Nine Rapid Changes in Church Worship Services

If you were attending a church worship service in 1955 and then returned to the same church in 1975, the changes would be noticeable but not dramatic. Churches were slow to change over that 20-year period. If you, however, attended a church worship service in 2000 and then returned to that same church in 2010, there is a high likelihood you would see dramatic changes in just ten years.

What, then, are some of the most significant changes? Please allow me to offer some trends from anecdotal information, church consultations, and objective research. As a caveat, some of the data based research comes from an excellent study, The National Congregations Study by Duke University. This study, fortunately, is longitudinal, so it is able to look at changes over many years. But the study is also dated, with the latest data reported in 2007.

From these multiple sources, I have assembled nine changes that have come at a rapid pace in many churches. Please note my perspective. I am offering these from the perspective of a researcher; I am not making qualitative assessments. Also, with every trend there will be thousands of churches that are exceptions to the norm. But these are the changes in the majority of churches in North America.

  1. Choirs are disappearing. From 1998 to 2007, the percentage of churches with choirs decreased from 54% to 44%. If that pace holds to this year, the percentage of churches with choirs is only 37%.
  2. Dress is more casual. In many churches, a man wearing a tie in a worship service is now among the few rather than the majority. While the degree of casual dress is contextual, the trend is crossing all geographic and demographic lines.
  3. Screens are pervasive. Some of you remember the days when putting a projection screen in a worship center was considered a sacrilege. Now most churches have screens. And if they have hymnals, the hymnals are largely ignored and the congregants follow along on the screens.
  4. Preaching is longer. I will soon be in the process of gathering this data to make certain the objective research confirms the anecdotal information.
  5. “Multi” is normative. Most congregants twenty years ago attended a Sunday morning worship service where no other Sunday morning alternatives were available. Today, most congregants attend a service that is part of numerous alternatives: multi-services; multi-campuses; multi-sites; and multi-venues.
  6. Attendees are more diverse. The Duke study noted the trend of the decrease in the number of all-white congregations.
  7. Conflict is not increasing. In a recent post, I noted the decreasing frequency of worship wars. The Duke study noted that overall church conflict has not increased over a 20-year period.
  8. More worship attendees are attending larger churches. Churches with an attendance of 400 and up now account for 90% of all worship attendees. Inversely, those churches with an attendance of under 400 only account for 10% of worship attendees.
  9. Sunday evening services are disappearing. This issue has stirred quite a bit of discussion the past few years. I plan to expand upon it in my post this coming Saturday. Stay tuned.

I have tried to present these changes from a research perspective instead of injecting my opinions or preferences. Obviously, I have my own, but I would rather hear from you. The readers at this blog are much smarter than I am anyway.

Do you see these trends in your local congregation? What would you add?


      • Ron Perry says

        I believe you could add #10 – Church paid staff has increased in the last 20 years. What mostly volunteers did 20 years ago, now Churches employ more staff than ever before. That leaves less budget to go to the people in the community that might need it.

        • Howard Fryman says

          Increasing the size of church staff says that there is more programming and less discipleship. Rather than the staff living out the life and multiplying it out through those being discipled, there is a mentality of just hiring someone to do it.

          Where is the Biblical model of that?

          • Aaron says

            I agree and it also seems that so much work is put into producing a stellar morning service, there is no energy left to do Sunday night especially if it requires being authentic. Kind of the same reason of 400+ ,…it requires less effort to be authentic and allows a person to be there but not be accountable or participate.

          • says

            The old testament model for this is found in Numbers 1:47-54

            47 But the Levites by their fathers’ tribe were not numbered with them.48 For the Lord had said to Moses,49 Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number in the census of the Israelites.50 But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, and over all its vessels and furnishings and all things that belong to it. They shall carry the tabernacle [when journeying] and all its furnishings, and they shall minister to it and encamp around it.51 When the tabernacle is to go forward, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And the excluded [any not of the tribe of Levi] who approach the tabernacle shall be put to death.52 The Israelites shall pitch their tents by their companies, every man by his own camp and every man by his own [tribal] standard.53 But the Levites shall encamp around the tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath upon the congregation of the Israelites; and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony.

            The new testament model is found in Acts 6:2-4

            2 So the Twelve [apostles] convened the multitude of the disciples and said, It is not seemly or desirable or right that we should have to give up or neglect [preaching] the Word of God in order to attend to serving at tables and superintending the distribution of food.3 Therefore select out from among yourselves, brethren, seven men of good and attested character and repute, full of the [Holy] Spirit and wisdom, whom we may assign to look after this business and duty.4 But we will continue to devote ourselves steadfastly to prayer and the ministry of the Word.

          • Alex Mitchell says

            Take a look at your congregation and ask yourself just how many of your folks are in two income families? The biggest difference I see is that more women have entered the workforce. In the past, the North American church relied heavily on stay-at-home moms and other women not employed outside of the home to carry on much of the church’s essential tasks and ministries.

            Today, women are likely to be employed and STILL carrying most of the housekeeping and childcare responsibilities. How much time and energy do you suppose these folks have to offer the church? Hence the need for more paid staff.

        • jonathon says

          One reason for more paid staff, is that in some legal jurisdictions, tasks that were routinely done by volunteers, now have to be paid positions. Your 501(c)(3) status is irrelevant.

          I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

        • Rich Johnson says

          Or frees up the people of God to do the work in the community since they’re not running Sunday services?!

        • Kerry Coup says

          Ron, I would agree with your take on #10. I’m a church-planting pastor and we started with pretty meager resources. I remember being frustrated by that reality at the time, but it caused us to be creative in the ways that we executed our vision. As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And that’s most certainly true in many church planting endeavors. But now (5 years later), I can tell you that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We’re a congregation in the low 300s with one full time staff person (myself) and I’ve never felt exceedingly stressed or overburdened. The vast majority of the ministry is done by the people in the body.

      • Dick Sisk says

        Thom, thanks for the observations. Years ago, I did my doctoral project at Southwestern on the plateaued church. The new printed version is at CrossBooks right now for a summer release. My question is concerning the small to medium church. If such a large percentage of attenders go to a church of more than 400, what is your answer for the small to medium churches for church growth and church health. If there are more small to medium churches, then it means that more pastors are looking for help. How can we help them?

  1. says

    Thank you for your research. I am mentoring about 10 Pastors and I review much material to pass along to them. Your articles are always top of the list.

    I have a question about #8 in this list. I didn’t think there were that many churches with 400 in I attendance. I thought most were only about 70-80 in Worship attendance.

    Am I incorrect?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Douglas –

      Good question. There are indeed more smaller churches than larger. In fact, the median attendance of a congregation is 75. But more people are in the larger churches. Stated simply, there are more small churches, but more people are attending larger churches.

      Hope this helps.

      • Nate says

        …and what I am seeing in my area is that people would rather diaspora into a crowd rather than be identified because of gift-abuse or talent-abuse!

      • jonathon says

        To the exent that most (¿all?) denominations have a minimum threshold size, below which congregations are “disfellowshipped”, data from denominations is biased.

        There is some anecdotal evidence that suggests that “home churches” are exploding in growth, but due to their small size, rapid spinnng off of new congregations, and lack of denominational affilliation nobody is tracking any statistical data about them.

        If the “disfellowshipped” congregations, and “home churches” were included, the average (mode) would probably be under 20, with the average (mean) of under 100, rather than the average (mean) of 175 or so, and the average (mode) at around 75.

        Regardless of the size of the undercount, the average (median) remains at around 20,000 people.
        Less than 10 churches have 20,000+ in attendence.

        Church attendence statistics are bizarre.

      • says

        The ideal way to communicate the dynamics of this large versus small relationship would be a plot of American congregations based both on their total number and by corresponding attendance. If I had a data source, I would render it…

  2. Sue Hassell Parker says

    Your research is right-on. I am in my 70’s and have witnessed all nine of the changes. I don’t know that the changes are “bad”, just different. I am a member of a Baptist Church with a membership of over 2,000 and was called to serve on the Pastor Search Committee in 2010. Our church was basically “traditional” in worship style but had more recently added screens and a mixture of music including praise and worship as well as the older hymns which were generally accepted by most. However after much research, study, and devotion to prayer, our Committee knew that our congregation was slowly fading away; in other words literally dying before our very eyes as were similar churches we visited…empty pews and gray heads.
    The LORD directed our path to a young pastor (35 +) who was a powerful Messenger and yet was attracting young families as well as retaining the older membership. Quite honestly, I would have been more “comfortable” with another type of man but, as with the rest of the committee, God’s call was working in our hearts as well as the young Pastor who had absolutely NO reason for change. We recommended this man and he came!
    I wish I could say that all was well with our congregation, but it wasn’t. Senior adults left in mass taking with them their financial support which was significant. BUT God is faithful and has continued to bless His Body there at this church. Young families, babies, and children of all ages are coming. The worship services look, sound, and are extremely different than they were prior to 2012. Is it “better”? Is it “worse”? Is it an “abomination” as “some” would describe it? I believe it is a move in the right direction if we truly desire to reach our children and grandchildren for Christs’ sake. We older Christians need to
    Be willing to sacrifice our own personal desires for the sake eternal lives of others.
    It’s very difficult to give up our way of worshipping ANYTIME!!! Bottom line…change is never , never easy but necessary.

    • Mark says

      I have seen things like this when the preacher could not even speak on anything that the younger generations needed or wanted to hear. Yet, the older people always got everything they wanted because they threatened to complain. Most older people don’t have issues with faith and don’t know about the pressing issues of the day because they don’t affect them directly. Some so needed a lesson on acting like a Christian when they acted more like spoiled brats.

    • Mark Dance says

      Sue – I applaud your desire to put the preferences of younger members ahead of your own. It sounds like you are bucking that trend in your church. I expect that God will continue bless others through you in that church.

    • Kim Payne says

      As a pastor, this blesses my heart to hear. It’s simply another way to express the unchanging message. We need to speak the language of all ages and realize we oldsters are to turn over the church before we die.

    • Tom says

      love your comments Ms Parker, and you truly sound like you have allowed God to stretch you in this process. You have what i would call the Caleb Spirit. Remember it was the old people in the wilderness who God allowed to die off so he could take a new generation into the promised land. In a sense, and it’s sad that it is this way, but it’s like God is letting an older generation pass away because they don’t want to try something new. I’m 58 today, and was called to a church of mostly younger people a year and a half ago, lots of children, etc., so i do understand some of these stretches, but i just want to be like Paul when he said, “i would become all things for all men in order that i might win some.” I don’t preach a new gospel, i preach the word. (Rom. 1:16) But i love a wide range of music, and mostly the new worship music now. But i grew up in a tradidional 1st Bap. Ch. So go figure… But Go back and study the OT, particularly David and you will find it was him that God raised up to do a new type of worship. David introduced the musical instruments into worship in a way that was foreign to the “Old Law” ways. God did a new thing. I understand that he had to raise up a king to do what he wanted done, but God raised up a new generation of worshipers that lasted many years. God is always new, always doing something new. We can get in on what he is doing or we can be crushed as he walks over us. God is doing a new thing now. Eventually all ‘us’ old people will die and we will ultimately turn the church over to the next generation one way or the other. Frankly, I’m going with God, and I’m glad you are of like spirit, i commend you on your resolve to follow God. Don’t look back. Phil. 1:6, eph 3:20 Rev. Tom Wood

    • Joseph Parker says

      the church I am a pat of is regularly attended by about 250 people but after we got our senior pastor this past year we relaunched our choir, evening service, quit using the screen, but yet we are in rapid growth mode now. how interesting it is to have churches the break the mold.

    • Mercy says

      “We older Christians need to be willing to sacrifice our own personal desires for the sake eternal lives of others.” – beautifully said! I’m heartbroken that so many people equate music opinions with believing Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It’s not the same thing! It’s wonderful when a church can allow personal liberty in areas of preference while still holding forth the truth of the Gospel.

    • Samuel Lee says

      I do the powerpoint presentations during the first Sunday service while the media team does all the technical stressful work. The first service is very traditional from the Hymnal choir to doxology and creed profession. Most of the congregation are gray haired while those in the choir and media team are in the 40’s to 50’s.
      30 minutes later,we have the contemporary second Sunday Worship, and I go off to the children’s Sunday school class along with the rest of the volunteers from the first service to their various ministries. It’s the best of both worlds, and the Pastor can revise the sermon if need be.
      One draw back is that there are some young fathers and mothers who want the traditional Hymns and worship, but there’s no children ministry during the first service. I heard them privately express their woe in the contemporary loud worship while their children love the seperate children ministry during the second service. The youth and chldren use Lifeway resources by the way.
      I think Pastors under estimate just how much God’s people are tired of the fluff and want the meat from the tried and true, from those that brought about revivals.

  3. says

    Thom, I like how you put up the trends without deciding if they are good or bad. That appears to be impossible in my church body. When we talk trends, a good or bad (it is always determined to be bad unless it is returning us to the early church by the way) label must go up FIRST, then we can decry the new trend. But I digress.

    In almost 20 years in the parish ministry and in 3 parishes (very different from each other) I have noted there is less and less participation in the service. Worshippers appear to be more content to sit and watch than to stand and sing. I should probably do a study to see if I am catching that right, but I think I am.


  4. mina says

    I belong to a small church. Average attendance 80+ .We still have church three times a week with good attendance. Also have a choir. Friendly loving church. I do see changes in other churches which I am not comfortable with.

  5. says

    Why do people think you MUST stand for all the singing. My wife is handicapped and I have had 3 back surgeries (hurt taking care of my wife) which makes me feel uncomfortable by NOT standing and HURTING if I DO stand !

    Would you please help those like my wife and I by commenting about this…”Now let’s ALL STAND as we sing” mentality.

    Thank you.

    • says

      I have and arthritic back and for the past 2 years or so, I sit down during the singing. Some songs that really get to me, I just have to stand up and move with the music. But that’s relatively uncommon.

      If you really think about it, it’d be more logical to stand up during the sermon, anyway. You know .. when God’s Word is being declared?

      Don’t worry about it … stand if you want, sit if you want. He’s really after our worship, and I’ve done a lot of that flat on my face.

      • Ashli says

        I really hate that phrasing as well. It is insulting to people who can’t stand up or for people who feel led to sit down. Many times I have felt led to stay seated during the worship time for prayer or just to observe and let The Lord speak through me that way. There are so many ways to show worship.

    • Sue D. says

      In our congregation, we try to remember and use the phrase “please stand as you are able” in an effort to respect and give those who are unable or do not wish to stand the option to choose. I think it can be especially difficult if the service includes several songs back-to-back which results in 10-15 minutes of standing. Maybe if you suggest this phrase to your leadership they will begin to use it. Blessings!

      • Rick says

        A family member had been taken by ambulance from worship services twice due to the dizzying effect on her body causing her to faint due to the frequency of repeatedly standing and sitting. She is elderly with advancing Alzheimer’s and is ashamed and embarrassed to not stand.
        When she stayed with us, our solution was for the entire family not to stand at any time during the worship service. She thought that was very cool…. well…we all did.
        I discovered during this time that by staying seated my worship service was highlighted by our service to her and her physical limitations and all that really we did was to just stay seated.
        I did and do feel a tinge of embarrasement by being different from all the others that are standing, but it is what it is. Her singing to our creator/savior and her safety during the services truncated any temporary personal discomfort. Skipping the ambulance runs was also a good thing.
        I have discovered that it isn’t when standing with others, but when kneeling alone that thrusts me into a proper relationship with Christ and others.

      • says

        If I was visiting your church and heard “As you are able, please stand in body or spirit.” I would be distracted for the next 10 minutes trying to figure out what the heck that means! 😉

    • says


      I serve a small church (about 50) as pastor, and had to also take on the music direction when the two member who voluntarily led the music when I came developed health issues that prevented them from continuing to lead. (One ultimately passed away and the other – who led the choir – has recovered enough to lead Sunday nights, but I still direct the choir and lead the Sunday AM congregational singing.) I always begin the congregational singing by saying, “If you are able to do so comfortably, we invite you to stand and join with the choir as we sing.” We have many older (and some not that old) members who have health issues that do make it painful to stand while singing. As a rule, people sing better and participate better while standing, but we all need to recognize that for many, it is not physically appropriate even if they are able to stand. Please do not feel embarrassed or awkward. If you cannot stand while singing, remain seated and praise God genuinely through the music!

      Robert Warmath

  6. says

    Our < 150 Baptist church is rural, though only 10 minutes from the big city. We don't yet enjoy the diversity mentioned in point #6. I personally have almost no experience with the multi in point #5 and we struggle to fill the pews in one service let alone multiple services or locations. Your other points except #9 line up with my own experience in general and at my present location specifically. However, we enjoy a fairly solid evening service with an average of 25-35% of the congregation returning each week. I realize churches in the past would see 50-75% return at night but I think there's still a desire for this ministry for some churches. Maybe it's because we're rural or that the congregation has yet to embrace small group meetings. Consequently, for the evening service, we sing all hymns straight from the hymnal.

  7. says

    Please comment on the idea that ALL must stand for all the singing. Too many seem to forget about those with medical issues that make this “mindset” of if you don’t stand you’re not participating. Please comment.

    • Joel Barker says

      If you are getting the vibe that you “must” stand in order to participate in worship, then yes, that’s a problem. But I will say that singing sounds much much better coming from a standing congregation. It shouldn’t be too hard to invite people to rise for singing but to also state that those who need to sit for any reason should do so at any time. I do realize that this is an issue when most of the words are on a projector and not in a hymn book that each individual can look at.

      My church used to try to invite people to worship “as they felt lead” re: sitting and standing and it just wound up being awkward and uncomfortable. We’ve more or less abandoned that idea and it’s understood that you stand for singing and sit for most other elements.

    • Wayne says

      We have several that do not stand at the church I attend due to physical issues. But some stand and do not sing. Maybe they are worshipping in their own way too.

  8. Jose says


    Consider the signing during prayer, I mean, the worship leader or a church pastor invite the church to pray for the sick or need but as soon as he/she start praying, the worship team start singing (slowly and low volume) but the church goes with the singing instead of praying. Or worst, there is no prayer during the services at all.

    Also, the same could be a trend with bible reading. The bible reading was left only to preaching time and sometimes only to the very beginning of the preaching.

    • Mark says

      Why is it needed? Is it instant feedback on the sermon that is desired? Sometimes you just need to hope what you said makes a difference in someone’s life in the future. I have heard half of the sermon be the invitation. That is why in high church you can often go to lay people or clergy during communion if you need to talk, make amends, confess, etc.

    • Joel Barker says

      I think that has to do with other trends that Dr. Rainier has mentioned, especially regarding the church’s lack of cultural capital and the transition from “come and see” to “go and tell” ministry. It’s probably less likely that there are actually “unsaved” people in most congregations when there is no social stigma for not attending church in the first place. I know pastors who have said that it’s hard to give altar calls when they can look out and recognize every face in the congregation and know that they’ve been attending for years and have probably made a profession of faith.

      • Stuart Allsop says

        Why does the altar call have to only be for people wanting to be saved?

        In our church, that is certainly always part of the altar call, but there are so many other reasons why people might need to be at the altar for prayer. James 5:13-16 lists just a few: Trouble, happiness, sickness, forgiveness, confession. Other scriptures provide many other reasons. In our church, an altar call is for salvation first and foremost, but also an invitation for prayer for all of the above, and also for anyone who feels the need to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit as a result of the sermon.

        I do agree that “instant feedback on the sermon” is not a valid reason for an altar call, but I can’t agree that one should merely “hope” that the sermon “makes a difference in someone’s life”. Rather, there needs to be an opportunity for those who were touched by God during the service to come forward and be ministered to, counseled, and prayed for, as the scriptures teach, just as Jesus and the disciples did.

      • Stuart Allsop says

        Joel, you said: “I know pastors who have said that it’s hard to give altar calls when they can look out and recognize every face in the congregation and know that they’ve been attending for years and have probably made a profession of faith.”: Very true. But it’s the “probably” that is the problem. So I will still give an altar call anyway, every time I preach, because there’s no way I can know what the real situation is with the heart of anyone in the congregation, even those who have been attending for ten years. Only God and the person know that. Many times, nobody responds to the call to salvation, but I’m not discouraged or embarrassed when that happens. Because many times people DO respond, as the Lord leads them, and occasionally it is people whom I had always assumed had been saved years ago.

        Not giving an altar call just because one thinks one already knows the heart of everyone in the congregation, seems to be a bit like “judging others” to me, albeit in the overly positive sense, rather than the negative sense.

  9. Russ Muse says

    Yes..these are the trends. Churches are more futuristic and changing at a rapid speed. Before, a worship song may stay around for decades while currently it becomes outdated quickly.

    I would be interested in finding out the effect this rapid change is having on the older generations. Is there a higher percentage adapting to the changes? I’ve heard of many of them leaving the denominational churches to be with their older children who love the futuristic changes. And I know of one church who would not adapt to the change and in two Sundays went from running 175-200 to running 50-60.

    Any research in this area?


  10. Allen Calkins says

    These trends are not good news for the kingdom. The 21st Century church in America is morphing into a ‘do good feel good’ society that has less to do with discipleship and evangelism with every passing year. And that seems to make denominational leaders very happy…even though the bills are mostly paid by those who attend smaller, less trendy, more rural congregations.

    • Randy Stacks says

      Our church has seen all of these trends in the last 10 years. We have not made these changes to “do good, feel good”. In fact, we have not waivered in the scripture strength of our sermons. Jesus is preached every Sunday. 75% of our weekly attendees are in Bible study every week. 50% are active in a discipleship class on Sunday nights. As far as evangelism, we have multiple events for our community, support SBC missionaries, send our own members on national and international mission trips, and have evangelism training. My take on all of these trends is that they will happen. The church looks different from 200 years ago. As long as the contents of the packege stays the same (Gospel preached, discipleship, evangelism, etc…), then it doesn’t matter what the wrapping paper looks like.

    • Ander Bolton says

      What should make us happy is the health of churches. Are there big churches that are a bit too glitzy? Sure. But there are also ‘we’ve always done it this way’ churches that are focusing on the tradition more than the Savior. Remember Luther was considered worldly for putting Christian lyrics to bar tunes.

    • Grammy says

      I agree Allen. We are so interested in pleasing the masses that I feel in a lot of instances we have lost our compass.
      The laid back casual churches in my opinion have caused a lack of reverence for the house of God. When people can just show up in any type of attire, then they come with a loose attitude towards worship and praise. People are talking, getting up and down, going in and out of church all during the sermon. I’m sorry but to me it is distracting and interferes with my worship and praise and those of my friends around me. If we can’t give our best and give our time to the Lord in our best, what does that say about us?
      This is a real sore spot in our church and we have lost 80% of our older congregation.

      • Damon says

        It says we’ve grown and can live above the unwritten rules that someone came up with 100+ years ago. It says that we finally understand that God accepts us however we are, not just when we’re at or in our best. How were the people dressed that came and sat on a hillside to hear Jesus talk? I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess they didn’t say, “That’s Jesus! I need to run home and put on my finest clothes!!”. They came as they were. Folks want to hear more of the great old hymns, but it seems that they’ve forgotten what the lyrics actually say…. “Just as I am” is not only applicable to the state of our heart/soul.

        Are we doing whatever it takes to “get someone in the door”? YEP! Why wouldn’t we? Why would we make it difficult for people to want to come to our church? Why would anyone want to make someone think, “I don’t look/act/talk like you so I must not be welcome here”. Whether you actually say it or not, people know that you’re irritated when they show up in shorts and flip flops. They know you’re annoyed and that you think they are “being disrespectful”, and they won’t be back.

        Our job is over once someone walks in the door. God is the one at work once they are in the building. Meaning, our job is to make the church a place people want to come, a place they feel comfortable. Then, and only then, can the Holy Spirit move and work.

        And by the way, an inability to worship due to what is happening around is a very saddening thought. We should be worshiping all the time, regardless of where we are or what is happening. I am in no way being judgmental or condescending, but something is wrong if you are only able to worship within a perfectly quite church building. I’ll be praying for you.

      • Nick says

        What about John the Baptist? Or even Jesus Himself? I know of a church that decided that the bus ministry needed to re route itself because the kids they were picking up were hard to deal with. They were loud, they started some fights, they said words that weren’t very “christian like” and they just didn’t contribute to the church. After hearing that I couldn’t help but think of myself. That’s who I was in the truest sense. When God saw me I know he saw me in my raw form. He saw the stubborn me, the one who He knew would confess him one minute and deny him the next. He saw the me that was dirty, messy, and who wasn’t good enough and still He chose to love and invest in me. I wish I could say I always have a reverence for God but at times my actions speak differently. I just thank God that he loves me anyway, and he still shows me the way even when I don’t choose to follow it, because if he didn’t I would be so lost. There is a scripture that talks about when Christ had met with all of His follow he made the statement “unless you drink of my blood, and eat of my body, you can’t have any part of me.” After that hard statement was made it said that many left and walked away because that teaching was too hard. Maybe some people are walking away because that call is too hard. The call the work through the messiness of those who are lax and don’t understand “how things are suppose to be done”. If we don’t keep reaching out then who will? I hope this doesn’t sound disrespectful. I don’t mean it that way at all. I just know that one of the biggest jobs of the saints of God in our churches as mandated in scripture is to mentor, disciple, and train those of us who are rough around the edges. But it’s very hard to do that when they aren’t there anymore….

    • Nick says

      I am an associate pastor who’s church’s worship service fits most of these trends. In no way do we have lack of evangelism or Discipleship. Actually it is the total opposite. We are a very discipleship driven church. We also train leaders who in return train other leaders. I am also seeing a trend in larger churches who do the exact same. In fact not very far from us is a church with close to ten thousand members and their discipleship and evangelism standards and practices are extremely admirable! There seems to be a trend today where people make the statement ” the only reason people go to those big churches is because its just a big show where feelgoodism is preached and there is no solid base!” I usually see this from smaller churches who are struggling. Who’s membership is dying out without any one new coming in to step in the gap because young people bring new fresh vision and a lot of times it isn’t the way “we have always done things”. Does it go against solid Christ centered doctrine? The answer in most cases is no. If you would have told my grandfather 30 years ago that he would buy a bottle of water in a store he would have told you that you were crazy. The water he bought and drank thirty years later is the same life sustaining water he drank from a faucet. It is merely packaged different. We all have to remember that just because we have a traditional Sunday School, Wednesday night service, and Sunday Night service doesn’t mean people are being “Discipled”. Most true discipleship happens throughout the week. It’s when you take time to bring someone under your ministry, to live life with them while pouring into them Godly wisdom and prayer. It’s praying together, reading Gods word together and reaching out to others together. Showing them how to live so that when you are taken away one day(like Jesus was) they can follow in the steps of the savior in which you pointed them too. You can’t learn all that from a class one or two nights a week.

    • says

      The statistics are that a large majority of denominational budgets are paid by churches over 400. Small churches are often not able to give anywhere near as much to the denomination coffers as large churches do.

  11. says

    Not to stir the puddin’ too much, but exactly why is the decrease in all white congregations a certain sign of increased diversity. We are a traditional SBC church, used to be all white, and now we are not, but still a majority. What does the study say about all black congregations, increase or decrease? Ethnic congregations? I know there is an increase in ethnic congregations in our area (Metro Atlanta), but it does not mean worship experiences are necessarily more diverse, although I would hope that would be the case. There is still an awful lot of segregation in worship on Sundays, I think.

    • says

      You know I love diversity both in appearance (people of various ethnicities) and also in worship styles, art etc. But doesn’t any body notice that some people are just not as comfortable with different styles of worship? I would love for more people of color to attend our church. I would welcome them, try to plug them in as they are comfortable with that etc. But we’re just real ‘White” in our worship. Even if we sang songs by James Brown we’d be very ‘white’. Untill we can get ethnicities in our leadership, its very difficult to merge certain styles.

  12. David Atkins says

    I’ve noticed that in my area (midwest) the “presentation” or planning and packaging of the sermon has shifted to series built around topics. Obviously there have always been those who preached topically, but the slick advertisements I regularly receive in the mail deal exclusively with topical series, never book studies. (There may be two trends here: sermon content and ad agency techniques by churches of all sizes, not just mega churches.)

  13. Paul says

    The trend of no evening services disturbs most. We attend a very large church that no longer has evening services. Sunday has no longer become the Lord’s day but come to church in the morning and then do what you want to the rest of the day. I’m talking about the beach and shopping. We need to stay out of the malls the grocery stores and the restaurants on Sundays. The Lord never said to do what you want on Sunday .

    • chad says

      I agree…to what I think is your sentiment…that we have cheapened an understanding of Sabbath…but the Lord never said anything about going to church on Sunday either. The statement alone suggests the digression in a biblical understanding of God’s order. I go to where my church meets on Sunday’s…but only because it is the tradition I am in. I grew up in “church” every time the doors were open. As a pastor now…I don’t miss Sunday nights at all…and I’d be curious/surprised if research actually revealed that it “disturbs most.” I’d rather be with the church in a more personal setting where I can be truly intimate…or maybe better yet be with those in my neighborhood where I can actually be on mission with God restoring the world to God’s created order. I believe “the church” may have lost its way when it decided that “don’t give up meeting together as some have done” meant that we should be in this building we wrongly call a “church” three or more times a week. I strongly believe the best days for “the church” are ahead…but I don’t believe it will be because we fill the pews as often as we used to be.

    • Alan says

      Paul, the Lord also never said anything about attending church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. Many people love attending on Sunday evenings, but for many, this is one of the few times where all of the family can meet together. Within my family, we have a song leader, choir member, praise team singer, two praise team band members, S.S. Superintendent, tech personnel and an S.S. Children’s teacher. Sunday mornings are B-U-S-Y! We are amongst the first to arrive and last to leave on Sunday morning…long after most started eating Sunday dinner. For families like ours, the afternoon is short too, because choir practice and/or meetings begin as early as 4 pm. Occasionally, it is nice to have a break from the “rest” of the Sabbath. If our church (attendance approx 1200) stopped having Sunday evening services, I’d rejoice, because I could spend more time with my family, of which I’m certain the Lord would approve.

    • Gale says

      The people have, for the most part, “voted with their feet” regarding Sunday evening services. Even many of our deacons, leaders, and teachers chose to never attend on Sunday night.

      When my children were young, I was exhausted from getting them dressed, preparing Sunday lunch, etc., and had no desire to go through the same process in the evening (despite the fact that I was more or less required to do so since I was a staff wife). So challenging to get them “wound down” and into bed after a full day.

      Even now, I appreciate the lack of a Sunday night service, but my staff husband must attend some sort of Sunday night visitation/training or etc., a Wednesday night service, a satellite campus service on Saturday night, and often other evening activities in addition to keeping solid office hours. But, I digress.

      Perhaps the strongest argument of all is that by Sunday evening, the mindset is to be thinking about the workweek ahead and the ending of the weekend, and it’s just human nature to want one more chance at a restful prelude.

  14. says

    Dr. Rainer:

    These are great observations from the outside in that speak to phenomenon that is evident in the church community of the 21st century. A disconnect comes when churches look from the inside out and the culture of the church does not have a thinking process in place that sees the need to adapt to changing trends outs side the church that should affect what happens inside the church. My preaching professor at The Baptist College of Florida would say it this way, “We have the fort mentality, so let’s get in the fort and protect ourselves from the Indians” (Leroy Benefield). Obviously, there are many churches following these trends, but for the churches that are detached from contextual community ministry and are still in denial, there is a felt loss of community connection,. This is one area that I have observed that contributes to decline, a lack of passion for evangelism, and discipleship that leads to transformational outward focus that is driven by spiritual values aligned with the mission of Christ for His church.

  15. Sarah says

    I am curious about your thoughts on college aged student attendance. It takes going to a mega-church to be able to find a college group that is of a decent size even to simply get 10-15 people. Additionally, the college age/non married graduated college age group feels very lost in the church without many groups for us. Is this a trend or is it just me feeling this way?

    • Mark says

      I know the feeling. People like us weren’t wanted. We had no representation among the leadership (only married male parents) regardless of the type (elders, deacons, etc.). We asked too many questions, we challenged too many entrenched policies, we “stirred up the pot” so to speak. We did not donate very much. We would have given time and effort but that would have made the church more like a charity with some social justice advocates. Can’t have that. I shook my head and asked why?

    • Andrew says

      I would say that what I noticed and the feeling I got while visiting several SBC churches during my 20’s was that a lot of them just really didn’t know what to do with us. For most of the 18-1900’s, it was considered “normal” to get married in your early-mid twenties, settle in, get a job, have kids, and start singing in the choir, teach sunday school, something. With a fast-rising trend of people staying single much longer, I’m not sure the American church as a whole has adjusted it’s programming to meet this need. That’s why you find the VAST majority of twenty somethings at just a few churches who program extensively towards that demographic.

      Just my opinion.

      • Mark Dance says

        I’ll admit that my church fit that description until a few years ago. We had ministries for children, youth and adults – even college students; but our single adults in their 20s and 30s were on their own. As you said, we didn’t know what to do with them.

        My wife and I decided to start a Small Group for singles in their twenties and we stayed with that class for over 2 years. We recruited and trained five teachers who shared the teaching and leadership roles. That class runs about 20 on Sundays today with an active role twice that large. A similar class was started last year for singles in 30-40s. Both classes us BSFL material and are growing.

        At the end of the day, doing nothing was unacceptable.

  16. Mark says

    The style of worship will always change because society changes. I just hope and pray that the hearts of “Christians” will always be for their God. Change is neither good or bad nor is staying the same unless the motive is to accomplish comfort. Worship is not about us, it’s about God. Yet many of our hymns and songs are all about us. Have we forgotten how to worship? More importantly, have we forgotten WHO we worship? I pray that’s not the case.

  17. Ron Bradberry says

    Dr. Thom,

    We are a small church with only around 120 in Sunday school but have around 280 or so active members. At our church the Wednesday service was dropping in attendance as most of us are senior in age. Our pastor said he would start a Wednesday morning service at 10:00 to allow those that can’t drive in the dark the opportunity to come. This is double work on him without extra pay. Now the morning service has more people coming than the evening. I thank God for a man like our pastor.

  18. Marty says

    Helpful piece. Am surprised only at #4. I would have guessed sermons were getting shorter, partly for modern attention spans but also for pressure of multi-services/sites. Will watch for your additional data. Thanks.

  19. Mark Dance says

    It seems that most of what is trending downward are preferences: ties/dresses, hymnals & evening services. It is hard for me to be upset about that.

  20. says

    Interestingly, a certified fairly well know consultant shared with our elder board this past week during training that 90 % of churches in America average under 100 attendees per week. Can we reconcile this with your statistics? Thanks!

    • Tim says

      90% of “churches” does not equate to 90% of “people”. There are more “people” attending larger churches (percentage of people). This makes perfect sense!

    • Nathan Payne says

      Let’s consider it this way…Assume there is one mega-church in an area, and it averages 3,000 people attending. There are two other churches that average 800 people attending. Then there are 20 small churches that average 75 people.

      The three larger churches contain 4,600 people. The 20 small churches contain 1,500 people. The larger churches contain 75% of the congregants, even though there is a much greater number of smaller churches.

      Now, consider that in a metro area like Atlanta, where there are a whole lot of churches that average 400 or more….with many up into the multi-thousands of congregants. That’s how this reconciles.

  21. says

    Dr. Rainer, nine for nine when it comes to our church. We are in the 400+ category. Being a worship pastor, that is very choir focused, I find your #1 to be disheartening and unfortunately true. I love choir music but have seen our choir attendance drop especially over the last few years. What specific causes are you finding for the drop in attendance? Is there a way to turn it around?

    • Brett says

      As for the cause(s) to the dropped interest in choir … I think that’s relatively easy: Turn on your radio and scan the stations. What you won’t find is a choir (or ensemble) channel. Outside of a couple of subcultures, choir music is pretty much a foreign thing. So I wouldn’t be surprised to find fewer and fewer interested in it, and certainly wouldn’t expect to see that trend reverse.

    • Mark Dance says

      My church still has a thriving choir, but they made the transformation from a performance choir to a worship choir.

      • Dave says

        I attend a megachurch (about 3500 in attendance) with five weekend services at our main campus (we have three locations). Over time, the choir has gotten noticeably smaller…due in part to five services on two weekend days. The choir would get the sheet music on Wednesday, rehearse on Thursday night, and be at the church on Saturday to rehearse at 2 PM and not leave until 8:00 PM. Then they would be back at it on Sunday morning at 8:00 AM for rehearsal, and not be done until 12:30 PM on Sunday after the last service.

        That got to be way too much time for most of them. Now, we only have a choir at the last two Sunday morning services…the musicians and front line singers do all five services.

        As churches get larger and add services, some areas of serving can become a burden to folks week after week…leaving little time for family.

  22. Ander Bolton says

    For what it’s worth, I grew up in the late ’80s in a church of 300 that had been pretty big and important church of over 800 in the ’60s. They always worked to remember their “glory days” and eschewed anyone who suggested changing out the orange carpet. That church is no longer in existence. Don’t tell about about discipleship OR evangelism. If you can’t be relevant, you can’t be evangelistic, and therefore have no one left to disciple…..

    • Trey says

      “If you can’t be relevant, you can’t be evangelistic.” Wow! What a statement. I may reuse that.

      • Mark says

        True. Even the gospels were written to different groups of people. So the refusal to reach out to different groups is really unbiblical.

  23. andie says

    This is really interesting! I would love to keep up with your blog posts! I definitely see these changes in my home church and even at school where chapel is required. It seems like as social media is growing and technology is becoming more advanced and accessible, churches feel the need to be caught up with the world around them. Social media and powerpoint has its benefits when it comes to the church, but why does every church have a slide about “liking” their page on Facebook in their announcements? Sometimes it just seems like it gets out of hand.

  24. Scott says

    These trends are definitely occurring, at least as I observe them, however some of them are not occurring fast enough in my mind. Though it has been noticed that change is needed, there are far too many resisting any sort of change, regardless of where it is or what it involves. These are impeding the further growth of the church and hindering the witness of the body of Christ. If we refuse to change, not the message itself, but the way we present it, then we have doomed ourselves to destruction and extinction. With every new generation come new challenges and life experiences which change the outlook on the world. If we are not willing to put ourselves in a position to be in this new world, then we are not reaching those that are in it.

    We can no longer stand in our hallowed halls, ring the bells, and call out to people outside to come to us expecting that they will just automatically run our direction. It does not work that way, we must go to them, engage them on their terms and on their turf, plug ourselves into their lives, and point them towards the cross. Not drag them to it, call them to it, throw them to it, or throw it at them, simply point them in the right direction and let God do the leading in His way and His time. We need only be faithful in what we are called to do, and one of those things we are called to do is change.

    • Donnie says

      Scott, I could not agree more. If more church leadership would follow this logic we would be growing churches as opposed to closing them. The church has to be more concerned about who were reaching than who were keeping.

      • Mark says

        One example, Rev. Dr. Amy Butler of Calvary Baptist in DC went out on the sidewalk on Ash Wednesday and performed the imposition of ashes to people passing by. She decided that people did not always want to come inside the walls of the church so she would go out to where the people were.

  25. Joni Kirk says

    The definition of a regular attendee is someone who comes to two church functions per month. TWO!!!

  26. Alayna says

    Anyone else also think that Sunday school is disappearing? I personally love Sunday school, but since I’ve gone to college it’s so hard to find a southern baptist church that has one for college students and that actually tries to reach out to college students.

    • Mark says

      That is because very few have the guts to want to take on a college level Sunday school class. Topics would make most church members cringe and old people to have heart attacks.

  27. Angela says

    Too add to your list: I would be curious at to the median age of today’s worship pastor vs. the past. I would also be curious as to his means of preparations, i.e., undergrad in music? seminary education? no degree in music? degree in IT field? etc. I personally notice a change in these categories and also feel there is a direct impact on seminary attendance in this area. I’ve heard many “big church” pastors make direct mention of bypassing seminary grads and hiring local musicians within or among their own congregation.

    As for cessation of worship wars… While I agree with many, if not all, assessments or observations you’ve made in the past on the subject (in previous articles citing new hymnody, etc.), I’m left to wonder if, perhaps, the worship wars actually DO still exist in full but may have only changed venues or visibility. For example: In yesterday’s wars… the war raged among the congregation over style among other issues. Highly observable and highly flammable. :) Has anyone considered the war now exists among the staff or overseers–less observable or noticed by the congregation or others?

    In other words, the congregation has obviously been “educated” over the past decade and now “gets it”. . . that worship is NOT about them, etc. But I personally know of many, many seminary trained worship leaders (in their 30s and 40s) who within the past year or two have either left the field altogether or who have resigned or been forced to resign…many times to the ignorance of the congregation as to why. As for the underlying circumstance, it had everything to do intense disagreements and bipolar views of worship and of the pragmatics of this area in particular. For instance, many choirs have ceased b/c (according to the testimony of some), the lead pastor no longer found them to be useful no matter how much the worship pastor vied for their importance or biblical role and despite the worship pastor’s efforts to modernize or make relevant their offerings or methodologies.

    I wonder also if perhaps the wars have ceased b/c new worship “guys” who lack seminary education or training with regard to the theology of worship but who are great musicians alone, are now being hired–resulting in less friction behind the scenes–less disagreements and more “on board” working relationships. (That statement was NOT meant to demean those w/o seminary degrees nor was it meant to exalt those who do have them)

    Also of interest: there are many observable changes among our 6 seminaries w/ regard to worship student numbers and both the need and efforts toward curriculum revision and re-focus. All are adjusting or revising in unique ways as a stewardship to the convention.

    As a seminary trained musician married to a fellow seminary grad & worship pastor–with one foot in the 30’s and one foot in the 40’s age brackets–who have opportunity to speak with so many others in the field throughout the US and among those who are either teaching or studying at seminaries, I find there exists an increasing level of discouragement with regard to the sometimes tense staff relationships over worship issues. Anyone else??

    Perhaps the seminaries would best serve both the lead pastor and worship pastor by teaching relational and communication elements. Perhaps lead pastors could add to their curriculum studies the study of biblical worship and it’s practical, musical applications. Perhaps the worship pastors could learn how best to communicate those effectively or to work in tandem with the ministry of the whole church rather than just the area of music or worship. Regardless, there are issues in this area.

    Obviously, there’s much to investigate and much that could be said. Also, there are many GREAT things going on behind the scenes among pastoral staffs, too!! Just wanted to throw those potential cliffhangers out there and see what you thought.

  28. says

    Faithful members miss Sundays more than ever before – more weekend trips, vacations, etc. Would be curious to know the average number of Sundays leaders in churches miss

  29. Eric Thompson says

    So I guess this is saying, it’s impossible to love Jesus if a church does not have these things?

  30. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    My thoughts:

    1: Choirs are required in the Bible. I doubt the 1st century church had them. I’ve been in churches that have them, I’ve been in churches that don’t. I’ve been in churches where the choir is very informal; they may have rehearsals but few even show up for them. I’ve been in churches where the choir is something you sign up for and if you miss rehearsals, you’re out.

    2. As a girl who grew up in the north, I’m glad that dress has become more informal. Going to church in the middle of the winter in a dress or skirt was never a fun thing. If we start telling people that they have to dress a certain way to attend church, we start heading towards legalism.

    3. I’ve heard music ministers say that they really like using the overhead screens because everyone’s heads are up and the congregations sounds louder.

    4. As long as the gospel is preached well, the length shouldn’t matter. On a personal note, it is nicer when the speaker is engaging when they speak for a longer period of time. If they aren’t, taking notes while they preach usually helps me stay focused.

    5. I’m starting to think that if churches get too big or need to have extra campuses to house everyone, maybe they should “split” and plant new churches in the area.

    6. Yea!

    7. Yea!

    8. I refer you to my response for #5. I’ve been in some of those bigger churches. They are a great place to hide.

    9. The number of services a church should have are not dictated in Scripture. When we start dictating how many services are required we are going down the slippery slope of legalism. I have know of churches who’s Sunday evening service is just repeat of the morning service. Some churches follow the traditional route of evening services but attendance is usually lower in that service compared to the morning service. I’ve been in churches where Sunday evening is reserved for Bible study groups. It is best for each church to decide how to best use the resources (people, space, time) they have and put them to good use.

    I do thank you for presenting the information without commentary. This kind of information is always interesting to me.

    Thank you

  31. Nathan Payne says

    One of the things that I see that is supporting the change to more people attending larger churches has to do with service / outreach. Younger people seem to be looking for a “community” of believers…not just a church building to attend services.

    They find this community more in doing things that reach out into the community, instead of hanging out in the church 3 times a week. Several of the growing churches around me continue to have solid services (although many have more of a small-group function on a different night instead of a Sun night service). But the common thread is that they are doing outreach and community projects. They may cook for the police department one month. Or they have a clothing drive that they deliver. Or they adopt a teacher’s lounge at a local school and renovate it for those teachers.

    Smaller churches have tended to “bunker up” and talk about remaining true to the Word, somehow dismissing any community responsibilities. It has become more “come to us” instead of accepting the Great Commission to “go”. Thus…younger people gravitate away from the smaller churches where they were raised, but don’t see opportunities to serve the community of unbelievers…and they go to larger churches that do outreach.

    Maybe one of the reasons some of these churches ARE larger is because they are doing outreach and serving the community…. hummmmmm.

  32. says

    Just to clarify… Does the statistic regarding attendance at churches over 400 mean that if 10 people decide to go to a church this Sunday, that 9 of them prefer to go to a church over 400?

  33. says

    The Church I attend now still has the about the same trend as the Church I attended as a kid. I am 67 years old. Before I moved to Carrollton I attended Pontiac Bible Church which is very much changed from the Church I attended as a kid. I noticed the name Ronald Keith Jackson, If your mother’s name is Sally Sawaztski [bad spelling] and lives in Peoria Il. will you e-mail me. I was married to your Uncle Jack and I was at your grandpa;s funeral. I thought the world of him. I alwaya said I would like to attend one of your services. i thought the service you and Brock did was a great honor to your grandpa.

  34. Thom Rainer says

    Lots of great comments! I apologize if I haven’t responded to your comment. I will do my best to get to it later.

  35. says

    Thom, thanks for your continued efforts to inform and educate the local church on trends and changes in the local church (good & bad) and for the ways you continue to challenge the church to think and to be missional. As a church consultant, I know your insights have been challenging, formative and a help to pastors across the country. You are a blessing to the Kingdom. THANK YOU!

  36. Allison McCrary says

    This saddens me that people are flocking to large churches when the small church under 400 offers more intimate community across all age and demographic lines. Generational mentoring can be accomplished. I’m a pastor’s wife and my husbands pastors a church of 225 in attendance and the fellowship between generations is wonderful. I know the small groups are supposed to address these issues but rarely do they cross generational lines.

  37. Alan says

    I am new to this blog, and I really enjoy the topics and comments so far. It seems to me that most of the changes many churches are experiencing are in the “what I like” categories. Attire, music style, number of worship services, screens, etc really have little to do with message. The Church has changed much over the centuries, and as with many things today, the changes are more rapid than in the past.

    Personally, I would like to believe that anything that a church can do stylistically to attract the unchurched without altering the life-changing message that Jesus Christ can save individuals from sin is worth doing. No one says that we have to like every stylistic change; however, if we fight change because it’s “not how we’ve always done it,” that is a red flag of selfishness.

  38. Bryan MacPhail-Fausey says

    I have seen the majority of these over the last several years. As a missionary speaking in churches on a frequent basis, I also see many churches at different stages in adopting these trends.

    I do find the note that conflict is decreasing interesting. While I would like to view this optimistically, I have also observed that there is less of a commitment to the church; those who have concern or conflict simply go somewhere else where they perceive the grass to be greener or more favorable to their view. Alongside this, I have also observed that sometimes the larger churches tend to foster a membership with less involvement and commitment.

    I would be curious to understand the causal of the decrease in conflict.

  39. says

    I am personally seeing a resurgence of the choir in larger churches. In the listing of Outreach magazine 2013 Top 100 Largest Evangelical Churches 63 of the Top 100 are using choirs on a regular basis. The day of the performance oriented choir will continue to diminish but eh new worship choir concept is growing. This groups of gang vocals bringing energy to the worship band and on mic vocal leaders has become the new wave in many situations. Lakewood and Hillsongs are cutting edge in worship and still use choirs weekly. The Glee age of young people are wanting to have their own level of expression in the church and the choir just make sense as a place for that expression. As I have spoken to several young worship leaders at the NWLC and Experience Conference this past year I am hearing a new interest in using more vocalist on stage in a worship choir. I recently attended a service at Austin Stone and Aaron Ivy used a worship choir in the college age demographic worship experience. It did not distract from the contemporary feel and I felt it gave the great congregation permission to participate. The day of the choir is not ending … it is just changing. These are my opinions but I challenge you to look at these statistics of the 100 largest churches as a trending model that 63% of theses Top churches are using the choir.

  40. Grammy says

    Yes, I am a Senior citizen. I miss hearing the old hymns I grew up with and which ministered to me in such a wonderful way. I like the new choruses as well. I cannot understand why we can’t compromise and have both. It seems to me we have little respect for our senior congregation who worked hard, were faithful with their time and money and helped the churches grow. What happened to respect and honoring your elders.
    My biggest concern is how informal services are. We seem to have lost our reverence to be in the Lord’s house. People dress up more for a ball game than they do to worship the Lord. I am referring to those who wear shorts, strapless dresses and tee shirts to church. Surely we can honor our Lord better than that. With the casual dress, comes casual attitudes and a lesser sense of reverence to be in the Lord’s house. Too much whispering and people getting up and down during the service. But when your ushers are in shorts and sandals, what do you expect?
    I’m sure this will meet with much criticism from the younger adults but just remember you wouldn’t have that beautiful church if it wasn’t for the sacrifice and faithfulness of some of us older congregants.

    • Mark says

      Why don’t you suggest having an old style, formal service? Why does it have to be one or the other? Have both a modern and an old style.

    • Lora says

      I understand what you are saying about dress but at the same time in biblical times did the people run home to get dressed up for Jesus when he came to preach to them or did they come as they were and in their casual dress as they dressed any other day. I think that there are some out there that cannot afford the dress attire that alot of people feel is required to attend church and if they were made to feel welcome no matter what they wore maybe you would reach some of the people that God would be reaching out to. You should remember that Jesus reached out to the thieves and prostitutes tax collectors and so on if he only reached out to those that were already following most of us today would not be in th church and most likely alot of the churches would not be here either.

  41. Mike Trail says

    Mr. Rainer,
    I remember an article some years ago, and I’m not sure if you wrote it or someone else, but it had to do with Most Churched vs. Most Transformed cities in America. When the article was written, Dallas was the most churched city but did not make the top ten when issues of transformation were measured. I have read many of your books and thoroughly enjoyed then, but was wondering if you have or are planning to write some dealing with the Transformational aspect of our church culture? Thank you much

  42. Lonnie says

    I would agree with the results, except perhaps the choir. I personally think that the choirs are still there. What we have are less worship leaders who have the desire and/or training to utilize them.

  43. Rev. Lloyd McDougall says

    A lot of interesting chatter, but the most significant changes are not in the “Settings” of doing “Church”, but in the Content. After about five years away from visiting any Church in America, as we served on the Mission Field in Africa, I found the most significant change was from Hymns and Choruses that clearly emphasized Jesus, the Cross, and the Blood, to what I would call a lot of “Feel Good Music” about “God” that could just as easily have been sung by a Mormon or a Mason as a true believer. That is what was disturbing about my experience of coming home. That needs to change back or Church will be irrelevant.

  44. says

    This is an insightful post, Dr. Rainer. Very helpful!

    I’m curious to know if there is a trend, similar to #9, with regard to midweek services? Or has the midweek service been replaced with small groups and the like?

    Thanks again!

  45. says

    My church doesn’t use hymnals. We sing the latest popular choruses over and over and over for 10 minutes, and then sing another one for 10 minutes until we run that one into the ground too. I don’t know how a young person joining the choir can manage to read music. They never SEE sheet music. I never have the opportunity to share a hymnal with a visitor anymore. No one can look in the index to see how many songs Fannie Crosby or anyone else wrote, or any history of the hymns at all. If the Titanic sank now, the crew would have to sing peppy, fast-paced praise choruses, not anything deeply worshipful or meaningful. Whenever we do manage to sing a rare hymn, the adults sing loudly and they know all the words. Congregations are not all young people. Maybe my song leader was bitten by a hymn once and scarred. I don’t know why we don’t sing hymns. Sad.

  46. Heather says

    I am a part of a very liberal and progressive church and it seems as if the divisive issues of change across all religions, both conservative and liberal, are often more generation based than based on scriptual, dogmatic, or certain religion/belief systems. The resistance to chance we experience in our church is very similar to the resistance my friends from conservative churches experience.

  47. says

    It seems like Sunday evening services that are disappearing are typically due to a lack of effort on behalf of the pastors. I’ve heard many people, from different churches, make the same statement, “it’s pointless to go on Sunday night.” The churches with thriving Sunday nights, seem to also have pastors & leaders who invest more into planning and studying for the services. I’ve served in a church where the staff/leadership didn’t know if the pastor was even going to show up that night. That happened multiple times. Many times, the pastor would show up 10-12 minutes after church had started.

    I now work for a church association of over 60 churches, and it seems to happen often.

  48. says

    I have pastored the same small church for 40 years.
    #1 Never consistently had a choir.
    #2 Yes, but it parallels the style in our area. We have become more of a blue-collar area.
    #3 .We have a screen. Installed in the time to which you refer. We use it all the time for music. 1/2 the time for messages. Nothing fancy.
    It was a minor matter in our worship war. Removing pews and installing chairs was a bigger deal.
    #4 We are “Multi” in that we have 2 AM services. As much as possible identical
    #5 Sermons are perhaps shorter.
    #6 We are only slightly more diverse.
    #7 Overall the last 10 years have been the most contentious in my 40. The trend over the last 5 has been positive
    #9 Our Sunday evening service became an age graded program some time ago, so over the past 10 years this has not been a factor.

    Thanks for your observations

    • Trey says

      I am a young pastor (31) and your comment “I have pastored the same small church for 40 years” is very encouraging to me. I believe your longevity is in part because, as you’ve listed, you have embraced many of the changing trends without (I assume) changing the message of the Gospel. I hope that in 40 years, I am able to say something very similar. Thank you for your service.

  49. Kathie Kirschenmann says

    I am finding that the millennials prefer authenticity and they are not finding it in the “rock concert” style of “praise” worship. I have read many articles by the 20-somethings that suggest, both explicitly and nonchalantly that a more traditional style of liturgy is preferred. It feels true and right without being showy. I have read where these younger folks have said that they get more from a service with more”gospel” and less singing. They are searching for the truth and 20 minutes of “Holy high-fives” see empty and meaningless.

    So I guess them if you want to attract the future into you pews, give them something they can chew on that is nutritious rather that “candy and soda”.

    • Mark says

      That is why near Washington, the catholic, Anglican and orthodox churches are growing again with younger professionals with or without families.

      • deborah lerner says

        When you say growing do you mean growing like the mega churches grow or do you mean growing like not shrinking and dying and maybe gaining a few members a year? I have heard this before but have yet to see a truly “high” church that is gaining members rapidly from this demographic. I would like to know of one or two of those?

        • Mark says

          They aren’t becoming mega churches. Some have gained 10-25% over a few years. However, they have started having baptisms and confirmation classes again. All Saints Episcopal in Chevy Chase is one. I believe St. John’s, Norwood, in Bethesda is another. Washington National cathedral has quite a few 20-30s as does St John’s on Lafayette Square.

      • says

        St. Luke in the Fields in NYC is an Anglo-Catholic parish with a growing 20s/30s group, and they tend to attend our 11:15, which has an adult professional choir and much Latin choral music. I have been a member since before 2000, and frankly, very little has changed in the service. But we have been attracting more families and young singles.

        • Mark says

          St Thomas on 5th Ave. is another one with the Latin and plainsong. They are not liberal either. They have massive crowds and are “one step” under Westminster Abbey, which is where some of the young in London are going. St. John the Divine in Houston has quite a few younger people too. They are conservative too.

    • George Bush says

      There is a difference between church musicians and musicians in the church. The first adders to the worship experience while the second search for the spotlight.

  50. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    This is a great article although painful. Each of the points cited in the article impacted the church I pastored for 13 years to the point that it all but disappeared. The big issue was #6 where the people refused to embrace diversity…a mostly white church surrounded by a mostly non-white community. As the pastor, I led the church through the other points but sadly the racial issue was “a bridge too far.”

    The fallout of all of these points may be a growing number of pastors, worship leaders, and others who are over 50 years old and find themselves without a church having difficulty getting a new ministry opportunity. Many in this situation feel alone, abandoned, and unable to fully support their family. There seems to be little active support from the denomination for the collateral damage resulting from the seed changes cited in the article.

  51. says

    Here’s one that is difficult to quantify: The differential between expectation and contribution is growing. In other words, people expect much more than they did 20 years ago but contribute less to make it happen. That means fewer hours per volunteer, greater dependence on staff, and a higher expectation of quality.

  52. Ryan Krivsky says

    I wonder how much of the statistics are skewed in points #1 and #2 by the increase of church starts. It seems, in the time frame on which this article is reflecting, there have been more church starts than in other period of history. With church starts, it is simply not feasible to immediately have a church choir. It is much more achievable to find a person who can play guitar and sing to lead worship. Then, once that precedent is set, the church never sees a need to have a choir. Those large churches who “led the charge” in doing away with choirs have since added them back in. So, I believe that may not be a trend, but is just a result of church starts and small churches giving up the effort to keep one going.

    Also, in these church starts, they may be meeting in a school auditorium or cafeteria, theater, small meeting space, store front, or a home. These are casual atmospheres. Thus, people are going to dress (and act) more casually.

    Good information to think about! Thanks!

  53. Jimmy Edwards says

    One trend I have seen over the last 3-4 years is the replacement of Sunday School with Small Groups. In many newer/more contemporary congregations members are expected to join one in order to feel the true spirit of “Koinonia.” My wife and I had a bad experience with small groups in the last church where we actively participated. The small group leader tries to control your life by telling you what group to be in and how to live your life in the church. The church had an “Outlive Your Life” campaign where we were challenged to grow in Christ through activities like mentoring another Believer, stepping out on faith to adopt children from overseas, giving more money to the church, etc. We could only use the activities church leadership told us we could do. I felt uncomfortable with this degree of meddling, and we are reluctant to get involved in a church in our current city due to the preponderance of churches with similar ministries. Plus our work schedules do not allow us to attend these groups every week.

  54. says

    Dr. Rainer

    The reason I ask is that, regarding #8 in particular, I have never seen the data presented the way you state it, that congregations of 400 and up represent 90% of church attendance. According to the National Congregations Study, churches in the range of 100-499 (representing 35% of all congregations) are the largest single block of churches, with worship attendance of 25 million (44.6%). The largest percentage of individual churches are congregations below 100 in attendance, making up 59% of all congregations, but their worship attendance numbers are 9 million (16%). According to the NCS, the combined total attendance of the remaining 6% of congregations is 22 million (39%).

    In summary, according the NCS data a larger percentage of Americans are attending churches under 500 in worship: 31 million attendees (61%) as opposed to the 22 million in congregations larger than 500 (39%). This is another way of presenting the data and, for some of your readers, perhaps counters what your statement in #8 may seem imply. What the data may indicate is that there is a preference for congregations that average between 100-499. This also seems to correspond to data about human socialization and the number of recognized relationships that we can manage.


  55. Bill McCord says

    Dr. Rainer: Here are some stats: From; Harrison Co. Ky.

    The population is around 18.5K
    There are 72 Churches.
    There are around 3700 people on the rolls of these 72 churches.
    On a given avg. Sunday 2700 people are in attendance.

    Over the past 20 years I have seen all of the 9 posted changes come into play in the church as a whole. Though I don’t have any comments on what works or doesn’t work for any given church today. I would say this:

    There is a 6 letter word: C-H-A-N-G-E which is really a 4 letter word that means G-R-O-W!

    Churches are changing……… are they growing? They can’t grow without change, is change the problem or are the people the problem.

    Our society and culture has changed more rapidly than our churches.

    God’s word has not changed. He has asked us “THE CHURCH” to fulfill the “GREAT COMMISSION”.

    Go back and read the stats that I gave at the biginning of this comment. I would guess that stats all accross this nation for each county of each state would be simular to the stats for Harrrison Co. KY.

    Question; Is today’s Church fulfilling God’s command to the Church?

    Clothes, multiple services, music, choirs, Sunday night services, Wednesday night serice, Sunday School, small groups, Seniors, kids, young people, ect………………………….

    The gospel has to be shared. How we do this…… Matters and what matters most that people are introduced to our LORD and SAVIOR …………AND THE TRUTH OF HIS WORD………..



    Bill McCord

  56. ChuckQ says

    These items are SPOT ON. My wife and I have been back and forth on our feeling about these items for the last 10 years or so, and while we are both 50, we generally think that they are all good things. As long as the pastor and leadership have a heart for leading people to Christ, that is the main thing. As my dad always said, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I do believe, however, that as long as their are small, rural churches (mostly in the South), there will always be the more traditional, 3-weekly services/choirs/hymnals, and that is a great thing to. Church’s must adapt to their surroundings in order to reach people, or they may find themselves no longer relevant.

  57. Shelvin Lamb says

    AMEN to Ray comments! I am a worship choir guy, too. I have been in fulltime ministry since 1996. I feel somewhat responsible for the choir decline because this has happened under my generations watch. I, for one, want to join men like Ray, and be a part of my generation (the mid 40’s) and the future generation in turning this around. A point to ponder: Through the years, choir members represented those who ‘did everything’ in the church. Many of them were considered the spiritual heroes, role models, and those who had great spiritual depth. This research may also represent not only a decline in choir attendance but a decline in spiritual depth and true discipleship. Could this possibly be contributing to our decline in baptisms, giving, and what has been termed by some as ‘SBC- a dying denomination? That should be even more concerning.

  58. D Miller says

    Some of these changes make me sad. I believe they are splitting congregations. I am middle aged. I see my parents looking lost during the congregational singing. I like most of the new songs, but believe that we owe it to the older folks to also sing the songs that touch them. If the congregation is a blend, so should the worship be a blend of young and old. Also, I have seen Alzheimers patients light up, and participate when a familiar old hymn is sung. Do we not owe them that much…a familiar song or two each service As far as standing, why ask people to? If you feel moved by the song, stand. I have stood with a bad back for 15 minutes straight, because I was asked to. I would rather each worship as they are comfortable.

    One point I would like to see addressed is the dividing out of small groups. It is to the point that the youth not only are segregated for Sunday School, which has always been, but are now in there own groups for Bible study. (yes our church still has mid-week service) I truly believe the youth are NOT learning some of the fundamentals. In both the teaching and the style of music, they are being catered to. Then, the one time a week they are included with the congregation, they are bored by the style and content, unless it is aimed at them.

    Change is okay. Let’s just remember to include everyone.

  59. says

    We are considered a pretty edgy place. We cover most of the latest worship songs/groups and still have a choir at all of our campuses & services. We do an eclectic array of styles in the same Worship Experience. We do everything from heavy/ambient/soft rock, techno, neo gospel, gospel etc. Elevation, Planet Shakers, Hillsong to Hezekiah Walker, Anthony Evans, Israel Houghton and everything in between. We also use brass and strings. They CAN co-exist together and have great success when they’re done authentically. It is amazing that God can use all of these different songs, instrumentation, choirs, worship teams, orchestra, band, ethnicities, male/female, young & old. I believe it’s a more accurate representation of what heaven will look like.

  60. Adam La Spata says

    It’s good that conflict is decreasing. I grew up in a traditional-style of worship and have come to love hymns and hymnals so much that I’m going to write my dissertation on them. But my questions are related to,this area of interest. Is music still a major dividing factor in churches? Do four-part homophonic hyms still resonate with worshippers today? If not, why not? How can we get young people interested in singing anthems in choirs with organ (or not) accompaniment? For that matter, should we?

    • Mark says

      The anthems still play a large role in the Anglo Catholic Churches. You might consider having a classical service once a month or so to gauge the response. The younger people are wanting more liturgical services anyway. Ask them if they would like to be in the choir.

  61. Caitlin says

    Thanks for this! One thing that saddens me is that in a lot of churches, mine included, there is a huge relational gap between older and younger generations. And lots of times you have conflict when it comes to changes in the church and people have negative feelings towards the other. Im 19 and I would love to see more relationship building with the older and younger generations. They have so much to teach us and we have so much teach them. Lots of times we let our preferences get in the way and lose sight of the bigger picture. Which is God. God made us so beautifully different and yet so alike. We are brothers and sisters unified in Christ. We need to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on God.

  62. David says

    Some other trends I have seen are sacramental.
    Increased frequency of Holy Communion.
    First Holy Communion for babies at Baptism (by spoon).
    Use of wine in the sacrament for those, such as Methodists and Prresbyterians, who have traditionally used grape juice.
    More Baptism by immersion – both infant and adult.
    “Tweaking” of the liturgy by some to make it more “politically correct” and “gender neutral.”

    • Mark says

      For those who have tweaked the liturgy to gender neutral, there are quite a few on the other side who still use Rite I or the 1662 BCP, which are not gender neutral in the slightest and no one seems to Have a problem with it.

  63. Stephen Maglott says

    The ability for the American Christian Church to change is essential for it’s survival. But the growing numbers of “unchurched” especially among the young is a deep rift that has not been significantly addressed. A growing number of American’s see Christianity as hateful and harmful, and it’s history of racism, misogyny and homophobia as proof that the God of the Christian texts, is not the same as humanities Creator. As more houses of worship change their stance towards the same-gender loving community (just as they have historically changed their treatment of children, women, slaves, African-Americans and immigrants) it will be interesting to observe how that impacts those who feel estranged from church, because it is not welcoming to all of our Creator’s gifts.

  64. Russ Holtzclaw says

    In the past our Society revolved around the Church. Only a few establishments would be open on Sunday. Now America runs 24/7 including our jobs. We used to visit the visitors on Sunday afternoon. That stopped in the 90’s after some very irate folk let us know we were interrupting their shopping time. No one has time for Sunday evening service. People can’t get off in time to make a Wed. Prayer meeting. Rather than bemoan the sloth or discuss priorities the Church must adapt to the 24/7 digital age. I am in constant prayer and meditation about this.

  65. Jeff White says

    I think #1 is the most significant…certainly the choir is smaller than it was 20 years ago, or 30 years ago. Time commitment is more of an issue than just loss of interest. But QUALITY comes into play here. My son’s mixed choir in a public high school has over 50 kids, and they’re GOOD. QUALITY is what keeps the interest. Screens – we don’t have the facility to support that (right now…). Preaching longer – can’t really say. Again, quality as opposed to quantity. I think the dress is more casual, but who said suit/tie and women in dresses, hats, and gloves were the norm? We never had a Sunday evening service, (that’s more common in Baptist tradition), so that’s not applicable. I think there is a big advantage to worshiping in a smaller congregation. But maybe a lot of people want to blend in and not be so noticed? I for one enjoy being in a smaller church where everybody knows your name instead of a worship center with lots of lights, a rock band, and a huge crowd of nameless faces.

  66. Keith says

    Death of hymnal

    Rise of worship leaders and groups.

    Volume – anything your church can do, ours can do louder

    Church music is whatever is in the top 40 praise of the month – more encountering songs you have never heard and many you will never hear after it stops being on the charts

  67. says

    I think you might need to rework this a little. I love it in general. I can’t wait to hear more.
    It’s just number 7. Conflict not increasing is not a rapid change. It does not fit with the others, or the title of the article. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean. Is conflict increasing much less than in the preceding 20 years. (Even this would not be a rapid change though, just a differing trend). Looking forward to hearing more of what you have to say.

  68. Rev.M.Mohan Kumar says

    Thanks for the observations Friend! Even in India there is a drastic change in Church and its members…..and a few line lines I want to add is 1.There are no Gospel & Revival meetings in Churches-only healing and prosperity Gospel is being preached. 2.Loss of real Burden for souls in Pastors and Missionaries 3.We see more biological Growth than NEW souls are saved and added to church. 4.Serving the Lord now is a Job than a Calling 5.No real preaching from Pulpit it is only stories that make people laugh and fables but not filled with Scripture as it used to be.

  69. Reginald Gabel says

    I have served in large and small churches and have seen some of the same problems in both. Have a friend that is a deacon at a church that has 5000 in worship and they have problems finding nursery workers, I serve a church that has 70 in worship and we have problems finding nursery workers. We could list the advantages of large, medium, small, formal, house church but the bottom line is…. will the person leave with their relationship with Christ a little stronger than they came. Sadly we try to focus on our desire and try to make the desire of the person next to us wrong but quoting numbers, examples of problems in their size or style of church. We should look at the 7 churches in Revelations and realize that not all churches are perfect and as ministers we are to lead individual toward a stronger relationship with Christ. Yes there are problems in small church, and there are problems in big church and there will always be as long as Satan is loose. Instead of pointing the finger at the church, why don’t we fall to our knees and pray for them, not praying they will change but pray that they will have the strength to follow what God wants them to do not what we think they should. I never want to be put in the group of Jobs friends but sadly we have many that look at their brothers in Christ through the eyes of Jobs friend’s and not Christ’ eyes. We will always have change, new people to reach, different problems that arise, world issues to face, but if we don’t have that personal walk with Christ, what does it matter?

  70. says

    I’m the worship pastor at a church of 400 in Florida. I posted this blog entry on Facebook and one of our members commented lamenting the fact we don’t have a choir every week. Here was my response:

    “I think there are two sides to this coin. Side 1: A lot of church attenders like a choir every week (I’m one of them). They love to see the choir loft/risers full and the sight & sound of worship being lead by a larger ensemble. I get it. In fact my background before becoming a worship pastor was at a large church in Memphis (Johnny Coggin Jr) with a 90+ person weekly choir and full orchestra.. It was glorious! (Still is!) that was a church of about 2,000+ in weekly attendance. In a choir of 100… If 12 people are sick, out of town, working, or just sleeping in miss a Sunday, it’s not crippling to the music you’ve prepared (for the most part). Side 2: And this is the side we’re on at Point for the present. I spent the first 4 years of my ministry here praying, recruiting, harassing, and micromanaging folks to insure we had a full choir every week. Rehearsal attendance (which is absolutely necessary to do the quality music you mentioned above) would be spotty and inconsistent. Many weeks if I’d have a strong turn out for rehearsal (25-35 for us) I’d be pumped for how the difficult piece we wrestled with for weeks was going to minister to folks with the larger ensemble that had been at practice. Come Sunday… 1 person gets sick, one person has sick family, one person goes on vacation, one person forgot to tell me they’re gonna be out of town, one person had nursery that morning, one person overslept, one person forgot they were singing that day… On and on legitimate and illegitimate excuses whittled our choir of 25 strong down to 12 (a number much more conducive to a praise team). You can’t pull off a difficult choral piece in the type of music we do with 12 people in a traditional choral set up. I’d get mad, spend my week praying hard over choir chairs asking for two new people for each chair with a goal of 50 choir members ultimately in mind. God did not answer my prayer. He instead lead me to think outside our traditional box and go with the strengths of our church: Smaller vocal ensemble, band/rhythm driven, and choir only certain times of the year. The singers voted with their feet what they thought of a weekly commitment to singing in the choir. When The Point Choir sings it’s awesome… They’re awesome! I’d dare say we have one of the best 30 voice contemporary worship choirs around. I can get them to commit to about 1 or 2 months worth of rehearsals with only 2 or so actual Sundays of singing and they show up strong. The level of difficulty (see Easter 2014) can be higher bc we’re able to rehearse the mess out of some hard music without the burden of weekly “special” preparation. My point (no pun intended) is that for us it wasn’t a style decision as much as it was a common sense decision. I got tired of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and staying frustrated at people I love dearly. Thus, it is how it is at Point. Are we ever going to go back to a weekly choir at our church? Maybe, but for this season of time at our church it just doesn’t work. There are some other reasons like people serving in multiple ministries simultaneously, teaching small groups.. Etc, but the main reason was lack of consistent commitment. Not a slight on anyone (now), just a fact from our history. I don’t know if this was the case in the other churches you’ve been a part of, but that’s the progression of events at Point :)”

  71. says

    If these trends continue a pastor will have to have the administrative skills and the people skills to lead 400 plus people. That narrows the field quite a bit in my experience. He will only preach once a week but his sermon will need to be a super sermon. It would appear that his super sermon will be a little longer and will likely be a little deeper and more scholarly. I’m sure he will need to be up on all the latest tech stuff and may be a little more casual in dress.
    One thing this study does not cover is northern states vs. southern Bible Belt states and rural vs. urban churches.
    None can predict how an outbreak of persecution or revival might impact tomorrow’s preacher, but my concern to these trends is that the preacher becomes more elite and “professional” and eventually more artificial and phony. People will long for the “good old days” of 2015 when the preachers were more personable and approachable and genuine.

    • Mark says

      Would you like to focus on what you see as the differences between northern and southern churches as well as rural vs urban? I have my thoughts and can write them later. Dr. Rainer, you might want to think About the differences here as well.

  72. Alan says

    As a pastor leading a small church in the same direction of many of these changes, I still find myself wondering if we’re really just adopting a new status that is “change”, or are we just delayed imitators of society, or (most importantly) will I meet with Christ’s approval in that day.
    Thanks for making me think. I’m looking forward to your continued analysis.

  73. Keith says

    Community churches usually trend with its community as to who attends and what age group. A younger crowd church could indicate a flourishing younger family area and a older crowd church could indicate a town that has its base as retirement centered. Any business will follow the same pattern even camp grounds. Tent camping seems to have younger trend when over a certain age group like plush camp grounds with golf cart chargers and a quite time after 7 pm. As we read the bible we can see where businesses and governments are based on bible structures and principles and we can see lots of trends in the bible (rightfully and wrongfully done). We see the Pharisees doing traditional church and we also seen King David worshiping in public so happily that even his family wanted to shun him. Like finding a new job we also might take time to find a new church. When looking for New churches we decide wheat her to stick with ones like our childhood church or wheat her to venture. Trying different denominations is not a good thing if we are not solid in our faith but could give us insite on what their trends of religion are. If we check it out we’d better treat it like a library book and read into it with a bible and a spirit filled elder as our guide.
    Come as you are in a biblical term used to bring people to Christ to clean up their lives and save their sole. A leader should look like a leader is discussed throughout the bible especially in the Old Testament . Imagine a preacher in our day trying to enter the temple of God. It wouldn’t work at all. The priest had so many things to prepare for before he could enter even his breast plate and the strings on the hem of his garment. In the business world this is still somewhat of a norm for a leader to look like a leader but in the church we have found a different view. I’ve noticed some city councils and other government agencies where dress of respect for position has laxed greatly and even minimum wage job applicants seem eger to wear unappealing less job appropriate garments. I love come as you are but let the example of mature Christians have influence without being too over burdensome .
    My friend loves choir robes because everyone from rich to poor becomes the same in the congregation eyes. With robes there are no vibrant people nor wrinkles tee-shirts. But ironically we tend to hear a want to do away with robes to bring a more comfortable look to the choir! Hum!?
    What is a praise team? A choir is a praise team so why have a praise team? Praise means to act like King David then why do a lot of praise teams act just like the choir but in a stand out (look at me) position and sometimes leading in a wrinkled tee-shirt where the advertisement isn’t even a left over from a teen trip or choir concert. It’s really a mind blowing thought to see a tee shirt in church advertising a place of business that is associated with a place that in on the church’s boycot list. Did come as you are go too far and should it have a little censorship by the minister?
    Monitors should be used if the church has a new group of songs every week. If the choir and congregation has time to practice their songs then monitors nor books are needed. Church is a time to bring together all the great things that has happened the prior week things and miracles God has worked in our lives. If someone has sang a song every week while visiting a prison setting and many were saved I think everyone would want to hear a glimps of that sone sang in its original form. Inspiration of a simple song sang in simple form is just what others need to see and know. Those little prayers these little scriptures and hymns… Wow! Even” I can do that in my home or neighborhood “is a great feeling of encouragement. Remember Job’s wife and David’s wife? Sometime we only get our encouragement at church.

  74. Craig Beeman says

    Preaching longer? Really? I know it’s true of the bigger churches, but for most of your smaller ones that is grounds for removal. lol. Well, maybe not that far, but it’s annoying to many who are older it appears. I would not mind having an extra 10 minutes, but seek to fit within the old 20 minute window.

  75. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    I haven’t read all of the comments above, so forgive me if I’m re-commenting on a topic. I wonder what, if any, relationship there might be between Item 5 and Item 8. In other words, as “multi” has become normative, I wonder what the incidence of multi-site/-venue churches assuming extant congregations and “re-branding” them (for lack of a better term) as part of the large church. I have heard of this occurring anecdotally, but haven’t seen much research on that in terms of prevalence, success, attitudes of the members, and so on. Do you have any ideas as to this relationship?


  76. Linda says

    Only notice a few in my congregation. Dress is certainly more casual. We are somewhat more diverse. We have a choir, albeit small. No screens at all (thankfully) and our children love to sing hymns that the experts say they “can’t handle”. Attendance at our Sunday evening service is growing. Our pastor emphasizes the importance of bracketing the Sabbath with worship. Our Wednesday evening worship service has grown a great deal over the last few years. The only “multi” that we are is truly multi-generational, which is a blessing to the entire congregation. Solid expository preaching. Love my church.

  77. says

    The trend toward longer sermons is encouraging. The trend toward axing evening services is disenheartening. I’m trying to do the opposite, that is, introduce an evening service.

  78. Tom says

    I believe that #7 has been a direct result from #8 and #9. I have been in both small churches and large churches over the past 7-8 years and I can tell you it is the truth. Smaller churches tend to have those, “this is my church” groups and those groups get lost in the larger churches. Also, in the smaller churches those Sunday night groups tend to take “ownership” of the church and that always leads to fighting. Just speaking from unfortunate hard core experience.

  79. Gary Smith says

    Somewhere along the way some people have decided that “church” was the problem. Not sin, not the world. So they are now trying to present something more acceptable to the unchurched. God help us.

  80. John says

    Concerning #9…how can I help that along in my church? As a pastor, I would love to see our Sunday night service go bye bye. But it is a sacred cow…so…what suggestions? I am currently doing the “discipleship training” type of thing instead of a 3 hymns and a sermon, but it still seems like we are just meeting to meet.

  81. Kelly says

    What my husband and I have both noticed regarding churches of today is there is much more focus on a “feel good” presentation and less on the true gospel of Christ. We have seen this in even among the more traditional/conservative congregations. Preachers have become meek in speaking out on Christian truths such as homosexuality, promiscuity, abortion, and many other abominations that plague our country and world. Yes, we are to show love and teach love, but we are not supposed to be silent for fear of offending someone. Churches have grown because our ears are being tickled, just as the New Testament prophesies. We entertain, we tolerate, and we go through the motions and emotions of serving God, but in reality many will cry out on the day of judgement saying, “Lord, Lord!” We cannot straddle the fence. The true church is dying and it is being replaced with filled structures and empty souls. The Deceiver is alive and well, and the masses unknowingly follow. We who know the truth must rise up and fight the great battle. We need more John the Baptists and fewer Mr. Feel Goods.

  82. says


    Do you know in this research what percentage of the churches were predominately African American (AA) churches? Our church average Sunday worship attendance is 200. We are slowly becoming more diverse as our African American members are invited their non-AA friends. Our church is located by two major universities and non-AA college students attend our church for various reasons: enjoyed the high spirit of worship; like black gospel music; comfortable being the minority. I have noticed that two AA churches with more than 2,000 members when through some trying times where the long time pastors of both churches had to resigned but they continue to growth, at least in attendance.

  83. says

    Wednesday evening services have disappeared along with Sunday evening services. Churches seem very welcoming of visitors who come to special events who heartily join in fellowship but do not regularly attend that church. Churches have their own set of worship songs which a visitor may never have heard. Churches send teams out of the U.S. regularly. Churches sign up members for cruises, etc., where there are new venues for fellowship and, for some, outreach. I flunk the test for where do you fellowship on Sundays as I travel so much. My website flunks the church can use it test because it’s put up by an individual. Some churches reach out to other cultures in their zip code. This needs to go viral.

  84. Bob says

    #1 is definitely true. The largest mega-church in our area intentionally allowed their choir ministry to dwindle away, and though I serve a church 500+ in attendance, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep it viable. Perhaps #4 is generally true, but not in our church. #7 is true for us; as worship pastor, I haven’t fielded a “worship war” complaint in years. I think most people have accepted the reality. And #9 has occurred here.

  85. Paul R. Jones says

    There is no Biblical model for our churches. We should have house church meetings for teaching, prayer, breaking bread, and communion.

  86. says

    Thom–as a long time minister of music I’m always interested in worship trends and especially those that are related to the music. From my perspective (and I’m not a researcher but more of a connector with other church musicians), I see choirs making a come back but they don’t necessarily look or sound quite the way they did even 10 years ago. And while I’m curious about the trends, I’m also curious about why those trends appear–is it possible that the decline in the number of church choirs comes from pastors who want to have a more “trendy” appearance to their service? Or could it be that our educational institutions either have abandoned choral training or make it so traditional that the graduates function better in Presbyterian or Methodist congregations? I really don’t believe that the issue is the choir–I think it’s an issue of priority, leadership, training, convenience, and passion. While my own church uses a variety of leadership groups (Adult Choir, Youth Choir, Band, Orchestra, multiple worship leaders), we have had to be creative in using each based on other leadership needs within the congregation, time commitment by our members, etc. My point here is, although we may be more conventionally structured, we have altered our approach quite a bit throughout our worship service. The other disappointing facet about the potential decline of choirs is that it removes a place of service for the “every man”–we are only able to utilize the elite musicians of the congregation (or perhaps even simply pay outsiders to lead)–imagine the implications for our churches if we only utilized Bible study teachers with some type of teaching or theological degree? In many ways, that’s what we’re doing with the worship music now–using only a handful of very skilled players and singers. I’m all for great skill but it is a dangerous path in my opinion.

    Another item you mentioned–preaching is longer–has a direct impact on the music ministry as well. If the preaching is longer, is the entire service lengthened or is there a reduction in the other facets of worship? Based on my experience, I think there’s been a trend among pastors that either the music is merely the “prelude” to the worship/sermon or it’s just the opening act before the preaching. Not a judgement, but just an observation based on the past 15-20 years. I’d also be interested to know if the increased length of preaching in worship results in more decisions, greater giving, more missionaries, etc. Not making a statement–just very curious!

    Thanks for all you do–it just struck me the way the trends were outlined and yet, I think we’d really get a better picture if we knew all of the reasons why.

  87. Brent says

    As a full-time, paid staff member of a Church (Worship Pastor), I find it someone disheartening the comments that have been made in regards to the intentions and motivations behind a full time staff.

    There are far too many factors involved in determining whether or not a full time staff member is necessary, so for some of you to make such blanket statements about such a broad topic is very unhealthy. Unless you understand community demands, demographics, historical development of the congregation, and the makeup of programs, you really have no business making such judgements.

    This kind of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” is very dangerously bordering on dissension. Those who don’t understand what that is from a biblical standpoint need to look it up; it is sin in the highest order. When you draw criticisms about the leadership of the church based on personal views and biases, and then publicly voice those without any accountability, you are in a bad place, and I suggest caution and prayer for you. That is not judgement; that is plea to watch you words and attitudes carefully.

    I am a Pastor. I care about people becoming what God created them to be.

    That said…..I work at a church that is probably considered “staff-heavy.” In our case, it is absolutely necessary. We are a discipleship based church. We are in a very traditional part of the country, and for most of our congregation, discipleship is not a fully understood concept. We had to staff heavily on the front end, so we could generate a culture of change in an area that, without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, would be impossible to change. Strong Leaders who are called and educated to lead were absolutely necessary. Find those meant hiring.

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