Five Developments of the Future Church

I have a pretty good track record of seeing the future of churches in America. I hope I am not making such a statement out of arrogance or delusion.

The reality is I am able to see some of the future developments because I hear from so many churches in the present. According to our estimates, we hear from about 250,000 different congregations each year. That’s about two out of three Protestant congregations in America.

So, I’m really not that smart. I just have the blessing of hearing from incredible church leaders and members every single day. In that light, I see five major developments on the horizon.

  1. Shifts in the multisite model. The multisite congregation is the single most profound change in American congregations in the past century. That’s a profound statement, but I really see it. Though I don’t have the objective data yet, I anecdotally see that a multisite church is more likely to be healthy than a single-site church. I will expand on that issue in my post a week from today. For now, watch the multisite church on a number of fronts. For example, I really see the multisite church becoming the catalyst for the recovery and revitalization of neighborhood churches.
  2. More churches seeking to be acquired or merged into a multisite system. A corollary of the first development is the proactive posture of churches seeking to be acquired. More church leaders see the health of multisite models. They thus desire to be a part of a healthy system rather than remain a struggling single-site church.
  3. Return to some level of programmatic behavior. It was not that long ago that many church leaders were touting their abandonment of the programmatic model. “We are not a program-driven church,” many declared. I get it. Programs had become ends instead of means. Many churches were waiting on denominations and resource providers to tell them what to do. It was unhealthy indeed. But we have thrown out the baby with the bath water. When we have a healthy view of programs, they can save us much time and energy. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel (I know. Too many metaphors). More churches are asking for programs and templates, so the leaders can spend their time being more productive.
  4. Rise of networks. Denominations will not die off completely, but they will be augmented by more and more networks, both informally and formally. Those networks are more likely to have a common ministry focus rather than a common geography. Wise denominational leaders will see these networks as potential partners rather than competitors.
  5. The attendance frequency issue becoming a greater focus. Declining attendance frequency of “active” members accounts for more church decline than any one issue. This reality is getting the attention of more church leaders. It will become a greater topic of conversation and action in the near future.

Yes, the times they are a-changing. And these five developments are among the most dramatic changes we see on the horizon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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Ten Trends that Will Shape the Church in 2018

Never in my lifetime have I seen local congregations at such a critical juncture. Cultural Christianity is all but dead. The “Nones,” those without any religious preference, are increasing. Many of the communities are no longer friendly to local churches; some have become adversarial.

But in the waves of these seas of negativity, are mercy drops of hope and possibilities. Look at these ten major trends carefully. See how God would have your church respond.

  1. The audio revolution. The e-book has not proved to be nearly as popular as we thought it would be. Many blog writers are reporting declines in readership. But audio books are rising in popularity. Listeners are moving to podcasts so they can learn while they jog, drive, and exercise. Outside of preaching podcasts, churches have many other opportunities to reach and disciple people through audio ministries.
  2. Boomer retirement crisis. Boomer pastors and church leaders are retiring in large numbers. But most of them don’t have succession plans. They are in churches from the small to the large. We will have many churches that are looking to fill these voids with little success.
  3. The deferred maintenance crisis in church facilities. My friend, Tim Cool of Cool Solutions Group, keeps reporting about churches that have done little to keep their church facilities in acceptable condition. For many of them, they are experiencing times of reckoning. A church with which I have familiarity had to close 4,000 square feet of space because it was deemed unsafe and uninhabitable. Like Tim says, you pay some now or you pay more later.
  4. Churches moving into retail spaces. The United States has a surplus of retail space, and that surplus will grow. The demise of many brick-and-mortar stores and chains presents an incredible opportunity for churches to find prime space for new and additional sites.
  5. Ongoing church closures. This trend shows no signs of slowing. I hope church leaders and members will be more receptive to acquisitions and mergers before its too late. Too many of these churches are expecting to be bailed out without lifting a finger.
  6. The rise of the neighborhood church. Churches that were once at the center of life in a neighborhood have declined and died. But we see them experiencing a renewal and revival both through acquisitions and re-plants.
  7. The learning revolution of the best church leaders. It is almost cliché to talk about the pace of change in our world and culture. I won’t bore you with the statistics and reality of change. But one thing is becoming glaringly obvious. Church leaders who are becoming ongoing learners are becoming the best leaders of these churches. Indeed, we created Church Answers to provide a learning platform for church leaders on a regular basis. Those church leaders who are not continually learning will not be leading well.
  8. Downsizing of worship centers/sanctuaries. This trend is one I have mentioned in recent months, but the pace of downsizing has accelerated. For certain, some of it is due to declining attendance, but that is not the only factor. A number of churches have intentionally moved to smaller worship services through multiple services, venues, and campuses.
  9. The rise of networks. More churches are aligning with both informal and formal networks with a common cause and common purpose. Those that are part of denominations typically choose to stay with their denominations for both doctrinal and legacy reasons. Acts 29 is an example of a church planting network more aligned with Reformed churches. Watch for new networks to form with different emphases and a broader evangelical doctrine.
  10. More Great Commission intentionality. When cultural Christianity was alive and well, churches could do minimal evangelistic activity and still grow by transfer growth. Such is not the case any more. Churches will have to be highly intentional evangelistically in the months ahead or they will head toward death and closure.

In future posts, I plan to offer solutions for churches for many of these issues.

Many congregations are at a tipping point. Some will die. Some will thrive. My prayer is that the summary of these trends can be used of God in your churches to move your congregation toward greater health and Great Commission obedience.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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Paul B Thomas (@Pentecostaltv) — 11/07/18 12:57 am

Thanks, this is interesting and helps the preacher to navigate and plan is goals and objectives during difficult seasons and changing times

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5 Ministry Trends to Watch in 2014

Sometimes you can dismiss a trend as a fad. Like Crocs, the Harlem Shake, or flash mobs.

At other times to dismiss a trend is just a mistake.

As in every era, some of today’s trends will become tomorrow’s reality.

Innovative leaders aren’t afraid to embrace change and to be some of the first in on the shifts they see around them.

In that spirit, here are 5 trends you’ll no longer be able to dismiss in 2014.

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Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to North American and global church leaders about change, leadership, and parenting.

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Oree McKenzie — 01/16/14 7:03 am

Thank you for your posting. This is has really stimulated my thought processes, planning, actions, and reviewing of same.

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— Russell C
 
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