14-issues

Predicting is as much of an art as it is a science. And if any prognosticator is honest, he or she will tell you that they don’t always get it right. I know. I certainly don’t always get it right.

But I don’t pull my predictions out of thin air. To the contrary, each of them 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.

This year I am adding 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. Today, I will share the first seven, and then conclude with the final seven on Saturday.

  1. Increased church acquisitions. Smaller churches will seek to be acquired by larger churches in increasing numbers. One of the big factors is simply personnel cost. Many smaller churches can no longer afford to pay a pastor a salary and benefits, particularly health care benefits.  (75% confidence factor).
  2. Downsizing of denominational structures. Many denominational structures are becoming smaller because their churches are declining. Others are feeling economic pinches. This trend of smaller and more efficient denominational structures at all levels will only become more pervasive in 2014. (90%).
  3. Decline in conversion growth. American churches that grow are more likely to get their growth at the expense of other churches. Evangelism is waning in many churches, and fewer non-believers are becoming Christians. The negative reaction to programmatic evangelistic methods has evolved into an overreaction. Too few churches emphasize personal and church-based evangelism. (75%)
  4. More megachurches. The data are clear that there are more megachurches (average worship attendance of 2,000 or more) today than a year ago. There is also little doubt the trend will continue. The only uncertainty is whether or not the rate of growth of megachurches will continue to climb. (85%)
  5. Greater number of churches moving to a unified worship style. For years a noticeable trend was churches offering different worship styles. The most common was the offering of two services: traditional and contemporary, though the definitions of each were elusive. In the next year we will we see a reversal of that trend, as many of those same churches decide to move to one common worship style. (70%)
  6. Increased emphasis on high-expectation church membership. For decades American congregations as a whole lowered their expectations of church membership. One could be on a church roll in many churches and not even attend worship services for years. We will see a gradual reversal of that trend in 2014 as more churches move to higher-expectation membership. (70%).
  7. Increased challenges for congregations to build and acquire land due to restrictive governmental policies. American churches will experience more frustration with governmental authorities as they seek to expand, build, and acquire land. Part of the reason will be due to the authorities’ concern about traffic and congestions. Another part is the underlying concern of losing a property tax base to a nonprofit organization. In a few cases there will be outright animosity and prejudice against Christians and churches. (80%)

I will conclude the fourteen trends on Saturday. In the meantime, I would love to get your feedback on these first seven trends.

Comments

  1. Galen Morrison says

    Very informative! Haven’t observed #7 in effect anywhere in Texas yet, probably the opposite here. Being a real estate appraiser and consultant, part of my service involves volunteering real estate research and guidance for church related endeavors in the community. Last year I was blessed to help a college Bible chair to sell an aging Wesley property to the adjacent college, then they leased and remodeled an aging dorm on campus for $1.00 per year for the next 35 years. Result is now an on-campus community focused on making disciples. Wesley director learned about this kind of mission from similar pioneering efforts at U of Kentucky and K-State. We followers of Christ MUST improvise, be entrepreneurial, and intentional in finding new ways to spread the Gospel and circumvent possible opposition to church growth. Interesting blog, Thom. I think #6 is a separate blog in itself.

    • John says

      Can you explain what you are talking about in #2 with ‘denominational structures’? Are you talking about the physical size of the church or the administrative hierarchy? thanks.

    • says

      Great to hear of this testament to creative ways God is using His people to impact our culture. Leon Valley, a suburb of San Antonio, Tx, put a city ordinance in place a few years back restricting the issuance of new certificates of occupancy for churches. They simply believed there were enough churches within their municipality. I know of one ministry there who acquired a church building and was not allowed to erect a sign or alter the existing signage for 2 years as a result of these policies. May God continue to open doors where government impedes, as He is doing through your real estate endeavors.

    • Rev P.J. says

      Thom your work is very insightful and thank you for being truthful with the body of Christ. I personally observed most of your predictive trends, especially #7 in 2002 while serving as a church planter at a G12 church that grew (half new believers) from 120 to over 3000 in just 3.5 yrs in the DFW Metroplex. After a lot of resistance from the city due to potential loss of tax base we eventually purchased a 100 acre Medical company campus that had sat vacant for years. The city was more willing to sit on the property and find the right tax producer than sell it to a church. The senior pastor’s family was very influential and applied alot of media and other political pressure so we were able to purchase the campus. However he had promised we would never go into debt, then later okd a nearly $30 million debt placed on the young church which created even more problems… like laying off many of his pastoral staff including myself, who had sacrificially served to establish the work with very long hours and low pay, putting incredible strains on our familys & marriages.

      Mike Huckabee recently wrote an article suggesting that because of persecution churches in the future will have to separate from govt without tax exempt status in order to preach the truth of the Gospel that can save our American culture: see article here: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/06/11/prominent-faith-leader-turned-politican-tells-pastors-quit-worrying-so-much-about-the-tax-code-and-focus-on-god/

      Jesus commissioned His Church to reach the 7+ billion people now living on the planet. But the American church is not only at a spiritual standstill but on a retreat (dual meaning) with leaders who mostly are concerned about “noise, nickels and numbers” and not lost souls. Most mega churches are all about, cash flow and members are “cash cows”, and pew sitting, feel good and blessed without the supernatural, life changing power of the Gospel. It’s all about the here and now and meeting felt needs, not about the crucified, spirit empowered life. The reason is that most of these leaders have never experienced a “crucified, spirit empowered life of God” and therefore reproduce this status-quo spirituality in their church membership.
      I am convinced that we are now at the “crossroads of american culture’ and the only way for the American church to fulfill Jesus great commission and reach the 7+ billion is to experience a transformation (metamorphasis) through the resurrection power of Christ residing in every true believer according to Ephesians 2 and 3. This will either come from desperation (hunger for God) or devastation (persecution).
      While we sit comfortably watching our HDTVs, Ipads, mobile devices etc, we are watching Coptic Christians and churches in the middle east being burned alive and their blood being sold to Terrorist organizations! So I believe it is time for a spiritual wake up call on the American Church.
      Have a powerful New year!

  2. frank lannom says

    #3 Decline in conversion is a trend, in the parts of the world our church serves, would be a sign of complete failure of our purpose. Noting the trend however, is the first step in avoiding this major “catastrophe”. Most disturbing is, that this fact can be masked by the growing church membership gained by getting members from other churches, leaving the impression of “real growth” but with no soul winning.

    #6 – One of my favorite lines of yours, that I tell people who are thinking about attending our church is, “if your here and not connecting, serving and preparing to go (paraphrased), if you don’t mind we really need your seat, your taking up space”

      • Bryan says

        The continued growth of megachurches and increased emphasis on high expectation churches seem to be in conflict. Moreover, the trend seems to be that people are attending church less frequently. Is the emphasis on high expectations more aspirational than anything else? I am skeptical that many mega-churches will really embrace higher expectations – though it may be an aspiration for many pastors.

    • Sarah says

      This flies in the face of what the bible teaches and what Christianity is all about. Churches are turning into religious clubs.

    • Gord says

      Frank, you’re an idiot. That’s the kindest I can be. Who are you to turn people away from worship of God Almighty? Unless of course you are God Almighty. And Thom, if you agree with Frank you’re an idiot too. In fact, it’s people like you that are creating the decline in attendance and conversion. Who wants to be around holier-than-thou people like you two? One of the wost things to have happened to Christianity is American Christians. I think I can safely assume you are both Americans or have been heavily influenced by them. I can assure you, you and people like you will have a lot of explaining to do on the day of Judgement. And Frank, don’t be surprised if God says to you on that day, “If you don’t mind we really need your seat, your taking up space”

      • Dan says

        Gord, I may get your intended point but I think you’ve also missed the point. Jesus made even heavier demands on those who would follow him. I think you’d be arrogant enough to have called the Savior an idiot (to quote, it seems, your favorite word aimed at those who disagree with your views). Jesus discouraged people from following who came because of the bread, the miracles or the fish (“unless you … you cannot….”). It seems, however, you would have no problem with that.

  3. says

    The decline in conversion growth should alarm us all! And the increased emphasis on high-expectation church membership is long overdue. In 2014, I’m going to really ask folks to count the cost before joining our local congregation.

    • Alan Knuckles says

      I agree. People today have become reluctant to ask someone to receive Christ. The theological controversies over conversion have brought doubt and fear into the walk of once evangelistic Christians. Even pastors are confused and are fearful to be “wrong”. You could say it has become “politically incorrect” to offer someone an opportunity to receive Christ! Both in personal encounters as well as public events. This is like a dark cloud hanging over the head of modern day Christianity. History will not look back on these days favorably.

  4. Ken Brooks says

    I really hope number three is wrong.I think we need more emphasis on evangelism.There are many people in our communities that need to hear about Jesus. It is our responsibility as Christians to evangelize. If we are just taking Christians from other churches we are just a social club.

  5. Milagros says

    Thanks for sharing, excellent article.
    I am trying to subscribe to your blog, but do not allow me. Happy New Year.

  6. says

    Happy New Year, Bro. Thom.

    I realize that the statistics are what they are regarding conversion growth. But could it be that the relatively recent trend toward and emphasis upon relationship-building as a means to “permission evangelism” is affecting the numbers?

    It seems in our context (new church launched three years ago in the Bible belt) that we are still seeing folks saved and disciples growing deeper in their faith. But as a result of commitment to the lengthy process of doing these things “relationally”, it doesn’t appear to happen as quickly as when we did the weekly FAITH approach (or something similar).

    • Thom Rainer says

      Happy new year to you as well Tony.

      You could be right. But eventually the numbers should catch up even though the process of evangelism is lengthy.

      Above all, I pray that my own heart will break for those who do not know Christ, and that I will be found faithful sharing the gospel.

    • jonaathon says

      How many people who attend your church were raised in a Non-Christian environment? One in which nobody they interacted with were Christian. If your church is the first Christian organisation they are a member of, then they are your converts, or potential converts. Everybody else is there due to church shopping.

  7. says

    Our church will be going through #1 this year. It’s not due to the fact we can’t pay salaries, we just feel that if we partner up with our sponsor church we can do more Kingdom work together than apart. It’s a huge benefit for a church plant that is 3 years old. Our partner church is 8 years old and brings more resources and knowledge to help grow the Kingdom. We are calling it an adoption merger. It happens in May. Could use your prayers through the transition process.

  8. Ken McGeorge says

    sobering! the growth in megachurches can be explained in a number of ways;one element that would concern me is the idea that people are looking for glitz and entertainment rather than a true worship experience. The decline in growth by conversion growth is really frustrating for it suggests that we, in the pews, have forgotten what our job really is….the living out of an attractive and magnetic gospel.

      • John says

        Please further explain #2. Are you referring to the physical dimensions of the church building or the administrative infrastructure – hierarchy?

        • Thom Rainer says

          John -

          I’m not referring to local churches, but to the denominational organizations to which many belong. Those denominational administrative structures will become smaller.

  9. says

    I like it, especially “not pulling from thin air” approach.

    Question. #4. I’m wondering if the mega church movement is impacting culture enough that we would call it

    1. Revival?
    2. The new paradigm?
    3. A drop in the bucket?

    As we see the end times clouds enter, faithfulness is important.

    Also, I don’t thing we need to abandon traditional, bold evangelism. We can relate well enough to still be bold. That is my desire.

  10. Mike Mowery says

    Great article. Thanks for sharing and looking forward to the rest. I am a former pastor who now serves as a chaplain to a fire department and works as a leadership consultant for local city governments. I can tell you that Number 7 is partially true because from the city’s perspective, many times they experience the church as a competitor and a consumer. I really believe that if we, as churches, would benefit from hearing how the city government sees us. It’s not the way we see ourselves. We may have some blind spots that also relate back to why number 3 is happening.

  11. says

    It seems to me that number 1-4 are all very closely related. If we could focus more attention on conversion growth, we would solve the problems of numbers 1, 2, & 4. Discipleship without evangelism is an oxymoron. Evidence that much of our so called discipleship is void of evangelism is the decline in conversions.

  12. says

    I would think that the increased costs for churches to pay pastor’s salaries and health care would drive small churches to seek more bi-vocational ministers. The church where I have served for almost 10 years could not pay a “full-time” salary, and since I am employed as a teacher in a school district I have health insurance that satisfies the new law.

  13. says

    #1,4,6,7 are all current trends here in Utah. Property is extremely hard to find in the Salt Lake metro area.
    we are thankful that we are seeing a lot of conversions, and are seeing evidence that we may have the opposite trend in Utah as people burned by religion are discovering relationship.

    in 2014, I believe 3 churches in Utah will surpass the 2000 mark in attendance for the first time. There are only 10 churches in Utah with attendance greater than 1000.

      • says

        Fascinating Facts. In Utah we are seeing conversions from LDS, FLDS, Jewish,Muslim, Hindu, Atheists, Addicts, homeless as we reach beyond our walls. A church planting movement is spreading across our state. You can’t stop Love’s power when it is put on display.

  14. Ron Bartels says

    I agree that the number of salvations of the unchurched by churches is decreasing significantly. However, the home church movement, with networked home churches is having an increase in salvation of the unchurched.

    Megachurches are so impersonal and many of heading by false teachers or at least false doctrines. Rock music posing as worship music is one example of church growth appearing real, when in reality, the new attendees are part of the exodus from dead churches.

    The smaller home church is reaching and teaching one soul and one family at a time. We are at the hospital and the courthouse. We are receiving referrals from distressed families and disoriented individuals. Most small church groups are unregistered assemblies so they are not inventoried by any organization I know of. Our pastors are unsalaried, they work other jobs. I know of one unregistered church that is averaging 115 in attendance each week. They meet in a nondescript, converted pole barn with three individual restrooms, a kitchen and two conference rooms.

    I know another one which even has motel type living quarters for homeless families. They gather at the church tables in their pole barn church. The home church movement in my area is very connected. As growth occurs, new locations are added. About 10 times per year, we convene at a local meeting spot, like a hotel or community room.

    The music is not overbearing. Yes, we are receiving some growth from churches that have become far too commercialized.

    We attract some believers who were unchurched and these folks are delighted to be given assignments to help the disadvantaged. Teaching is need based from the scriptures, not centralized like the multicampus churches. Leaders meet separately for planning and coordination.

    When someone new comes in for help, we find out from them, why and how they came to be in need and then deal with it. If they are unemployed but willing to work, we find them work and provide them counseling, including cash and time management. The illiteracy rate is astonishing with most of those who are at or near homelessness. We design an online, at our locations, place for them to learn what is needed to become literate. For those with impaired math skills, we either teach them basic computational math skills and how to use devices to balance their budget if they are so impaired as to be dysfunctional.

    In summary, our local home based churches are either helping or being helped. No one is gathering to just to say I attend church. If someone new comes in, they are called to help with helps or to be helped and coached. The home based church is a monitoring church and those who don’t appreciate accountability soon go elsewhere.

    We have plenty of folks who will tell you they feel uncomfortable in a formal church but feel right at home in home churches. We use the connection tree methodology to meet needs. If someone needs a new tire, an alignment or a new battery, and they have been cooperating at turning their lives around, and they are pitching in, their needs get met.

    We even have a new car dealer who helps us with mechanically sound used cars that would otherwise be sent to auction. We just raise the funds for the auction price, which is usually small. Most cars have been less than $1000. They help families who have had a repo or terminal breakdown.

    We coach them with debt problems and have legal eagles who help on a pro bono basis.

    In these ways and others, we are meeting the needs of new Christ Followers. We make them our friends just as Christ would become their friend, by being friendly. We run warrant checks through local law enforcement as part of our routine as a condition of assistance. Some leave and some stay to face their problems. We always offer a meal if they are hungry. The scammers even refuse meals, they just want cash. We don’t offer them cash for nothing. They always have a well rehearsed story to spin. They are not looking to become self sustaining so they are not ready for help.

    It is amazing how inexpensively we can rent an entire local church building for a large meeting of home churches as long as we choose a time the building is not normally in use. The shrinking old line somewhat dead churches know what is going on. They know we do not salary our pastors. Some pastors are retired air force pilots or law enforcement officers. They come from many different walks of life.

    There are off the record love offerings of unknown amounts, usually once per month and I’m sure that takes care of unmet needs.

    As unrecognized churches, none are incorporated. No pastor gets licensed by the state, just by the people. A license is permission to do something illegal. Ministry is not illegal. The first amendment says our right to worship and minister shall remain uninfringed. Get a license infringes upon free speech and the ministries of help. All manner of statutes and regulations apply, that otherwise do not apply.

    • Church: DIFFERENT says

      This is the Church of the future and of the first century! (It does make keeping statistics up to date and accurate a bit difficult…. For us, though not our Lord)

  15. says

    Thom, I hope you’re wrong about #3, but I don’t think you are. Maybe you’ll post a follow-up on what churches that are seeing conversion growth are doing differently. Thanks for the good thoughts.

  16. says

    Another prediction that is related to some of the others is the fact that a number of churches will simply close their doors. Even if they don’t close their doors, a number of churches will merge as opposed to being acquired by larger churches. Here in the Northeast we often see two struggling churches merge into one struggling church.

  17. says

    Is it possible that all but #6 grow out of #1? As churches place a higher value on efficient delivery of services than on cultivating relationships and creating a sense of “laity ownership,” conversions decline, interest in and ability to support denominational superstructures decreases, and megachurches/self-contained denominations replace associations of local congregations.

  18. Kevin Billiot says

    #3 is most disturbing and has been an issue for at least a generation. I think all the rest are a direct result of #3. Trying to lead my small, rural church family to buck the trend. Not sure how, other than fervent prayer and leading by example. Even then, most members don’t want to be led.

  19. says

    Thom, great post. I came many of the same conclusions when researching the book “Attract Families to Your Church and Keep Them Coming Back”. I have also gotten some negative comments about why write such a book when churches are disappearing. Crazy. Church leaders better open their eyes and look at the communities where their church resides. The people are out there and they need God and a Savior though Jesus Christ.

    Keep your post coming. They are very informative and much needed.

  20. Julie says

    Heart-breaking change from Jesus-driven churches to purpose-driven mega churches using business models. It has to go back to being about Jesus and people’s souls, not about what I can so for the world. Please keep the stats coming. Maybe we will wake up in time to win souls, instead of bank accounts and numbers.

  21. Shelvin Lamb says

    Respectfully- 4 & 5 are completely opposite of what were told to of and what research showed just 6-8 years ago. We’re told the list/ unchurched we’re turned off by the ‘big church’ We were also told we needed to change our musical style. Has it changed this quickly? In 2020, will research show the trend has changed yet again. If so, in these challenging financial times for churches, how can we possibly kept up? Even above that, we face a serious credibility problem with those we want to reach and those we lead that no one seems to address: if we say and lead one way, yet change that message/ way of doing things a number of years later. …… I just can’t help but think that may be a bit of the issue ad to why we aren’t seeing a bountiful harvest. People are unclear and puzzled at the way we are leading.

  22. Charlotte says

    Moving to one type or style of worship? Is that more traditional with choir organ? Or contemporary praise band?

    • Lynda says

      Church I previously attended was doing a “blended” worship years ago. One service for all ages. Intentionally multi-generational. Short contemporary praise set at start of service. 5-6 songs with praise team that included teens & grandparents. Hymns scattered thru out rest of service. One piece of special music each week. Kid on piano or adult vocalist or seniors choir or even handbells. Last group made up of families. It worked! Was lovely. Strong caring church.

  23. Dave Westman says

    re: #1, Could you elaborate on what “acquired” will look like? e.g., closing the smaller (“acquired”) church completely and incorporating it into the larger (in a single location)? Keeping the smaller church open, but as an additional site of the larger (i.e., with common staff & governance & vision, etc.)? If “multi-site”, are the larger churches likely to already be using that model (or will it be a new venture for them)?

    This past year our (more metro) congregation was approached by a nearby (more rural) congregation in our movement about “acquiring” them… the old location has been closed & sold, and we are nearing the launch our first new “site” with a combination of folks from the previously two congregations – so this is of real time interest!

  24. Jim Cumber says

    Agree with all your conclusions, looking forward to reading the others. I’m guessing another one will (or should be) churches running more like businesses, to their detriment. This in part is a factor in #7, if churches are going to be by cutting edge business principles, I’m not sure why they deserve protection from laws, regulations and taxes other businesses confront.

  25. Greg Bridges says

    Thom,

    Base on conditions as they exist today I believe you have made very good predictions . . . sadly. I’ll continue praying for personal revival among the “saints” and continued improvement in my own walk. I believe the inside of our churches looks too much like the outside world but that we can reverse the trends and change the world if we seek to reflect Jesus in word and deed.

    Thanks for your hard work an insight!

    Happy New Year!

  26. Robert Peters says

    #6 concerns me the most. Since, we have seen low expectations in membership over the past decade, do we have the people who are spiritual mature enough to have higher expectation in membership now? My concern is a shift to biblical demands in church membership. Rarely have we seen a smooth transition from one extreme to the middle, more often we see from one extreme to the other then slowly in the middle. Like your thoughts Tom.

  27. Doug Samples says

    Thom,
    Thank you! Your perspectives are always well researched and thoughtful. Regarding #3 (Conversions), don’t you think that one of our problems is that most, if not all, of our programmatic evangelistic presentations (that you and I grew up with!) are so very modern as opposed to post-modern? They usually focus so much on “saving souls” and preparing for heaven, that our young, post-modern pastors find them unappealing. I teach Evangelism at a Nazarene university and wish I could find more/better presentations with a post-modern feel to them. Any suggestions?

    Also, regarding #4 (Megachurches), if you don’t see them declining in 2014, do you see a tipping point anytime soon as we see an increase in house churches and organic churches?

  28. Sheila Williams says

    I can see many of these predictions being accurate. However, just curious if there is scriptural foundation to any of them. The best predictor is in the Bible. Daniel, the gospels, revelation?

  29. says

    A NEW APPROACH (at least for us):
    Many small churches are open only 4-6 hours a week. Why not open your doors to church-type businesses and share that space?
    We did!
    - We have a funeral planning center that donates $2,000 per month to our church.
    - A Wedding Planner and Catering company that donate over a $1,000 per month.
    - A Christian Youth Theater, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, American Heritage Girls (they donate service hours)
    - Finally, we allow a Chin (Burmese) Congregation to worship in our facility on Sunday afternoons (they always donate over $300 per Sunday)
    Now, the only night our church is available for use is Thursday night. There’s ALWAYS something going on, some group, some ministry that is meeting a need in our community!!! HOA’s are meeting at our church … because we let them!
    OPEN YOUR DOORS AND THEN YOUR ARMS TO YOUR COMMUNITY!!!
    I love my church…I love the Church!!!

  30. David Frost says

    This was a great article and also a bit disturbing as I think about many of the trends you pointed out.

    I have never heard of church merging described as an acquisition. That sounds more like a business take over to eliminate competition or expand one’s own business than kingdom advancement. How prevalent is this? This terminology bothers me as does such practice. I am basing this on the use of the terminology of acquisition. If this is prevalent I am concerned as to what the organized church is becoming; a business instead of the family of God or the Body of Christ. Please elaborate on this. Are you simply describing mergers? If so then my concern is unfounded. I have led a church into a three way merger and it was in no way an acquisition but an attempt to pool the resources of three financially struggling churches together to become more effective for the kingdom of God. I am in favor of merging to advance the kingdom if through prayer the church deems it to be God’s will. Besides pastors don’t have to be paid a full-time salary with benefits. To be a pastor is a calling not a career choice. To imply that is to diminish the real importance of the bi-vocational pastor to the church. This aspect of the trend is also disconcerting to me.

    I am also concerned with the possibility of increasing mega churches. This to me is disturbing because I see it as undermining as much as advancing the kingdom. I have no problem with large churches, they have their place as well as the small church, but the proliferation of such is disconcerting if the trend makes mega churches the norm. Where then will the small church find its place, especially if church acquisitions become the norm.

    Thanks for your work and research alerting us to these trends in the life of the church. We all need to be aware of such trends especially the need to encourage and create an environment in the church for personal evangelism by our local church family members.

  31. Shelvin Lamb says

    My apologies for the typos in my previous post. Never bring only an iphone to a laptop debate :) Feel free to delete the earlier reply. Corrected:
    Respectfully- 4 & 5 are completely opposite of what were told to do and what research showed just 6-8 years ago. We were told the lost and unchurched are turned off by the big church. We were also told to alter our musical style. Has all this
    changed so quickly? Were those reports incorrect? In 2020, will research show the trend has changed yet again? If so,
    in these challenging financial times for churches, how can we possibly keep up? Even above that, I believe we face a serious credibility problem with those we want to reach and those we lead which no one seems to address: if we say something and lead a certain way, but a number of years later say something totally different, I can’t help but think that is a problem and a great concern. It may be a contributing factor as to why we are not seeing a bountiful harvest of souls. If people are unclear, puzzled or frustrated, they aren’t going to hear our message.

    Sent from my iPhone

  32. Keith Smith says

    I can tell you that in our search for a church after a job and location change the two top priorities for my family are a place where we can continue to grow spiritually (especially my children) and finding a church that is active…. Active in mission work, active in outreach, and active in spreading the Gospel in the community. Where we live there are no megachurches (we relocated to a very rural part of the state). Megachurches have more resources and manpower to pull from….. The smaller churches in our area tend to shy away from spreading the good news and most of the blame is attributed to lack of resources and manpower. I feel like some of the churches we visited felt they belonged to a club and were not interested in growth for fear of loosing control of the church….. They were comfortable and seemed to choose comfort and some control over doing God’s will. The church is US and we better be working for the Lord. I don’t want to belong to a local church that is comfortable sitting on it’s rear end Sunday after Sunday and not doing Gods work.

  33. Greg Corbin says

    Regarding #5, I was surprised to see this one on your list. Personally, I have two questions…
    1) Why do you believe churches are moving away from multiple worship styles?
    2) When these churches settle on a “unified” worship style, is there a particular style that it seems more churches settle on?
    Thanks for all you do!

  34. Brian Horton says

    Do you feel that #4 will be a direct result of #1 (church aquisitions) and #3 (church growth coming at the expense of other churches) if the conversion rate (#2) remains low? What other factors are in play that will lead to the mega church growth? If conversion rate is in decline (which I agree, all stats seem to point that way), what then are mega church pastors doing to become mega? Are they just being opportunistic and picking up the pieces of closed churches? Do you see that there are some serious compromises being made in polity and practices and even theology/doctrine? I am certainly not trying to paint all “mega churches” as unbiblical. I am just wondering how numbers 1-4 may be working together and the potential long term effects thereof.

  35. Clint Lewey says

    Number 3 is heartbreaking, but I believe it is exactly right. It seems to me that we swap church members rather than make disciples.

    I personally feel that number 5 is a good thing. We have seen trends of church marketing, which is to say that the church has attempted to appeal to a consumer mentality rather than keeping God as our goal.

    Number 6 is needed desperately. I hope it happens as you predict.

    I appreciate this list. It helps me think about areas on which I need to work.

    The encouraging thing is that the Lord is not finished with His church. He is on His throne, and He is always advancing. I believe God will purge us and help us to be more like Him and work toward accomplishing the Great Commission.

    Thanks so much!

  36. Joel says

    I agree with what was written (to this point) — as I mentor young men, my prayer and first goal is that their zeal and commitment to their favorite sports team would be exchanged for their zeal and commitment to the work of Jesus = making disciples, and vice-versa.

  37. says

    Thank you for a very insightful article Thom. Many of these predictions are not negative at all (number 1, 2, 4, 5). However, as so many others have pointed out, number three 3 is a major concern. If in our growth we are not seeing lives transformed we are simply stealing sheep. Number 6 is one of my favorite predictions…Jesus encouraged us to count the cost before taking up our cross. Number 7 is also a concern as I believe we are a nation that is increasing less Christianity friendly. In some ways this may make it easier to tell who is intentionally Christian rather than conveniently Christian. What a great time to be fully alive in Christ!

  38. says

    Interesting article. I found it thought provoking. I also found it irritating in a good way. It’s like the need to scratch one’s back and the relief which comes when the right spot is found. I believe it is vital for us as the Body of Christ to seeking Him individually and collectively on these issues. Dare I suggest fasting, prayer and solemn assemblies. The following is my story:

    I was a member of a church which rapidly grew into a mega-church. Multiple services and sites throughout the state in which I reside. Lots of church planting going on throughout the country. I was very active in discipleship and small groups for the first 12 years of it’s 15 or so years. It was very difficult to maintain consistent relationships. When the small groups quarter changed so did the people with whom one had contact. In such a large venue, it wasn’t always easy to find those from prior quarters. This made accountability most difficult. There were systems and measures to ensure no one fell through the cracks–got lost–however, these did not work often. The staff was overworked and we volunteers were well, volunteers. Granted the programs offered were and are wonderful. Lots to do for young families. Missions and outreach opportunities are in abundance. But, that all important personal touch just gets lost in a church which has 10,000 people coming through it’s doors on a weekly basis. If this prediction is accurate it seems it would make church more centralized. Is that a good thing? What would be the advantages disadvantages to having fewer choices in which church to attend?

    I am now in a smaller, though no less thriving church, where the pastor is readily accessible after church for a quick prayer or to meet a personal friend attending with you. This works best for me.

    I said all that to say, I pray we don’t forget it is God, through His Spirit, who draws people to Himself. Nothing wrong with planning, organizing, merging, etc. It’s just unless God is in it from beginning to end, what’s the point? I pray we would dare be like Moses and pray Exodus 33:12-19. Unless the Lord goes with us in these things we as His church will face in the coming year, we won’t go.

  39. says

    Hi Tom. Thanks for sharing your insight. I recently took a job as the Worship Pastor of a new church plant and have had a few conversations with the Lead Pastor about several of these items listed. We want to see the church grow and more over make a lasting impact on the community and the Kingdom. I realize that in order to grow a church, you have to be very intentional about your approach. We are trying to identify the key things that we must have in place in order to make this happen. Are there resources that you have available? Thanks so much.

    Just a quick thought on Worship as someone who leads Worship every Sunday. I constantly hear folks who profess to be christians, use very strong words to defend there view of Worship. It’s no big secret that a large majority of churches are divided over this very topic. My prayer is that we would be united and not divided.

    Blessings,

  40. says

    I hope that #6 is a sign that the Church is realizing and responding to the negative trends and issues facing us today. I would love to see corporate prayer and organized evangelism emphasized more as an expectation of Church membership. This might not solve #1 & #7, but it would do a lot to strengthen our congregations and give those who have not heard/received the gospel a greater opportunity to respond to the message of Christ.

  41. Jay Adcock says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Unfortunately I believe you are right about #3. We have been having an ongoing debate in our congregation (traditional SBC church) about how to grow our attendance, a vocal viewpoint is that we change our worship style as to attract unbelievers to Sunday morning, where they will hear the Gospel and be saved. The idea of church members being personally equipped to go out into their day to day lives, sharing the Gospel to those who come across their path, and personally leading them to faith in Christ, is a foreign concept.

    How did it come to this?

  42. Bill Noll says

    I’ll make my own prediction with a 98% confidence rating. The American Church will continue to decline in 2014. It’s a trend of over 50 years, and there is no evidence that it is about to change any time soon. I only gave the Holy Spirit a 2% chance, but I pray I’m wrong.

  43. Hal says

    The common core seems to be current Christians are not growing in Christ and there are not sharing Christ., hence church is not growing conversions nor numbers. Why not? Most Christians have never been discipled.. Why not? No one has taught them. Why not? because pastors preach not teach. Seminaries are a big factor in that they teach preaching not teaching. Our whole system is skewed toward the entertainment mode. My thought: throw our your msgs, pick a book of the Bible , yes Bible and do not give it a catchy title. Example Teach The Book of Acts, yes it will take weeks, maybe months, Then teach all of thePauline Epistles, (That should take several years} yes have quizzes, follow up in small groups, , use same system with ages 3 months to 125 years of age. Rejoice in the extra room you will have when loafers leave and you have room for new converts. Isn’t it relaxing not to have to prepare a preaching msg for next week? yes you are free of that waste of time and you can do what you love to do,,,,,,,, Teach and disciple and grow your church,

  44. Deb Killeffer says

    I’m curious if any of the pastor or data research taken was from New England states. There’s a different component here that is unusual to the rest of the country and might skew the outlook a bit.

  45. Pastor D Olowoyo says

    All these predictions are indeed likely thing to happen, going by what is happening around us,but the question is that,in what ways are we all prepared or preparing to salvage & and rescue the church.People of God,it is high time we awake from our slumber.finally,if christ come will he meet you still in faith.thank you al.

  46. says

    Jesus said, Luke 21:33, …”My words will not pass away.” There is an indifference toward the Word today, and so evangestic fervor. BUT, it still “will accomoplish that which I please and propser in the place where I send it”, Is 55:11. AND, “The Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached ina ll the world as a witness to many, and then shall the end come”. Matt 24:14. If the fervor in the church for the salvation of their neighborhoods is waining, the Lord can turn with His Word to another place. And so He is and has. Look at the places that for so long have been designated, “Lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” places. Lifer penitentiaries like Angola penitentiary in Angola, La. There is a Bible College/Seminary in the pen from which over 150 lifers have graduated and become field pastors in other penitentiaries in Louisiana as in Angola itself. The southern Baptists have put another Seminary in Darrington penitentiary south of Houston. There are now 140 students studying there to become pastors. 40 of them will graduate next year and become field pastors in other penitentiaries in Texas. Spiritual transformation is taking place in these two places at a rate that it absolutely boggles the mind. Rather than curse the darkness of evanglism among us, praise the light that is burining brightly in the penitentiaries in Louisiana, Texas and soon in West Virginia.

  47. Lon Hudson says

    I agree with your 1st seven predictions. I would add to number 2 that the mainline seminaries will also decline. They have spent generations turning out theological sociologists, not evangelists.

  48. Mark says

    But evangelists are not spiritual leaders. Evangelists just preach and beg for people to come down the aisle at the end. What about turning out scholars and clergy who actually care about people and attempt to understand what is going on in the real world?

  49. Samuel says

    Mark, I would beg to differ on your comment about evangelists not being spiritual leaders. In some sense I believe that the bible teaches they are. In Ephesians 4 it says that evangelists along with apostles, pastors, teachers and prophets are given to equip the saints and edify the body of Christ. An evangelist’s job is to also train the church in evangelism and lead by example in this area. I would call that a form of spirtual leadership for the church because they are helping them to follow Jesus more closely. And evangelists do care about people and many of them put themselves on the frontlines for the sake of Jesus and unbelievers daily.

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