Fourteen Predictions for American Churches for 2014 — part one (By Thom Rainer)

Fourteen Predictions for American Churches for 2014 — By Thom Rainer

Predicting is as much of an art as it is a science. And if any prognosticator is honest, he or she will tell you that they don’t always get it right. I know. I certainly don’t always get it right. But I don’t pull my predictions out of thin air. To the contrary, each of them has a reasonable explanation.

For these fourteen predictions, I gleaned from several sources: Data-based research, particularly LifeWay Research. Trends that are already underway and gaining momentum. Conversations with hundreds of church leaders.

My own experiences, based on 25 years of consulting and research of American congregations. This year I am adding a new feature, a confidence factor. For example, if I said I had 100 percent confidence that a prediction would become reality, it would mean that I have absolutely no doubt about it.

None of these predictions have a 100 percent confidence factor. But none of them fall below 70 percent either. That means I have a fairly high level of certainty about each of these trends. The order of the trends is random. They are not ranked in any particular priority.

1.  Increased church acquisitions. Smaller churches will seek to be acquired by larger churches in increasing numbers. One of the big factors is simply personnel cost. Many smaller churches can no longer afford to pay a pastor a salary and benefits, particularly health care benefits. (75% confidence factor).

2.  Downsizing of denominational structures. Many denominational structures are becoming smaller because their churches are declining. Others are feeling economic pinches. This trend of smaller and more efficient denominational structures at all levels will only become more pervasive in 2014. (90%).

3.  Decline in conversion growth. American churches that grow are more likely to get their growth at the expense of other churches. Evangelism is waning in many churches, and fewer non-believers are becoming Christians. The negative reaction to programmatic evangelistic methods has evolved into an overreaction. Too few churches emphasize personal and church-based evangelism. (75%)

4.  More megachurches. The data are clear that there are more megachurches (average worship attendance of 2,000 or more) today than a year ago. There is also little doubt the trend will continue. The only uncertainty is whether or not the rate of growth of megachurches will continue to climb. (85%)

5.  Greater number of churches moving to a unified worship style. For years a noticeable trend was churches offering different worship styles. The most common was the offering of two services: traditional and contemporary, though the definitions of each were elusive. In the next year we will we see a reversal of that trend, as many of those same churches decide to move to one common worship style. (70%)

6.  Increased emphasis on high-expectation church membership. For decades American congregations as a whole lowered their expectations of church membership. One could be on a church roll in many churches and not even attend worship services for years. We will see a gradual reversal of that trend in 2014 as more churches move to higher-expectation membership. (70%).

7.  Increased challenges for congregations to build and acquire land due to restrictive governmental policies. American churches will experience more frustration with governmental authorities as they seek to expand, build, and acquire land. Part of the reason will be due to the authorities’ concern about traffic and congestions. Another part is the underlying concern of losing a property tax base to a nonprofit organization. In a few cases there will be outright animosity and prejudice against Christians and churches. (80%)

8.  More large churches will function like mini-denominations. These churches will have multiple locations. They will have one senior or lead pastor, and several other campus pastors. They are more likely to fund their own missions priorities, even if they are also contributing to a denominational missions fund. Many of them will write their own small group literature. Some will have their own church planting strategies. (70% confidence factor)

9.  New worship centers will be built smaller. There will be a greater emphasis on smaller gatherings more frequently. This trend is being affected significantly by the preferences of the Millennial generation (born 1980 to 2000). A related trend is that many congregations will find ways to downsize their existing worship centers. (70%)

10.  Increased emphasis on small groups. In 2014 we will see a decided shift from nearly two decades of the “worship revolution” to the “small group revolution.” Church leaders are rapidly discovering that members who connect to groups are the most faithful members in the church by a myriad of metrics. That is not to suggest that worship will become unimportant; it is to suggest that small groups will have a greater emphasis than the previous quarter century. (75%)

11.  Longer pastoral tenure. There will be incremental but steady growth in the length of tenure of pastors at a given church. Part of the reason is the influence of the Millennials who do not view larger churches as their next step in ministry. Part of the reason is economic; moving in today’s economy is not nearly as easy in pre-recession days. Hopefully, the main reason is a sense of God’s call to stay rather than move. (75%)

12.  Local churches increasing their roles as ministry training leaders. The role of ministry training in the past decades fell largely upon Bible colleges and seminaries. More churches in 2014 will partner with those colleges and seminaries to provide contextual training at a local church. (90%)

13.  Church movement to the community. The posture of many American churches in the most recent decades has been to find ways to get people in the community to come to the church. That is shifting, perhaps dramatically. In more churches, the congregation will move to the community. Instead of a philosophy of “y’all come,” the dominant theme will be “we’ll go.” The congregants will be a more powerful presence in the community they serve, thus ministering to, influencing, and reaching more people with the gospel. (80%)

14.  More multiple teaching/preaching pastors. In larger churches, there has been a decided trend toward having more than one teaching and preaching pastor. Now the trend is taking place in smaller churches. We will see more churches with attendance under 200, even some under 100, with more than one teaching/preaching pastor. Of course, not all of them will be full-time vocationally at the church, so there will be more bi-vocational pastors whose role is to be a second or even third pastor in these smaller churches. (85%)

These fourteen predictions are not infallible. But there does seem to be growing evidence that most, if not all of them, will become a reality in 2014.

Let me hear from you about my perspectives. Happy New Year!

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