Fourteen Predictions for American Churches for 2014 – part two

In my earlier post on the first of this year, 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 my predictions are based on both objective and subjective information. 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 Wednesday, 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!


  1. says

    Thanks for this post (and the first part as well). This is incredibly insightful. You are absolutely correct about Bible colleges and churches seeking to partner together more. I teach at St. Louis Christisn College in Florissant, MO and we have been doig more of this. There are a lot if advantages to more intentional partnerships with churches, especially large ones that can offer more opportunities to students and have more resources.

    • Thomas Echols says

      This is good information but dealing with number 14 I think that you need to look at the Bivocational pastor in a different light. I am the regional consultant for Texas and Oklahoma WITH THE BSCLN and a Bivocational pastor can just as well be the pastor as we have many of our men who not only serve as pastors but some whose other job is with the various state Baptist offices and some who are college professors as well as those of us who work at other types of industry and our churches are doing well I believe that this is the trend for the future. Thanks for all you do I know that lifeway is concerned about the Bivocational pastors as well as the fully funded pastors.

  2. says

    Tom do you see any trends coming in the American Church in 2014 towards it’s engagement in world missions and global evangelization?

    • jonathon says

      >any trends coming in the American Church in 2014 towards it’s engagement in world missions and global evangelization?

      Expect to see even more missionaries coming from other countries, to serve in the foreign mission field, converting the heathen natives population to Christian. The heathen country being the United States of America. The missionaries are from South East Asia, and Africa.

  3. Pat Hicks says

    I think this trend will be very hard on older congregations, but I think you are right….seeing it now…husband will not give up.

  4. Anthony Redic says

    #14 is right on. I pastor a church with just under 200 members and we have 5 Pastors/Ministers and 2 Elders. This ensures that we are able to provide personal attention to the needs of the community and the membership. I’m finding that as we evangelize, we need to be ready to teach, nurture, and attend to the needs. This can no longer be accomplished with 1 “Full-time” Pastor. Thanks for this list.

  5. George R. Alexander says

    These are great predictions, however are they just merely educated guests based on research and observations, prayful prophetic revelations from God or a combination of both. If the answer is the latter (from God), the confidence level will have to be 100%, right?

  6. Mark says

    I like #12. This is really needed. Too many seminaries are churning out M.Div. students with most of them not having any experience in a congregation. It is one thing to know the bible, it is another to know how to work with people, leadership, and function in a congregation. Yes, they learn to preach in front of faculty and fellow students, but that is different than the pulpit in a church. A children’s sermon in school does not have squirming, impatient children in the audience.

  7. says

    I believe 8,9 & 10 are interconnected.

    I just read the Lifeway report that people prefer live preaching over video. I doubt its accuracy, in practice, Of course people in a single-location church prefer a live pastor, but the largest church in Alabama has 10 sites and 9 of them get video preaching. And they started 13 years ago as a home study! I don’t know of any other church that’s had growth like that, in the USA.

    People get seminary degrees online, talk to folks all over the world on Skype and similar programs, and I think the economies of the small group gatherings will bring about what you said … move the church out of the edifice and into the community.

    God’s ways aren’t our ways. I think the changes you mention, and what we see now, is God preparing something. It is interesting that we apparently didn’t see that coming.

  8. RAFAR says

    Good Christian education is needed in every congregation. I’ve seen reports that indicate as much as 93% of the church is biblically illiterate! How in the world can we call ourselves Christian when we don’t even know the Word of God? Also, I’ve read that we are losing 1500 pastors a month due to burnout or moral failings. Experts tell us that there is no difference between the world and the institutional church when it comes to morality. A loss of 3000 congregations every year is another sign that the institutional church is dying in America. The institutional church, in large part, is responsible for most of the spiritual anarchy we see in America today. A ” bunch of greedy hypocrites” tag to describe the institutional church has never been more appropriate than today. Jesus Wept!

  9. says

    #14 is spot on. We have had 2 pastors who teach for a couple of years- result of a church merger- and are adding two more in 2014. The reasons are multiple- allows more time for prep, uses the gifts in the body better, and prepares multiple teachers for multi site expansion. I’m in a community where the video preaching concept was born and come across more and more people who are dissatisfied with it- impersonal, no ability to connect with the teacher to ask questions, just like staying home and watching TV, etc. I personally pray this is a trend for churches in the coming years. Smaller venues, connected via purpose, relevant to their local cultures, with live preaching. It’s more in line with the NT and will do a lot to undermine the “celebrity pastor” culture that the last 20 years have wrought. And I think those are all good things.

  10. says

    Fascinating predictions, Dr. Rainer. I must say that they seem quite positive and encouraging, especially the increasingly vital role played by local churches in the training of leaders for ministry. As someone who is responding to God’s call to vocational ministry, I view that trend as especially important. I can say that my local church (a Southern Baptist church plant) is already following that trend, praise God! It seems to me that raising up future leaders in our local churches is vital to the growth of the church and a successful future. I also see the renewed small groups emphasis as positive as well, especially in larger churches where people may feel lost or disconnected (that statement is purely anecdotal, based on a recent conversation). Happy New Year!

  11. John Corson says

    I believe # 10 will be the ultimate replacement of Sunday Schools. Many new churches started in my area of Virginia do not have a Sunday School ministry, nor do they plan on it. Nearly all of them have very effective small groups most meeting in homes, but in several cases there are those which meet during the week in the church building, or meeting places. Do you foresee the end of the Sunday School ministry say, within the next 25 years?

    • Thom Rainer says

      John –

      I do not foresee the end of Sunday school. The name may lose favor, but open groups meeting on the church campus will continue to be one major type of small group. They may not be called Sunday school, but they will function as Sunday school.

  12. says

    The “worship revolution” I see coming will be a reframing of worship from giving God 60 minutes on Sunday morning to offering up our everyday, ordinary Monday-Saturday lives as an act of worship. Seeing our work, relating, parenting, serving and playing as opportunities to worship God will give worship a larger space in our lives, not smaller.

  13. says

    Delighted with #11. My church has been actively doing # 13 for several years. Several members and families have moved into the areas where we are reaching out. One member is even starting a business in the community. The church has a 25 year commitment to one particular area of the city where I live.

  14. Kevin Subra says

    Some points seem to contradict others. #14 (which I relate to well as a bi-vocation pastor who has sought to build a broad leadership team) seems to not fit with #1 (more church acquisitions) and #4 (more megachurches). I don’t disagree. I’m just curious how you see this meshing out. Thanks for the 14 insightful predictions.

    • jonathon says

      In 2011, the church with the largest Sunday Morning worship had 253,000 people, on a typical Sunday. That church has 750,000 members, and did not make the list of 20 largest churches in terms of membership size.

      The five largest churches, in terms of membership size, use either G12 or Cell-Church principles. That is how Point # 14 does not contradict either Point # 1 or Point # 4.

      However, as one mega-church pastor pointed out in 2003, the danger of small-groups is that they they can, and do morph into home-churches. I’m not convinced that advocates of the home-church movement will see that as a negative consequence.

      Ponder on the implications of your worship choice being either a home-church, or a nulti-campus mega-church, with virtually nothing inbetween. To the extent that home-church growth can be tracked, that is what the data trend lines imply.

  15. Bob Rost says


    Thank you for putting into words, what has been seen by many, but not acknowledged, nor recognized, by them. You have hit 14 nails on the head, in my opinion. I have seen the denomination I belong to streamlined the headquarters, even though the denomination is experiencing growth. Each congregation need the space to develop within it;s self, and not be micromanaged by those hierarchy.
    I have belonged to a church that provided niche services, that segregated members, by preferred worship style, and that caused sub-congregations, to develop, within the body of that church, and I see this for a reason to develop blended services. How can you help your brother if you do not know him?
    I am a current “FLAME” denominational ordination program allied to one of the denominations Universities, This is a later life career choice, I chose this path because traditional college educates, but does not prepare it’s graduates for job placement. I know this from my personal experience, as my first degree’s were in education. ton’s of book learning, but almost no experience. Most of those in this program are serving in bi-vocational roles, and in today’s economy that is the only way many smaller congregations can afford to be served.
    One question our General Superintendent often asks is” When looking at your church, is it an outreach or an island?” Serving the UN-saved and the community is vital to a strong vital congregation. Second only to being true to the Word.
    To often we try to model the church to the world’s ideals, to attract the goat’s, but we ingnore our sheep in doing so. We become to pre-occupied in copying the sucess of others, ignoring our own gifts and resources. We accept the busy factor, the world tries to lock us into, many in the pews, think spending an hour or two on Sunday in church is a check off, on their schedule, of things to do.i ask, if the church is the bride of Christ, and each of it’s members make up the church, what would your partner say to you, if you told them that you were willing to dedicate to them 2 hours most week’s, but couldn’t or wouldn’t offer more? How many have put is question in front of the church members, to consider? Any good relationship requires time and involvement, The time has come to understand that this applies to church as well.

  16. says


    I love your insight! Don’t feel bad for writing solely about the American Church in this post. The American Church needs to hear your voice and this is exactly what the American Church needed to hear! I see what you are saying happening all around me.

  17. says

    Dr. Rainer, thank you for your insight. I think #13 – churches becoming more missional – is a result of necessity. American churches will start to begin acting like churches on a foreign mission field, precisely because America is rapidly becoming more and more of a mission field herself. It is all about going and less about coming, as you note.

  18. dave says

    Thom, thanks for these insights! Very insightful & challenging for the Christian community to move forward with Great Commission relevance.
    May I ask you to briefly expand on #11 – longer pastoral tenure? For the US evangelical church…what is the “average” tenure of senior/lead pastors? Have you seen noteworthy variations between rural and city lengths of stay?

  19. Carlyle Castle says

    Thank you so much for your insights. I am working in a situation where the old guard just doesn’t want to see real change or reach out to people. It is a challenge to work innovative changes that will bring the church to the community and really touch lives with the gospel. Much of the old guard has little vision and only cherishes the past.

  20. says

    Have to say #11 feels true. I have been the DOM in San Francisco for the past 5 years and have had only one vacant pulpit during that time. I wonder if you have any thoughts on the implications.? Seminarians will have more problems getting pulpits (I already see this happening with students who want to work in established churches in the Bay Area and can’t find pulpits/afford to live in the area). But are there other factors that might be both positive and negative?

    • says

      Tell those students that can’t find a pulpit in the Bay area that a fellow GGBTS graduate would be happy to have them move to Connecticut and plant churches. It is a little cheaper to live here than SF (though not much).


  21. aleksandr says

    Seems more of this earthly ways and less of spirit giving life. Wish it was more like in book of acts. Blessings))

  22. TOM SORRELLS says

    THOM, I am a new mentor leader of LIFE GROUPS starting up as our current WARREN BAPTIST PASTOR/TEACHED DR DAVID McKinley opens Satellite church WARREN GROVETOWN MARCH 2 2014. New way to Worship in new Sanctuary size 500 seats without class rooms for ADULTS to do Bible small group during SUNDAY WORSHIP PRAISE and PRAYER. We are using ACTS 2 V42 to model our Small Family ADULT LIFE GROUPS meeting in HOMES TO DO FELLOWSHIP BREAK BREAD TOGETHER EXHORT OUR LORD GOD’S WORD OF TRUTH and PRAY. I have traditionally led small group SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSES for 45 YEARS. Looking forward to using your BLOG to stay FOCUSED FLEXIBLE FRUITFUL and FAMILY-STYLE LEADERSHIP..in leading BELIEVERS and non-believers to have an ETERNAL RELATIONSHIP with JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD SAVIOR . THE VINE we need to be FRUITHFUL . Thanks for your MINISTRY. REGARDS, TOM S

  23. Doanita Simmons says

    Thank you, Thom. This is very insightful information. Yes, there is a reasonable explanation for all that is happening and it is not merely scientific. The Father has given you insight into His plan for the body to encourage and confirm those who are moving by His Spirit.. Our assembly has been directed to move into the community, #13. We labored over this decision in prayer and fasting for over a year to make sure we were hearing correctly. This is just further confirmation. Blessings to you my brother. Continue to be a prophetic voice of the time and season for the body to move.

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