What sci-fi films can teach us about where to look for the church

A few years ago at a big church growth conference, missiologist and author, Alan Hirsch, posed the question:

“How come churches never feature in sci-fi movies?”

I’m not sure how he answered the question — I only saw the Tweet — but, as a fan of science fiction films, it made me think twice. Yes, that is a great question! Where is the church in Minority Report, Ender’s Game, and even Snowpiercer (Yes, I watched that one and it’s great!)?

Do sci-fi movies — which often have imagination and innovation on full display — never feature churches because the church seems boring and irrelevant?

Or perhaps the church is nowhere to be found because sci-fi filmmakers are offering commentary on a dying institution that won’t exist in the not-to-distant, alternate, or in-a-galaxy-far-far-away future?

Or, maybe, the church is actually present throughout this genre… We’re just looking in the wrong places!

Think about it, most sci-fi movies feature sacred/spiritual rituals (Avatar), underground communities (12 Monkeys), and/or resistance groups (The Matrix). In other words, most sci-fi movies feature some combination of spirituality, community, and mission — also known as the three main components of any ecclesiology (that is, understanding of the church).

So, in a sense, the church features all over sci-fi — we just haven’t been looking in the right places.

The same could be said about the church of the future! While churches are closing their doors, denominations and seminaries are struggling, and young people are leaving the church as they’ve known it, the truth is that beyond steeples and stages, buildings and budgets, futuristic churches and spiritual communties are emerging in neighborhoods everywhere.

As my friends Christiana Rice of Thresholds and Tim Soerens of Parish Collective recently wrote, in order to see how the church features in the future, we need to start looking in different places!

“The next chapter of God’s story of renewal might be happening so close that it’s difficult to see. Just look more intently and you’ll notice that in our backyards, across our streets and in the very center of our cities, towns, and villages, God is birthing something profoundly beautiful. Beyond our church growth charts and measurement sticks there is a movement bursting up from the ground… People everywhere are coming together to follow Jesus and join God’s renewal in every neighborhood, every sector and every culture.”

In their article, Five Hopeful Signs that Dare Us to Be the Church, they outlined the 5 vital commitments that characterize these futuristic churches. I’ve witnessed these “Five Signs of the Parish Movement” along with Christiana, Tim, Paul Sparks, and others over the past decade — especially this year as I’ve had the opportunity to visit over 30 neighborhoods — and so I added my voice to the conversation in a series of RePlacing Church Podcast episodes.

So, the next time you watch a sci-fi film and start noticing elements of church that you haven’t noticed before, consider it a reminder to open your eyes in your neighborhood and city so you can see these five vital elements of the future church!


Episode 13: On remaining awake to the divine conversation that is happening in our neighborhoods every day.


Episode 28: On how the uniqueness of each place reveals to us distinct aspects of God.


Episode 30: On how gathering in community sharpens and sustains us as we pursue the renewal of all things.


Episode 31: On how to practice collaboration instead of colonization in the neighborhood.


Episode 34: On how connecting with other communities is an ancient-future spiritual discipline.

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The RePlacing Church Podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Podbean.