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 S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming 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.

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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.

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