The Art and Science of Predicting What’s Ahead for the American Church, Part 2

In my earlier post last week, I offered the first seven of fourteen predictions for American churches for 2014. I must admit I am concerned about my focus on American congregations when so much is taking place in churches around the world. I am challenged to write more global posts for fear they will become too generic without local applications. I will continue to work on that issue.

For now, I will continue to look at American congregations. As a reminder, I noted that predicting is as much of an art as it is a science. Each of the predictions has a reasonable explanation. For these fourteen predictions, I gleaned from several sources:

  • Data-based research, particularly LifeWay Research.
  • Trends that are already underway and gaining momentum.
  • Conversations with hundreds of church leaders.
  • My own experiences, based on 25 years of consulting and research of American congregations.

For these fourteen predictions, I added a new feature, a confidence factor. For example, if I said I had 100 percent confidence that a prediction would become reality, it would mean that I have absolutely no doubt about it. None of these predictions have a 100 percent confidence factor. But none of them fall below 70 percent either. That means I have a fairly high level of certainty about each of these trends.

The order of the trends is random. They are not ranked in any particular priority. On Saturday, I shared the first seven predictions. I conclude today with the final seven.

  1. More large churches will function like mini-denominations. These churches will have multiple locations. They will have one senior or lead pastor, and several other campus pastors. They are more likely to fund their own missions priorities, even if they are also contributing to a denominational missions fund. Many of them will write their own small group literature. Some will have their own church planting strategies. (70% confidence factor)
  2. New worship centers will be built smaller. There will be a greater emphasis on smaller gatherings more frequently. This trend is being affected significantly by the preferences of the Millennial generation (born 1980 to 2000). A related trend is that many congregations will find ways to downsize their existing worship centers. (70%)
  3. Increased emphasis on small groups. In 2014 we will see a decided shift from nearly two decades of the “worship revolution” to the “small group revolution.” Church leaders are rapidly discovering that members who connect to groups are the most faithful members in the church by a myriad of metrics. That is not to suggest that worship will become unimportant; it is to suggest that small groups will have a greater emphasis than the previous quarter century. (75%)
  4. Longer pastoral tenure. There will be incremental but steady growth in the length of tenure of pastors at a given church. Part of the reason is the influence of the Millennials who do not view larger churches as their next step in ministry. Part of the reason is economic; moving in today’s economy is not nearly as easy in pre-recession days. Hopefully, the main reason is a sense of God’s call to stay rather than move. (75%)
  5. Local churches increasing their roles as ministry training leaders. The role of ministry training in the past decades fell largely upon Bible colleges and seminaries. More churches in 2014 will partner with those colleges and seminaries to provide contextual training at a local church. (90%)
  6. Church movement to the community. The posture of many American churches in the most recent decades has been to find ways to get people in the community to come to the church. That is shifting, perhaps dramatically. In more churches, the congregation will move to the community. Instead of a philosophy of “y’all come,” the dominant theme will be “we’ll go.” The congregants will be a more powerful presence in the community they serve, thus ministering to, influencing, and reaching more people with the gospel. (80%)
  7. More multiple teaching/preaching pastors. In larger churches, there has been a decided trend toward having more than one teaching and preaching pastor. Now the trend is taking place in smaller churches. We will see more churches with attendance under 200, even some under 100, with more than one teaching/preaching pastor. Of course, not all of them will be full-time vocationally at the church, so there will be more bi-vocational pastors whose role is to be a second or even third pastor in these smaller churches. (85%)

These fourteen predictions are not infallible. But there does seem to be growing evidence that most, if not all of them, will become a reality in 2014.

Let me hear from you about my perspectives. Happy New Year!

Read Part 1 here.

Read more from Thom here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

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