National Trends Affecting Your Local Church in 2008
Visiting websites and blogs; interacting with pastors in other communities; and tracking articles in books and periodicals; there’s no doubt that the only thing that stays the same is change. Here are a few things to watch for at the local church level as we head into a new year.
Trend # 1: Longer Teaching Time — You may like “sermon lite” but for most people, taking the time and trouble to drive to church means that they are expecting to receive something substantial in the sermon. In many of the churches that are seeing the greatest growth right now, sermons run 40 – 55 minutes. 35 minutes is considered short. And those minutes are packed with great insights from the Word.
Trend # 2: More Expository and Exegetical Preaching — A generation raised on topical sermons from selected texts is rediscovering what it means to go verse-by-verse and book-by-book. This doesn’t preclude cross-referencing to related texts, nor does it mean there won’t be a clear topic. But it is a change in style. From radio shows like “Walk In The Word” to new data that seekers want to have an open Bible on their laps as they listen; this represents a major paradigm shift.
Trend # 3: Less Sung Worship — This doesn’t mean a shorter worship time; in fact the time allotted to the worship team and worship leader is probably growing. What it does mean is a greater use of readings, spoken liturgies (even among evangelicals) and possibly more time spent worshipping seated instead of standing. It also means that where we do sing, the songs are often hymn-styled verse-chorus pieces that are rich in theology and simple, chant-like melody fragments as expressed in Taizé services.
Trend # 4: Fewer Overt Offerings — The “box at the back” thing is becoming more commonplace; which also means the end of the “offertory” which is the worship service equivalent of a seventh inning stretch. The key here is the word ‘overt’ — you may actually see a greater emphasis on sacrificial giving. (See next entry.) Note to churches: Make sure the box is solid, secure and locked. (See item #10.)
Trend # 5: More Direct Involvement in 3rd World Missions — The world is getting smaller and both our awareness and our access to the 3rd World means we’re running out of excuses not to act. “Direct” means that local North American churches are connected to specific projects and know where the funding is being used.
Trend # 6: More Personal Involvement in Meeting Local Poverty Head-On — The poor need our charity, but they also need a “leg up” on getting out of the ghetto and into a cycle of employment and self-worth. We need to get to know them. They need to get to know us. Then we need to eliminate the whole “them” and “us” thing.
Trend # 7: More Small Groups & Small Churches — We’ve know for more than a decade that small groups are where the spiritual action is. Now trend spotters are saying that the small churches represent the future of the Church as a whole. For the last two decades, we’ve proved that Christians can do bigger. Now we need to prove we can do better.
Trend # 8: Church Closings — For more than a century we’ve had no protocol for saying “It’s over;” and we’ve let churches continue to operate long after they had stopped fulfilling their purpose, while dynamic ministries under younger leaders are forced to rent space community halls and schools. In the future, you’ll see both amicable and maybe not-so-amicable transfers of property and buildings from the past generation to the future generation. This is indeed a good thing. It will also affect parachurch organizations which have lost their effectiveness.
Trend # 9: Less “Youth” Ministry and More Mainstream Churches that Youth Can Enjoy — We saw this trend play out last year at Willow Creek when they stopped their NextGen Axis service in favour of making the existing weekend service more palatable to a “screens” generation for whom “visualcy” is the new literacy. Even an elevator plays the popular tunes (albeit watered down) so, like, the church needs to be, like, relevant in its communications style. In a postmodern context, that means less argument (3-point outlines) and more story (what we once called testimony) or what is now called “visionary” teaching.
Trend #10: More Consideration of Security for Churchgoers and Church Property — As churches invest in more computers and projection equipment security becomes an issue. The recent shooting in Denver also reminds us that religious violence is not something that only happens in the mid-east. Churches need to have emergency and security plans in place with key leaders knowing what to do in a “worst possible case.”
Trend # 11: Empowerment of “The Broken” in Ministry — While some churches continue to debate the propriety of divorced people as Sunday School teachers or elders; others are discovering that those who have been “broken” actually make the best instructors and leaders. Finally, some long-silent lost voices are being heard.
Trend # 12: Real Community — If your car broke down at 2:00 AM, who in your church would you feel comfortable calling? We are seeing the need to know each other better; to spend more time in each others’ homes and to experience genuine spiritual intimacy and transparency with each other. It’s all in Acts 2. And you don’t do with name tags; you don’t do it with photo directories; and you don’t do it with “turn around and shake hands” times. You do it with authenticity.
Trend # 13: Continuity of Ministry — For years the church has bowed to the civic calendar and to the “summer shutdown” mentality. Now we realize the need to deliver the same product consistently from week to week. And many churches are catching on to the reality that the weeks the pastor is away need not be “down” Sundays. Oswald Smith, founder of Peoples Church in Toronto made a point when absent of always replacing himself with someone who was better than himself.
Trend # 14: We’re All One — Cooperation between assemblies of different denominations is the only way we’ll survive. Rather than duplicating each others programs, we need to find what each one does best, and then wholeheartedly supporting each other. (I loved it when our church took up an offering to go towards another church’s building program — It was the Sunday the Mormons just happened to drop by, and they’re always pointing the finger saying our denominations are proof that we’re not all on the same team!)
Trend # 15: Several Sabbaths — I’ve been saying this for 20 years, but some people just can’t make it out on Sunday mornings because of work and family conflicts. Right now, with one notable exception, the only mid-week daytime programming in local evangelical churches here is for women only. And that exception probably wouldn’t resonate with people under 40. The Anglicans have been doing Thursday morning services for decades. Why don’t the rest of us see that need?