Who created The Great Opportunity?
This site, and the full-length report that it is based on, was commissioned by Pinetops Foundation. Pinetops is a private foundation that looks to find innovative solutions to long-term, structural problems. Founded and run by entrepreneurs, Pinetops seeks out extraordinary leaders and communities who have the potential to create a major impact.
We approach philanthropy through the lens of our Christian faith, and we look for partners that are consistent with that approach. We generally affirm the principles found in the Lausanne Covenant. Our grant process is by invitation only; please do not send unsolicited grant requests.
Why does The Great Opportunity Exist?
The Great Opportunity is an attempt to inform practitioners and funders of the American church at a strategic level how we might do better in our faithfulness and fruitfulness as Christ’s bride. Originally, it was intended as a private work for us, but we had so much interest in the results that we are sharing the entire work freely with anyone interested.
Our goal was to discover how the foundation could best support the work of the church in America. We began by conducting a “listening tour,” speaking to as many Christian leaders in America as possible: pastors, ministry heads, funders, theologians, academics; Catholics, Evangelicals, mainline denominations, African American churches, post-denominational Charismatics, immigrant missionaries.
We had the sense that there are many excellent and remarkable ministries with which we could partner, but we lacked a way to identify our particular place to contribute, and the best stewardship of our resources.
During our conversations with Christian leaders, we asked the same question over and over: “If you could do anything to help the church be more fruitful over the next 30 years, what would it be?”
Many of the recommendations and ideas we heard reflected wisdom and understanding but, understandably, were a reflection of specific, anecdotal experiences.
What we lacked was a comprehensive answer to our question, linking theology, church history, good data, and practical ministry into a point of view of how fruitful we are now– and how we can bear more fruit in the future. So, we launched into months filled with research, statistical models, and historical trend analysis. The result took the form of this report, “The Great Opportunity: The American Church in 2050.”
What we found challenged many of our assumptions.
We now believe we are at a pivotal moment in the life of the American church, and if we can move quickly, we believe that tens of millions of young people who would otherwise walk away from a life with Christ will know him.
Our Guiding Principles
The Great Opportunity is a report for practitioners, and not theologians, sociologists, or church historians (though we spoke with many who were!). It is not intended to be a theological analysis of the American church, nor is it an argument for or against a particular relationship between the church and culture. It is not a critique of American Christian theology, Evangelical or otherwise, nor a response to any specific event in our society.
That said, there are some guiding principles that informed our work, including:
That the church, however imperfect or frail its ministry, is the means by which God has chosen to reflect His Kingdom on this earth, and by which He equips, empowers, and forms His people to do His work in the world, to proclaim His good news and invite others to be part of the story.
That God so loved the world, including the people here in our time, that He gave Himself to bring it back to Him. We are called to model that missional, sacrificial love just as Christ did for us.
That it is our calling as Christians to go into every part of this world and invite others to come back to Him. It is our hope that, when accepting the invitation, they would enter into a different community. It is our goal that they would be taught, apprenticed, and discipled—knowing Christ more and thus becoming more like Him.
That Christians are sent to be good in the world, acting as salt and light in a decaying, darkening place, helping those in need, both spiritually and physically. That is part of what it is to be like Jesus.
We should make the most of our time and be concerned about the world, but we are also not fearful of our time in history. As Richard Neuhaus said, “We have not the right to despair because despair is a sin, and finally we have not the reason to despair quite simply because Christ is risen.”
Much of the work of this report was done in collaboration with The Veritas Forum through their Veritas Labs initiative. Without the leadership and tremendous effort of David Hobbet and Andrew Schuman, this report would not have been possible; Pinetops cannot envision a better partner with whom to work.
Over the course of the project we spoke with many remarkable leaders across the body of Christ here in the United States. The opinions and perspectives in this report are those of the Pinetops Foundation alone; we are grateful for the counsel and perspectives from such a diverse group, including:
- Alec Hill
- Andy Crouch, Templeton Foundation
- Angel Maldonado, The & Campaign
- April and Craig Chapman
- Bethany Jenkins, The Gospel Coalition
- Bill Wichterman
- Bob Doll
- Brad Hickey, Fuller Seminary
- Brent Leatherwood, ERLC
- Brett Fuller, Grace Covenant Church
- Brian Boitmans, ExploreGod.com
- Byron Johnson, Baylor University
- Christian Smith, University of Notre Dame
- Bishop Claude Alexander, The Park Church
- Conrad Hackett, Pew Research Center
- Craig Ellis, Redeemer Presbyterian Church
- Dave Blanchard, Praxis
- David Austin, Murdock Charitable Trust
- David Bailey, Arrabon
- David Eaton, Axis.org
- David Olson, Evangelical Covenant Church
- Ed Stetzer, Wheaton College
- Edward Dixon, Duke Center for Christianity and Scholarship
- Eugene Cho, Quest Church
- Evan Loomis, Saturn Five
- Grant Wacker, Duke University
- Greg Jones, Duke University
- Greg Smith, Pew Research Center
- James Hunter, University of Virginia
- Jason Malec, American Bible Society
- Jeff Bass, Emmanuel Gospel Center
- Jeff Wright, Urban Ministries
- John Green, University of Akron
- John Inazu, Washington University, St. Louis
- John Kingston, Six Seeds
- John Moon
- John Ortberg, Menlo Church
- Joshua Dubois, Value Partnership
- Joshua Kwan, Praxis
- Justin Giboney, The & Campaign
- Kara Powell, Fuller Seminary
- Mark Gornik, City Seminary of New York
- Mark Reynolds, Redeemer City to City
- Max Anderson, Saturn Five
- Michael Dittmar, Colabra
- Michael Wear, Public Square Strategies
- Mike Hamilton, Issachar Fund
- Nancy Ortberg, Transforming the Bay with Christ
- Peter Feaver, Duke University
- Phillip Bethancourt, ERLC
- Reid Maclellan
- Richard Mouw, Fuller Seminary
- Robin Wilson, University of Illinois, Urbana
- Russell Moore, ERLC
- Ryan Olson, University of Virginia
- Scott Kauffmann, Praxis Labs
- Shaila Visser, Alpha Ministries
- Soren Johnson, Catholic Diocese of Arlington
- Steve Hinkle, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
- Steve Moore, Murdock Charitable Trust
- Thomas Kidd, Baylor University
- Tim Schultz, First Amendment Partnership
- Tod Bolsinger, Fuller Seminary
- Todd Peterson
- Tom Lin, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
In addition, a note of appreciation for Steven Harris for his support on various case studies of church history. Thank you to Sarah Clark for help in copy-editing the report. Column Five did excellent work on design and layout on a short fuse. Metaleap Creative did a great job capturing the spirit of the report for this site.
Ultimately, thanks be to God for giving us the opportunity to labor with Him.