3 Church Trends That Aren’t New But are Changing Rapidly

I am a trend watcher, particularly among churches in America. I am not particularly insightful or smart; I simply listen and speak to many churches. In fact, through my travels, blog, and other social media, I hear from thousands of church leaders every week.

The three church trends I’ve recently noticed are not new. What is new is that a relatively few churches embraced these concepts a few years ago. Today, they are becoming normative. These three approaches have moved from the category of “exception” to the category of “mainstream.”

Changing Trend #1: Entry Point or New Member Classes

When I wrote High Expectations in 1999, I talked about the very early trend of churches requiring a class before granting membership to someone. In other words, a membership class was an emerging facet of expectations for church members.

Today, membership classes are pervasive. In an informal survey I did this year of churches with over 250 in worship attendance, more than 80 percent had some type of entry point class as a requisite for membership. In 1999, that number would have been less than 10 percent.

Changing Trend #2: Churches with Multiple Venues

I have to admit that the growth of multiple venues in churches has caught me by surprise. More and more churches have multiple campuses. More and more churches have multiple venues on the same campus.

One of the studies I am hoping to tackle in the next few months is the growth of larger churches with multiple venues versus the churches with one venue or site. I’ll let you know how that develops.

Changing Trend #3: The Growth of the Executive Pastor Role

Just a few years ago, the executive pastor role was largely reserved for very large churches. Indeed, there was a time when I rarely saw an executive pastor on staff in a church under 3,000 in worship attendance.

If current trends continue, the executive pastor will become the second full time pastor to join a church staff in a majority of churches. That is quite a change from ten years ago! The executive pastor is now seen as a complement to the senior pastor. In other words, the executive pastor is typically gifted and wired in ways that the senior pastor is not.

As a consequence, executive pastors are becoming more common in smaller churches, even churches with less than 200 in attendance. Watch for this new trend to grow.

What do you think of these three new changing trends?

Keep in mind, the trend itself is not new; it’s the growth rate of the trend. What would you add?

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Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

Rosalie Garde — 11/09/13 11:44 pm

My husband has said he will never become a member again, he'll go just not become a member. We'd job transferred with his company several times, and each church wanted us to go to a 101 class all over again, sometimes get up in front of the church to say why we wanted to become a member.

Mark Rook — 10/23/13 9:35 am

This is a two part response. These trends are absolutely increasing. I believe that it has not only been a great thing for some, it has been a potentially bad thing for others. There is always a time for everything and implementing these types of trends into the culture of a Pastor's organization and congregation takes considerable time and planning. You should not ever shoot from the hip with these kinds of things and unfortunately so many do. It can be the life and/or death of a Pastor and church body. In regards to the new members classes, so many have not clearly defined what they expect from new members but also do not even clearly communicate with God to understand what He expects from members of the body of Christ. As far as multiple venues, there are many different aspects to running multi-site campuses in which poor planning and execution and simply bad timing can crush the vision of the church. But, I believe the ever increasing role and importance of the Executive Pastor is where this may hinge. Oddly enough the successful execution of any trend being implemented is almost directly a result of the competency, structure and abilities of an Executive Pastor. The Executive Pastor's duties include but are not limited to supporting the Pastor and the vision of the Pastor and helping organize, strategize, plan and execute and make the vision more of a reality. I believe so many churches do not succeed in these areas because of poor planning and structure. Now I am responding to what Wes said below. Several different denominations have been successful with on campus extra viewing rooms where a feed from the main auditorium is fed into the extra rooms. Some even time worship experiences so that both venues can have live worship but then switch to the video feed when the worship is over. This is a delicate situation and requires a great deal of planning and HUGE amounts of teamwork. I have known several people in different denominations that have successfully planned, organized and executed this trend. I hope this was helpful. God bless. Mark

Wes — 10/09/13 8:25 am

Our congregation currently hosts approximately 600 worshippers on Sunday morning, which is near capacity for our worship center. We are too big for one service and too small for two. We actually tried the move to two services a few months ago, and it was extremely difficult to pull off--two half full services. We are considering offering a second service in a smaller venue at the same time as our other service. Have you seen this done before? Do you have any suggestions? We are thinking about perhaps sending a feed into the smaller venue of the sermon, but allowing everything else to be unique to that smaller service. I would love to hear your thoughts or about some good resources.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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