Churches often hold garage sales, usually to raise money for a mission project or to pay for an unfunded need. A few years ago, The Rev. Mark Dyer, a distinguished Christian pastor, suggested that the worldwide church is now engaged in a “giant rummage sale” in an effort to shed some things of the past that have become impediments to growth and prosperity in the modern world, making room for yet unrealized new forms of worship and to relate more easily to the changing world.

More recently the (now) late Phyllis Tickle (that’s really her name), an important scholar of religion and a writer, chose “The Great Emergence” to describe that same tidal wave of change that is currently washing over the Christian church around the globe and especially in the U.S.

We now talk about the “emergent” or “emerging” church in reference to what is going on in Christian churches in this country. It seems that no single definition has taken hold within that context, but the consensus clearly favors the old concept, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

Whichever definition one chooses, it’s clear that change is afoot within the Christian church, and from that will emerge new ideas and new forms of worship. No one is saying it’s the end of Christianity or the end of the Christian church. Actually, it’s the beginning — the beginning of a new way of seeing and doing things.

The important thing to remember is the church has been at this place before, and it’s a very slow-moving process. In fact, folks who study this sort of thing think the change process we are beginning today will take a least a century before we settle into a new understanding of the relationship of the church to the world.

The history of the Christian church does, in fact, reveal a pattern of 500-year cycles of change. The one preceding our current cycle was fueled by what we now call the Great Reformation, which began in the early 1500s and came to maturity a century later. The church adjusted and got bigger.

Five hundred years before the Reformation was the Great Schism that saw the permanent split between the western and the eastern churches, but the church as a whole continued to thrive. And 500 years earlier was marked by the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginnings of what is now called the dark ages. The church struggled but managed to regain its footing and grow stronger.

What emerged each time was a stronger more relevant Christian church.

And, of course, 500 years before the medieval cycle began, we saw the birth of Jesus and subsequently the foundation of the church. So, every 500 years since then, there has been a major upheaval within the church in the world, but each time, the church has adjusted, progressed, responded and thrived.

Change is not much fun for most, and it can exact a high price of dissension, disagreements,and disappointment. Yet, the ultimate result of change is usually positive even when we can’t see it right away. We tend to hang on to our normal nostalgia for the way things were. That’s true in almost all settings and the church is no exception.

In a review of Tickle’s groundbreaking book, “The Great Emergence,” we are reminded that Protestantism will continue to be around, the Catholic church will continue to influence millions and the dizzying array of denominations will continue to focus on specific ideologies.

Maybe in the future we will have fewer churches through some system of consolidation, but then again maybe we will have more, smaller, personal communities of worship. Perhaps Christian worship will happen even more in places other than brick-and-mortar sanctuaries — like homes, fast-food establishments or even taverns.

And who knows where technology will take us in the future? We are already embracing sermons and lectures via electronic means. Are there stadium-size jumbotrons in the future of the Christian church? Who knows?

The real question for the Christian church is just what will it get rid of in the rummage sale, and what new will be brought in to fill the vacated spaces? The likely results will be a healthy synthesis of the old and the new, of traditional relevance with newly relevant, of familiar and innovative.

I’m pretty sure there will still be pews, but maybe they will have video screens. Cue the preacher!

James Knight is a former journalist and university administrator who has occupied pews in numerous Protestant churches for many years.