by Rev. Neil Westbrook
As pastors, deacons, and other church leaders prepare for the new year it is important to consider what trends will most likely impact their churches. This list of trends is based on my own research of what’s happening in society today and what trends will most likely have the greatest impact on local churches next year.
The premise of this article is that the local church is the primary way and means for believers of Christ to gather, worship, and serve as the people of God!
1. New economic realities and perceptions. The reality is that our economy is already bad but it may get worse before it gets any better. Church leaders should closely examine their budgets for line items that may not be prudent or that are no longer effective in order to cut costs. One approach is to use a zero based budget. It is also important for church leaders and churches to remember that cuts may need to be made temporarily, but can be changed back once the economy improves. There are also many people who perceive our economy to be worse than it actually is. This can create an attitude of fear and cause people to hold on to or hoard their money. Even in difficult financial times church leaders should encourage members to be faithful and continue to tithe.
2. Shift from nuclear family to diverse meanings of family. The word “family” continues to change and take on new meanings. Family used to mean a husband and wife, and their kids. Today’s family may be two people or “partners” living together or “shacking up” who are completely unrelated, a household filled with extended family members such as grandparents and grandchildren, or just a group of people who have known each other for a long period of time and who live together in order to share living costs. These types of families are often times less stable than traditional, nuclear families and may require more attention or help from local churches. Additionally, local churches will have to wrestle with the challenges of accepting new family models into the church and find new ways to minister to these new families.
3. Increasing number of single adults (of all ages). More and more people are either choosing to stay single or are getting divorced. Studies show that the total percentage of married people in America is at it’s lowest point in over 30 years. This trend presents many unique challenges for churches. Many younger people who are choosing to stay single find it difficult to fit in to traditional churches that are predominantly attended by married couples with children. Often times when couples divorce at least one of them also chooses to divorce themselves from the local church. As the divorced population grows so will the percentage of unchurched Americans. The senior adult population is one of the fastest growing single populations in America. One study suggests that “Beginning in 2011, the population 65and older will grow faster than the total population in every single state.” (Source: SeniorJournal.com)
4. Importance of social media networking. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs, and other social media networking websites continue to grow not only in popularity of use, but also in importance. Studies show that the internet has actually outpaced the television in terms of where people get their news, keep up with current events, and connect with friends old and new. Churches seeking to reach this audience should consider developing an online presence of some type in order to “get in the loop” and keep their information in front of their members. Also, when people move into a new community they often use the internet to find their next church home. Blogging represents another option for pastors and church leaders. A blog provides an opportunity for a pastor or other church leaders to connect on a deeper or more personal level.
5. Rampant church planting. Church planting has gone wild! There is no excuse…most traditional or established churches have failed to go out into their communities and reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. However, for those churches who are trying to do that, the church planting movement represents yet another obstacle. Many denominations have all but given up on the churches who have supported them for decades now and are turning their attention and resources towards starting new churches as their strategy for sustaining denominational structures and their hope for reaching tomorrow’s generation. Unfortunately, established churches will actually have to compete with these newer, niche church plants for members. Although new church plants do reach unchurched and dechurched people, they also gain much of their membership by taking members from other local churches.
6. Anti-denominational attitudes. In the general population denominations are out. People are tired of old denominational rules and politics that seem to be divisive rather than unifying. This is exactly why most new churches or church plants do not put their denominational affiliation – Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran – in their names. (New Spring, High Rock Community Church, etc.) The general population continues to be less and less impressed with a church’s denomination and more and more concerned about a church’s witness, community involvement, and the programs they offer.
7. Aging population. By 2030 people 65+ are expected to make up around 20% of the American population. As our population shifts, so will local churches. Many of these senior adults have been the foundation of support for local churches for over fifty years. Younger generations have been slower to make the same level of commitment. Financially, this means that when local churches lose their older members it may take two or three families to make up the difference. However, the aging population is still very active. Churches may consider starting new ministries to capitalize on the passions and energy of their aging members. Additionally, many senior adults are concerned about the political climate and newer technologies that they don’t understand. They will seek comfort and security from their church family.
8. Desire for authentic, meaningful religious experiences WITH REAL PEOPLE. Although the internet has provided a means for connecting people with old friends and making new friends across geographical borders…people are thirsty for an authentic relationship with God and for genuine relationships with other people. The truth is that God created us this way (in his image!). More and more people are looking for the opportunity to connect with others in deeper and more meaningful ways. Affinity groups, men’s and women’s groups, ministry teams, or other small groups will serve to help people connect with one another. Authenticity and intimacy are slowly replacing the big or mega-church experience.
This article was orginally posted to Neil Westbrook's blog, www.deacondynamics.com. Neil is the pastor of Neel Road Baptist Church in Salisbury, NC.