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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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
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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