult to adjust to the rate of change in the world around them. And, consequently, organizations and churches are becoming irrelevant. It’s not because the gospel is outdated. It’s not because the people whom they want to see impacted have changed as dramatically. Organizations are becoming irrelevant because they have not been able to adapt their method and message to continue reaching those they aim to impact. They settle for a diluted message in a potent world, rather than working out how to translate the ever-relevant, life-changing, eternal, destiny-altering message of Jesus for the current generation.

If we lose our opportunity as a generation to reach the next generation, it will not be for a lack of resources. There’s no lack of process, programs, plans, funding, willingness, or strategy. We are more connected to people than any generation before us. 

We understand the magnitude of the task ahead of us. Why are we falling behind and coming up short? We might be the most resourced and superficially-connected church in history, but, ironically, also the most divided. Somehow our access to resources has entrenched us in our ways, polarized us into our ideologies, and separated us into our tribes. 

The key to keeping up and the hope for the next generation of leaders and church planters lies beyond the fundamental lessons of embracing change, developing an experimental mindset, failing forward, and exegeting our culture. The key lies in something profoundly simple: Draft horses.

Yes, that’s not a typo. Draft horses have the capacity to pull immense loads of weight and were (and are still in some contexts) pivotal in taking a great load a great distance. It is said that one of these powerful animals can pull about 8,000 pounds of weight. Now, if you have two draft horses, then you would be able to double the amount of weight they can pull, right? Wrong! In reality, two draft horses working together wouldn’t be able to pull 16,000 pounds of weight between the two of them, but rather 24,000 pounds! Better yet, if you train these horses to work together and really lean on the other’s strengths, you will have them pulling 32,000 pounds together. 

Fundamentally, it’s about the belief that we’re better together. I am convinced that collaboration is the answer in a world of infinite possible connections and increased isolation. Utilizing meaningful relationships, working together in reaching the next generation. This is essentially what I think Jesus had in mind in John 17 when he prayed that we’d be one and the world would know that we are his disciples because of the unity that we have. 

In today’s fast-paced world, the need for collaboration has emerged as the single-most significant factor for mobilizing and reaching the next generation. 

Contrasted with the rapid change and the hyper connectedness, the strength of deep, meaningful relationships, the power of true partnership, and the efficiency of collaboration is increasingly counter-cultural and effective as the Jesus story advances at the speed of relationship.

We are called to shift from competition, complacency, and isolation toward collaboration, innovation, and inclusive approaches to engaging the next generation. This is the only way for us to stay relevant in a world changing faster than ever, and to lead a mission that’s just too big for us to carry by ourselves. We need one another.

Curiously, the answer to rapid change, new technology, and exponential innovation is nothing new to any of us. Yes, we are drawn back to the final evening Jesus had with his disciples (Mark 16:14-19). We are invited into the room where Jesus gave to his church, to all of us, her greatest mission, and her greatest call. I am convinced that we are anchored in this call to this very day – the call to unity.

Leadership has never been this complex. You are called to lead in unprecedented, uncharted times. Facing rapidly-changing challenges, will you choose irrelevance and isolation over collaboration and relevance? The challenge is greater than what any one of us can overcome. What can we do together that we cannot do alone?

Everyone can learn something, contribute somehow, and reach someone. And together, we can reach everyone!

Jurie Kriel

Jurie Kriel

Jurie Kriel is currently part of the senior leadership of Shoreline Church in Austin, Texas and leads NXT Move which is tasked with gathering Christian leaders to turn around the negative trajectory of Christianity in the next generation. Seeing duplication and siloed thinking as the greatest obstruction to us fulfilling the great commission, Jurie serves as the Global Director for Collaboration with the Lausanne Movement. In Texas, he served as pastor for preaching at Hill Country Bible Church and he planted a church in the urban core of Austin. In South Africa, he oversaw and planted multiple campuses with Doxa Deo and co-founded the Timothy Ministry Training Seminary which continues to train leaders that are actively involved in ministry around the world. Jurie has preached and facilitated strategic change as a leadership consultant in 36 U.S. states and 48 countries on every inhabited continent. Jurie and Karin have been joyfully married for 23 years and are blessed with two boys, Joshua and Ethan.
View Author

Related Articles