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10 Predictions About the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns

Every generation experiences change.

But sometimes you sense you’re in the midst of truly radical change, the kind that happens only every few centuries. Increasingly, I think we’re in such a moment now.

Those of us in in Western culture who are over age 30 were born into a culture that could conceivably still be called Christian. Now, as David Kinnaman at the Barna Group has shown, even in America, people who are churchless (having no church affiliation) will soon eclipse the churched.

In addition, 48% of Millennials (born between 1984-2002) can be called post-Christian in their beliefs, thinking and worldview.

This post is part 4 of a 5 part series on why people are attending church less often. Here are the other parts of the series (including two in-depth leadership podcast interviews):

Part 1: 10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Less Often

Part 2: CNLP Episode 23: Why People Are Attending Church Less Often—An Interview with Will Mancini.

Part 3: 5 Ways to Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders

Part 5: CNLP Episode 24: Churchless: Why and How America is Learning to Live Without The Church—An Interview with David Kinnaman

If you want to access the podcast interviews easily on your phone or other device, the best way is to subscribe to my leadership podcast for free on iTunes or Stitcher

I think the change we’re seeing around us might one day be viewed on the same level as what happened to the church after Constantine’s conversion or after the invention of the printing press. Whatever the change looks like when it’s done, it will register as a seismic shift from what we’ve known.

So what will the future church be like? And how should you and I respond?

Predictions…Really?

Okay, before we get going, a few things.

I realize making predictions can be a dangerous thing. Maybe even a bit ridiculous . But I want to offer a few thoughts because I’m passionate about the mission of the church.

So, borne out of a love for the gathered church, I offer a few thoughts. Consider it thinking in pencil, not ink.

While no one’s really sure of what’s ahead, talking about it at least allows us to position our churches for impact in a changing world.

10 Predictions About the Future Church

So what’s likely for the future church? Here are 10 things I see.

1. The potential to gain is still greater than the potential to lose

Every time there is a change in history, there’s potential to gain and potential to lose.

I believe the potential to gain is greater than the potential to lose. Why?

As despairing or as cynical as some might be (sometimes understandably) over the church’s future, we have to remind ourselves that the church was Jesus’ idea, not ours.

It will survive our missteps and whatever cultural trends happen around us. We certainly don’t always get things right, but Christ has an incredible history of pulling together Christians in every generation to share his love for a broken world.

As a result, the reports of the church’s death are greatly exaggerated.

2. Churches that love their model more than the mission will die

That said, many individual congregations and some entire denominations won’t make it. The difference will be between those who cling to the mission and those who cling to the model.

When the car was invented, it quick took over from the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly average people could travel at a level they never could before.

The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet.

Look at the changes in the publishing, music and even photography industry in the last few years.

See a trend? The mission is reading. It’s music. It’s photography. The model always shifts….moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s and now streaming audio and video.

Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the method (Kodak).

Churches need to stay focused on the mission (leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus) and be exceptionally innovative in our model.

3. The gathered church is here to stay

Read the comments on this blog or any other church leader blog and you would think that some Christians believe the best thing to do is to give up on Christian gatherings of any kind.

This is naive.

While some will leave, it does not change the fact that the church has always gathered because the church is inherently communal. Additionally, what we can do gathered together far surpasses what we can do alone. Which is why there will always be an organized church of some form.

So while our gatherings might shift and look different than they do today, Christians will always gather together to do more than we ever could on our own.

4. Consumer Christianity will die and a more selfless discipleship will emerge

Consumer Christianity asks What can I get from God? It asks, What’s in it for me?

That leads us to evaluate our church, our faith, our experience and each other according to our preferences and whims. In many respects, even many critics of the church who have left have done so under the pull of consumer Christianity because ‘nothing’ meets their needs.

All of this is antithetical to the Gospel, which calls us to die to ourselves—to lose ourselves for the sake of Christ.

As the church reformats and repents, a more authentic, more selfless church will emerge. Sure, we will still have to make decisions about music, gathering times and even some distinctions about what we believe, but the tone will be different.  When you’re no longer focused on yourself and your viewpoint, a new tone emerges.

5. Sundays will become more about what we give than what we get

The death of consumer Christianity will change our gatherings.

Our gatherings will become less about us and more about Jesus and the world he loves.  Rather than a gathering of the already-convinced, the churches that remain will be decidedly outsider-focused. And word will be supplemented with deeds.

In the future church, being right will be less important than doing right. Sure, that involves social justice and meeting physical needs, but it also involves treating people with kindness, compassion in every day life and attending to their spiritual well being.

This is the kind of outward focus that drove the rapid expansion of the first century church

That’s why I’m very excited to be part of a group of churches that has, at its heart, the desire to create churches unchurched people love to attend. While the expression of what that looks like may change, the intent will not.

6. Attendance will no longer drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance

Currently, many churches try to get people to attend, hoping it drives engagement.

In the future, that will flip. The engaged will attend, in large measure because only the engaged will remain.

If you really think about this…engagement driving attendance is exactly what has fuelled the church at its best moments throughout history. It’s an exciting shift.

7. Simplified ministries will complement people’s lives, not compete with people’s lives

For years, the assumption has been that the more a church grew, the more activity it would offer.

The challenge, of course, is that church can easily end up burning people out. In some cases, people end up with no life except church life. Some churches offer so many programs for families that families don’t even have a chance to be families.

The church at its best has always equipped people to live out their faith in the world. But you have to be in the world to influence the world.

Churches that focus their energies on the few things the church can uniquely do best will emerge as the most effective churches moving forward. Simplified churches will complement people’s witness, not compete with people’s witness.

8. Online church will supplement the journey but not become the journey

There’s a big discussion right now around online church. I think in certain niches online church might become the church for some who simply have no other access to church.

But there is something about human relationship that requires presence. Because the church at its fullest will always gather, online church will supplement the journey. I believe that online relationships are real relationships, but they are not the greatest relationships people can have.

Think of it like meeting someone online. You can have a fantastic relationship. But if you fall in love, you ultimately want to meet and spend your life together.

So it is with Jesus, people and the church.

9. Online church will become more of a front door than a back door

There’s no question that today online church has become a back door for Christians who are done with attending church.

While online church is an amazing supplement for people who can’t get to a service, it’s still an off ramp for Christian whose commitment to faith is perhaps less than it might have been at an earlier point.

Within a few years, the dust will settle and a new role for online church and online ministry will emerge. Online church has the potential to become a massive front door for the curious, the unconvinced and for those who want to know what Christianity is all about.

In the same way you purchase almost nothing without reading online reviews or rarely visit a restaurant without checking it out online first, a church’s online presence will be a first home for people which for many, will lead to a personal connection with Christ and ultimately the gathered church.

10. Gatherings will be smaller and larger at the same time

While many might think the mega-church is dead, it’s not. And while others think mega-churches are awful, there’s nothing inherently bad about them. Size is somewhat irrelevant to a church’s effectiveness.

There are bad mega-churches and bad small churches. And there are wonderfully effective mega-churches and wonderfully effective small churches.

We will likely see large churches get larger. Multisite will continue to explode, as churches that are effective expand their mission.

At the same time, churches will also establish smaller, more intimate gatherings as millennials and others seek tighter connections and groups. Paradoxically, future large churches will likely become large not because they necessarily gather thousands in one space, but because they gather thousands through dozens of smaller gatherings under some form of shared leadership. Some of those gatherings might be as simple as coffee shop and even home venues under a simple structure.

We will see the emergence of bigger churches and smaller churches at the same time as the gathered church continues to change.

What Do You See?

Ultimately, I have a lot of hope for the future church. I hope you do too. The mission is too important to feel otherwise.

If you want some even more specific changes I think will characterize the future church (including a few not covered here), check out this post.

In the meantime, what do you see?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

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  • Littluns

    Think about it. Christians are the only
    obstacle standing in the way of the ‘mark of the beast’.

    The most disturbing of all is the realization that all false religions are united behind their false god create from the world of man for his own self-serving purposes. Christianity is at best divided with cults and other perversions clouding the purity of Christ. For the New World Order, which will include a one World god and currency,

    Christianity will have to be squashed, and that’s just what has been happening.
    In doing so there will be little resistance to most Christian’s accepting the
    mark of the beast in the form of a micro-chip, a brand, a tattoo, or a
    national/international identification card. Eventually, just about everyone
    will accept it. People will simply embrace all the advantages they will
    be brainwashed into believing.

    The catalist for all of this will be a major event that will put many people in harms-way; a dirty bomb, chemical and/or biological and maybe terrorized induced civil wars worldwide.

    Selling the mark of the beast:

    1. Only people with the mark will be able to buy and sell. All
    others will starve to death.

    2. Only good and law abiding people will have the mark, making it
    easier to identify terrorists and others who will be painted as our enemies.

    3. With the chip, etc., there will no longer be counterfeiting,
    identity theft, or stealing, robbery, etc. In other words those with the chip
    will be 100% protected. Unless of course a thief cuts the chip from a person’s
    body, wrist, forehead..

    4. All one will need to do is swipe their wrist with no need to
    sign for anything.

    5. All medical history will be there in case of emergency.

    6. No kidnapping because GPS will know where you are at all times.
    They’re doing it on babies and pets already.

    7. Terrorists will be easier to find.

    There’s much more, but I’m sure you get the picture. This is what the antichrist will do, after he is instrumental in making a seven year middle-east peace agreement. It will only last about 3.5 years into Armageddon. Most people, and even most Christians will be manipulated into https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/01f488a771bd2ec8b217b83ba5fbfa91dea869c540a57ab154fd86be59b4cd91.gif believing that rubbish.

    • sisteract

      Good heavens. I’m making my tinfoil hat as I type…

  • Lambo Al

    I am a Christian and have a daughter who is a pastor. She does not know the Lord and neither has she been called by God to become a pastor. For her, her church life is staged, plastic and devoid of the Holy Spirit. She is a modern day Pharisee … the very people Jesus despised. Their ‘church’ is merely a front for a business and the focus on money and greed is palpable. It is a veritable ‘den of thieves’. Jesus would ransack this ‘church’ at the first opportunity and cleanse His temple. That time is here right NOW. God is going to reclaim his church and make it pure once again. Too many churches are merely a front for a business with misquoted scriptures to try and get people to give and tithe to line the pockets of greedy pastors. This is why church attendances are down … it is because of dirty and unethical pastors and weak church leadership who have become a veritable ‘den of thieves’. It is not just the sick business model of the church, but the sick and evil church culture that is at the heart of the issue. A church can have a poor business model and thrive, but you can’t have a poor church culture with dubious values and survive. As the bible says “by their fruit you will know them”.

  • Heather Johnson

    Have you done any studies on alternative to church councils? Or maybe not alternative to councils but an alternative way of having council, a different structure than what the standard is. I find ours to be so business like that it’s a turn off and there are very few people that want to serve on church council. If not, are there any sites or churches that you could direct me to that I could start my own research on?

  • eric_in_ohio

    Cary — This is good stuff … but a “printer-friendly” option so that it can be reduced to hard copy for annotation and discussion would be really helpful!

    • Eric. Thanks for the feedback. Sorry its not more printer friendly. My design and theme don’t allow it. The ideas in this article are more fully developed in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. The books completely designed in that format around team discussion. You can get it on Amazon.

  • Pam

    Thank you for not bashing those of us who are dedicated Christ Followers but have unplugged from the commercial organization. I no longer use the word church to refer to the Body of Christ. I believe Jesus is separating the wheat from the chaff. The Body of Christ will indeed survive and thrive. I believe it is unlikely ‘church’ as an institution will survive. I believe we will see new wine skins constructed to hold and pour our a new manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for a well written insightful essay

  • Keith Roberts

    Thanks for the great thoughts. They’re both encouraging and disheartening, As one who ‘grew up in church’ and has now pastored churches for 40 years, I see how much change needs to happen. I do appreciate the reminder of the difference in the model and the mission. Getting churches to fall out of love with the model will be the biggest challenge, I think.

  • Kermit

    The family unit must learn to be responsible for teaching their children. This includes socializing.

  • Melinda Madison

    This has me thinking often about what that means for how we minister to kids and families in the future, not only on a weekly or bi-weekly basis on campus, but beyond the walls. With a trend of less frequent church attendance comes a concern for a potential decline in committed weekly leaders (whether that commitment is inside or outside a church building). Kids need routine and consistency, committed, relational leaders that point them to Christ, encourage their parents, listen to, love and challenge. I’m not a huge fan of teacher rotations because of this, yet we are seeking creative ways to utilize rotations along with committed weekly leaders. Who would be okay with sending their own child to school with a different classroom teacher every week? How much more important is the consistent spiritual development of a child! Our heart is to also minister to kids who have no say in attending/participating around custody issues. We aim to teach in ways that can travel with and to families. Pray for our team as we get outside the box in our thinking and planning to ensure we love kids and families like Jesus, despite attendance, and without compromising the message or mission. I might also say how thankful I am that we’re a part of the Orange philosophy and support system.

    • Prayer is something we all need. Appreciate your heart Melinda. Thank you!

  • This is great. Thanks!

  • christoph

    I pondered for a long time on #4, “a more selfless discipleship”. I believe that is the central issue for our churches. Radical, biblical discipleship must have an impact in my daily life. Jamie Snyder wrote a book, “real”. There he asks the question: What will happen to our Christian life if there is no Sunday.?” Just put that out here. I do believe too much in our churches fosters a “consumer” mentality. Carey that topic would be worth a blog by itself!

  • tekrogh

    Great post. I fully agree. I also think that sunday will have more like an open source approch. People will contribute to the message in a lot of different ways and the “preacher” “pastor” will have more the role of a catalysator than the role of the one delivers the message. This could also affect the size of the gatherings we have as a church, since interactivity maybe demands a smaller size. Whats your thought on these things Carey?

    • Some great points. I think there will be a lot of experimentation and much of what you say may happen in the margins. Whether it becomes mainstream is another question, but we have to try many things.

  • The institutional Church and the society that killed it is dead. I am alive and will continue to praise despite the means and ends mentioned in the article and its subsequent self-wrought ‘postmodern’ spiritual crises.

  • Tim R.

    I it is always good to hear (or read in this case) some encouraging words!

  • Allan Love

    Great insights here Carey … regarding no. 2 you have some good examples from the travel, music, etc. industries – do you have examples of specific, currents models in the church world that need to be shed, as well as examples of the new emerging models that are rising up with the church world? Thanks.

    • Great question. I think it’s more an attitude than a particular model. I could point to the most cutting edge and effective church today, but if they clung to their model the expense of their mission, they would be in trouble soon. So I think it’s an approach.

      • Allan Love

        Thanks Carey! I hear what you are saying in regards to “attitude” and “approach” – could you give examples of some innovative “attitudes/approaches” that are committed to, and carrying, the core mission of the church? I find a lot of church leaders using examples from the corporate world (whether it’s Kodak, IBM, Starbucks, etc.) to make their point(s), and in doing so, encourage/compel church leaders to move forward with innovative thinking and action – but rarely give concrete examples from the church world. I think having concrete examples from the church context would helpful to church leaders – I know it would be for me. Thanks again Carey!

        • I appreciate that. I could point at some, but I would rather have those conversations in private with church leaders rather than publicly say “Hey look at X church. It loves its mission more than its model and is paying a price.” I just don’t want to hold anyone up publicly in that regard.

          But I would say this, if your church or denomination is declining, there’s a very good chance there’s some model love going on.

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  • Heath Tibbetts

    I think points 6 and 7 resonate with my most today. If we build our churches through attendance, we’ll always have a service deficiency. Building it up as a place to belong and serve from the state will help us with that. And I’ve often thought church is too busy. A handful of effective ministries are better than a glut of ministry outlets.

  • David Westaway

    Thanks Carey. I loved the analogy of online church to online dating…I pray that people will desire the community of sharing life with other Christians.

  • Terry Dorey

    Good stuff and much appreciated. Engagement and simplified ministries along with small groups does seem key to the future that will not necessarily be a bad future for the church that focuses on mission rather than model. Thanks for last week’s input about attendance trends — something we are talking about as a staff.
    Keep us the good work. PS – On another topic but related to the matters of internet comments – I am saddened and sometimes embarrassed by Christians one-sided, public ranting about individual political leaders.

  • Thank you for the post, it’s really encouraging in many ways. So I was thinking about what you said in regard to Constantine. Do you think we’re on the cusp of something bigger than the reformation? If so, what is it?

  • Paul

    I appreciate this article and helping me to process want we see happening in the church/culture around us. I guess my big question lies in #5. I hear a lot about the main direction of the church becoming to reach out to the loss but struggle with Paul’s statements in Eph. 4 indicating that the main purpose of the church is helping believers mature who then in turn will reach out to a lost world. I know that the church is the believers but worry some about the emphasis of the corporate church mission becoming outreach rather than maturity that produces outreach. Thanks again for the article.

  • Jenni

    I look forward to your posts and although i am extremely busy and sometimes can’t read all the newsletters in my box, I always come back to yours. Your energy and devotion for the mission of the church is catching. Thank you for what you do and don’t let the haters get you down. What do you do when you belong and serve in a church who just doesn’t want to evolve, but that you love and don’t want to leave?

    • Jenni thank for the encouragement. I really appreciate it. I think you do this: I think you evaluate your options with wise, godly people around you. And you either resign yourself to being part of a church that won’t change, or you move to one that will. Naturally, pray about it. But those I think are your options.

  • Marcus

    Thank you for the time, energy and insight that bring to the changing face of gathered church in America but it is also so applicable to us in the UK where we see the same trends but the church has been in decline much longer. There is hope for the future when we really desire to connect with the unchurched in a way they can understand and grasp rather than just repeating what we have been doing for many years which is increasing less effective. Jesus will build his church in this generation and it is up to us as leaders to engage with him and make the gospel accessible in our location and our culture. Any help in that from guys like you is greatly appreciated!!

    • Thanks so much Marcus. Any insights from the UK are so appreciated. And yes, Jesus will build his church!

  • liza49

    It would be helpful had the author distinguished between the institutional church and the church as the gathered community. There is a difference. A big difference. In many denominations, the institutional church is already spiritually dead and is killing the community that gathers in the name of Jesus. My faith is in the church as Body of Christ.

    • Thanks for this. It would be wonderful if someone could ascertain where that line is, but I think that’s Jesus’ business not ours. There are many amazing organized churches and some really bad casual churches, and vice versa. Sometimes it’s just hard to tell where that line is. The future church will indeed look very different.

      • liza49

        In mainline denominations, that line is pretty clear, at least, in my view. Speaking more broadly, I see the presence of the institutional church wherever the concern for itself and its preservation is more important than the mission and ministry of Jesus. A quick way to detect this is to look at the budget. If more money is budgeted for salaries, buildings and ground repair and maintenance than mission/outreach, the arteries and veins of the Body of Christ have contracted the terminal disease of “institutionalitis”. If at least 10% of the money pledged (tithed) from members doesn’t go FIRST to outreach to the larger community who are not “members” of the church and/or money for outreach is dependent on fundraising activities while the pledged/tithed money is spent keeping the staff in place and the church doors open, the Body of Christ has a terminal illness. This can be so in so-called “successful” churches with ASAs of over 200 and a budget and endowment in the millions. There are other signs that are not financial – like no scripture study or even bible courses are offered – but I’ll leave this response there for now. I basically agree with you, with one twist: The “future church” will absolutely look very different than it does now (it will have to), but it will look remarkably more like it did when the disciples (not Jesus) started it. To get a snapshot of this, check out ACTS. Thanks for this provocative article. Well done.

  • Careyhammy

    You have no idea how encouraging and refreshing this post was Carey! (Or maybe you do :). With so much attack on the church all around us – it is such a great reminder that the CHURCH was all God’s idea and He hasn’t changed the plan…so it will prevail!! Love it. Thanks for taking the time you do to INVEST in all of us that are trying to lead – Carey!! Blessings on you as you press on being such an influencer in the leadership/church world!!

    • Carey…thanks so much. And you really do have the coolest name. Appreciate you and Bill and what you’re doing so much!

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  • Eric Ampofo

    Thank you very much for the insights. Your passion for the church and your insights into how the church can remain relevant is amazing. You are a huge influence on my ministry. God bless you.

    • Thank you so much Eric! Humbled and grateful that it’s helping. 🙂

  • David Lindner

    I agree. In fact, this is largely who we are trying to be at our church. We just started the online discussion, and are starting to come up with a strategy for that too.

    One thought I have (and I plan to write my thoughts on it soon), is: as you talked about with churches clinging to model over mission, I really think we will start to see an accelerated decline and death of those churches. There’s far more to say about it than is appropriate for a comment. But, I think we’ve just begun to see decline of model over mission churches.

  • Loved this post (and the whole series). Hopeful and challenging at the same time.

    I’ll be using this latest one in our staff meeting this week as we’ve been praying and planning for what God may have for us in the future in Muskoka.

    Thanks for all the work you pour into the church at large.

    • Thanks Kaj. I’d love to connect in person this spring and share some learnings. You guys have a great team and are doing some amazing work just north of us. Appreciate you and your leadership immensely.

      • That’d be great. I’ll fire you an email in the spring … if it ever comes :/

  • He has some interesting things to say in this article, but I also think he should preface it by saying he is talking about the Western church, particularly the American church, not the global Church. I don’t hear anything about Global Mission here. I believe very strongly that the local church should return to its place as the central driving force of the Acts 1:8 model and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Otherwise we become increasingly isolated.

    • Dennis

      I agree 100%

    • Thanks for that Michelle. And for sure. That’s what I write about. I’m a pastor of a North American church, and that’s what this blog is about. It also has implications for Western Europe and other ‘Western’ churches (Australia, NZ), but that’s my context.

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  • Riley

    I like the idea of the church becoming less consumeristic and more discipleship and gifts focused. This is biblical. I do think we need to get back to the biblical model of church, and not rely on mere tradition or new trends to do what Christ’s instructions do very well for us.

  • Jean O’Bresky

    Very encouraging words. Thank you Carey!

  • Felicia

    God bless you. I have read your posts with interest for a while but never left a comment. Your predictions are probably spot on but in any event they are thoughtful and provocative. Thank you.

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  • Seth

    This is very encouraging and completely aligns with changes I see happening in my community. Less programs and an engaged, selfless church will be extremely hard to resist. The world is still full of very hurting people as evidenced by comment boards everywhere! Jesus still is the answer, we His followers need to represent Him better to future generations.

  • Shannon

    Thanks! This is so encouraging. I’m excited to see what God does in churches all over the world.

  • Guest

    Thanks! This was such an encouraging post. I’m excited to see what God does in churches all over the world.

  • Steven

    #6 gave me chills. I have felt strongly about this exact sentiment. We have spent so much time worrying about what the service feels like that we have forgotten the purpose of the service–to connect people with God. Different styles, songs, technology can help, but you have to find something that people can connect with, that they can take with them into the week and remember to make it valuable for them.

    • Preach it Steven

      • Steven

        Something else I started thinking about yesterday: what if the trend towards “mega-churches” is starting to cause some of the attendance decline? (I don’t have anything against mega-churches, but hear me out) Disclaimer: I attend a rural church with an average weekly attendance of about 40. We have a core group of about 6-10 people who are the “main leaders.” In other words, we’re the group that understands what work needs to be done to maintain the church (trustees, budgets, etc.). I have noticed a trend that some of our members, when they are asked to pick up some of the burden, have found reasons (strong or not, usually pretty weak) that our church has “offended” them, leading them to move to a bigger church. But what if that is just an easy excuse for not having to be as involved in the church? It is a lot easier and a lot less noticeable if I were to miss a week at a church with 250+ in attendance or to not be on any committees (I cringe as I type this, but they are a necessary evil!). But there are times that I get a phone call from people at my church to see if I’m okay when I miss. (This is part of the reason I love the smaller church, but it’s also all I’ve ever known). This isn’t meant to be a blanket statement, because not everyone is like this. And I have no data or experience to back it up. Just a thought that popped in my head as I was thinking about how this series hits home with me.

  • R Price

    Be encouraged – have enjoyed your insights – i usually do not enter into conversations – but am thankful for your time and effort,

  • Dillon Boyd

    This may be in pencil. But it is bang on. I think authentic church, a place where people can learn how to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, will be the key. People are hungry to know how to survive the world they live in. They want to know practical ways to live out their faith.
    Great predictions Carey. God is on the move.

  • Josh Erickson

    Great insights! One thing that I have thinking about is that all of this research on Millennials has been done while we (born in 1983 myself) do not largely have kids. With the delaying of marriage and dealing of the family stage, I wonder what impact that will have on some of the cultural trends that churches need to consider. I specifically am thinking about church facility challenges. It might be true that as a single Millennial adult that I want to worship in an ancient-future location, with contemporary worship, and in laid-back liturgical style. But I have one kid (2 year old son) and one about to be born (daughter due March 30). Right now our son goes to worship with my wife. With two kids I could see her needing the nursery in the near future. These are the things that are on my mind as a husband, father, and pastor.

    • Really insightful Josh. I’m a buster, and the argument when I was in my 20s was that we were the anti-boomers. Then we got older and behaved a lot like them…moved into the suburbs, drove SUVs and built houses. How much is generational and how much is stage of life is interesting. Are there differences? For sure…but maybe fewer than we think. Not sure who said it, but someone famous said “Never trust a man who’s not a radical when he’s young and a conservative when he’s old.” Truth in that.

      • Josh Erickson

        Right on! I think some of the knocks on Millennials as colleagues is probably a product of not having completed/started some life stages that our predecessors had completed by the time you held the positions we now hold. I am very appreciative of your comments with regards to working/serving with my generation. I think you have always walked the line graciously between seeing what is actually a generational norm and what is life-stage related.

        What is the conversation like around the North Point Strategic Partner table in all of this?

  • Linda Freeman

    Great points, Carey. Thanks for posting and holding this space for God’s glory.

  • Stephen Budd

    Great insights. I am a firm believer that engagement is of much more value than attendance. Thanks Carey for being a great encouragement to many.

  • Vaughn Bender

    I am in a rural area and the different kind of churches around us all seem to be programmed to death as they struggle to hang on to the people they have, thinking that a program that is attractive will keep them. This popish top down approach is outdated. Our small church is surviving not because of programs, not because of a polished Sunday service. It is about meeting needs in the community, we dont’ have a lot of money but we can meet needs of people in our community. But each of our folks in our church are meeting needs of people they know. It is not a corporate group meeting the needs of specific people or families. Each of us are doing it both as a group and separately as the Lord puts individuals in our midst. Our leader is reprogramming our small church group to be less corporate and more individual. Call us a motley crew but God is using us.

  • Jerry

    I believe small churches are going to be more prominent in the near future. The problem with this is making them realize that they have to serve their community and not just the few families that come to their church. Also even if the church is small it has to use the new technology to be able to reach the younger generation that embraces those as important to their understanding and learning. Love your blog

    • Right on Jerry. Couldn’t agree more. And thank you!

  • PastorSharen

    Excellent, insightful thoughts, Carey. Appreciate your honest evaluations. As church leaders, we must observe the signs of the times and prepare for change as we see it arriving. Jesus spoke in the context of his time and audience. It is our responsibility to be willing to move with the flow of what is happening without losing the hope and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are ambassadors to an ever changing mission field. Yet, we know that the gospel will always be the life changing answer to a world that fluctuates with each generation. Thanks for what you do. You bring thoughtful discussion to all.

    • Thanks Pastor Sharen. Change is such a big thing, isn’t it? And so powerful when we learn how to lead it. Thanks!

  • refocusedministry

    Did not know who you were but read your blog anyway, glad I did. I have been trying to tell my tiny world that what is happening is big, really big. In my moment with the Father this morning I meditated on change. Change is constant on our journey home except the Father Himself. He is the constant. I grew up on a farm during the transition from horses to tractors. Before technology the way to plow, or plant a straight row was to focus on a fixed point at the far end of the row. Whether horse or tractor one could plow, plant a straight row. Our fixed point, that will lead us home is God, the Father, Jesus Christ the incarnate Father, and the Holy Spirit the ever present Father. Whether people or organizations He and His Word is our fixed point.

    • Welcome! Those are great insights and so true. Thanks for sharing them.

  • Walt Wellborn

    Carey, I always appreciate your insight. I almost hate that you put 10 things in one post because it makes is almost impossible to comment without seeming picky. I agree with everything you have to say here but I sometimes think that the perspective may be askew. That’s not a bad thing. Everyone has to view the big picture from where they are at and something is always lost in the translation when you are trying to view it through someone else’s eyes.

    For instance, I don’t belong to a mega church. I have no problems with a mega church and actually think they are great and provide services, avenues and opportunities that my little church cannot. But my little church serves a huge purpose in our community. While we have watched many other churches in our area cease to exist, we continue through God’s graciousness to grow and thrive. It is not explosive growth. We may add 10 members a year. But it is growth that continues to allow us to serve our God and our community.

    I firmly believe that our dedication to service, our giving of ourselves is the key to the future of the church. You state in number 4 “Consumer Christianity will die and more selfless discipleship will emerge”, but I say that consumer Christianity has almost always been a problem in the church in one form or another. The church has at times been overwhelmingly self-serving but has always managed to return to point thanks to the dedication, love, understanding and compassion of the core Christians who understand the very foundation of Christianity as stated by Christ himself. 1) Love your God with all your heart, soul and mind and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is details. As long as the Christian core retains this in their hearts, the church cannot fail.

    I love you and your ministry Carey Nieuwhof. Thank you for giving of yourself so that we may better ourselves.

    • Walt….this is so beautifully said and so true. In small towns the churches can be vital in powerful ways! I think you make some great points. Thank you for your kind words.

  • Don W

    Great Article. I appreciate how you deal with the realities of being the church at this time in a thoughtful and biblical manner. Keep it up!

  • Steve H

    Thank you for helping us think better and realize present realities. As a jurisdictional leader in a denomination I realize that I have an opportunity to lead change rather than simply react to it. Your blog is very helpful.

  • I always appreciate how thoughtful your posts are. I would add that small groups are going to be another big movement that will help sustain the church, particularly large churches, and especially with the new innovations we’re seeing in online small groups today.

    Small groups, LifeGroups, community groups, cell groups…whatever name they go by, these smaller communities are the place where people can dig in to each others’ lives, talk about how they’re actually living out and applying their faith, and encourage and pray for one another. It challenges people to go beyond passive recipients sitting in the pews to actively engaging and dialoging about what and how their faith is being lived out in their day-to-day life.

    • Thank you Laura. So appreciate the kind remarks. I agree…community is essential. The post and series was about ‘attendance’ so it focuses on weekends, but for sure, small groups is huge. I think small group participation will accelerate in the future. Would be an interesting blog subject some time. 🙂

  • Sounding Thealarm

    Paul warned Timothy of a people who would hold to a form of Godliness but deny the power their of. Paul had previously stated that The Gospel is the Power of God. What this generation of “Church” has done has strived to make “Church” Like able by making a friendly form, instead of Preaching the Only Message given unto Man that can save a soul. Sadly “church” has became central and Jesus used as a “name drop” to add authenticity but in turn that has in reality made “Church” way more like The Golden Calf. Now going forward the Modern Day Golden Calf will increase in number, because it is of The Broad Way, BUT God has promised of HIS Church, That the gates of Hell will NOT prevail against it, even though in number, it will remain “narrow.” If God’s model of success was about numbers He forgot to tell NOAH. If any remnant of assembled believers is going to be successful in the on coming days, it will be because they have returned to First Love and obeyed The Gospel and its commission.

  • bill anderson

    We seem to be in competition with the modern idea that church should excite, elate, enrich, and please the individual. TV preaching is focused on big numbers, translating into big money, saying we need only to not kill anybody to be on God’s grace list. A typical under 50yr “seeker” today fixes on this and will NOT be dissuaded! Selfless Christianity is almost a threat..sacrifice, discipline, and repentance are not on their horizon. The cure for this will be painful for everybody.

  • Suzanne Kane

    My generation born 1946-1956 returned in great numbers to what we called the wisdom traditions in the 80s and 90s from all kinds of extra-Christian exploration. We were, hippies, yuppies, Buddhists, meditators of all kinds and just atheists, in California. It was a time when we were raising our children and had aging parents, but, we found the churches that we knew from our families were more important to us than we knew before.
    Wisdom traditions covered all forms of religious beliefs.

  • Hi Carey, Thanks for this post. Someone has to stick their neck out!

    I’ve done a fair bit of pointing out the unsustainable decline in my own denomination – The United Church of Canada. Your post does the necessary next step of painting a picture of what the future might be. Thanks.

    My only comments would be that I think you may have over-estimated online as a “massive” front-door. A crucial front-door, yes. But massive? I’m not so sure that’s the way the internet is going to play out in terms of being an entrance to the kind of engagement your post talks about.

    Which leads me to my second comment that I think you may have under-estimated the importance of face-to-face, sustained-over-time congregating. This is what will become increasingly counter-cultural, and so this will increasingly become a key “value added” experience that communities of faith will offer – this is what will engage.

    I also wonder in the middle of the night if we haven’t completely failed to comprehend how different the future will be. For the first time in human history, Western communities of faith will be trying to function in a fully secular society. A society that – at best – treats “God” as a personal – and optional – opinion. And has no experience of the practices of faith. Our challenge will not only be in the realm of “opinions about God,” but also in the realm of “the practices of trusting / following / loving Jesus.”

    • Some great points David, and nice to hear from a fellow Canadian. For sure, relationships are key…and that’s what lacking in many Sunday gatherings, a sense of connection. I and understand your point about online being crucial. I think if we give it 5 years it will become massive. Some great points David. Thanks!

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  • Tommy NiBlack

    Great blog, and you can probably go ahead and ink these 🙂

  • Donna

    Yes. Phyllis Tickle wrote a few years ago that every 500 years or so, the church goes through a time of radical change. We are in it!

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  • Tandy Adams

    I see a shift in how Christians experience growth. We have 24/7 access to the best preaching/teaching in the world. Christians can now listen to podcasts and form ideas and beliefs based on teachings outside their local church and then they incorporate those beliefs into their church. It ultimately blurs denominational lines but I think it can be a really good thing (depending of course on who they are listening to) because it challenges the individual to think through and own their faith and at the same time it makes the church address issues and beliefs from different angles and perspectives. And any time we unpack our faith it stretches us and matures us in our walk. Just my humble opinion, from a very small church leader.

    • Tandy, I think that’s totally true. It will be interesting to see what happens down the road. The mindset of consumer Christianity is consumption. But the future will belong to those who give with what they’ve received, not just with those who have received. Interesting days for sure!

      • Tandy Adams

        I agree completely. The one thing I have tried to teach my kids (17 and 14) is that church is not about them…. It’s about the Body as a whole. It’s not about what you can get, but what you can give. It’s not about the most dynamic preaching or best music, it’s about being consistently faithful in service, in tithes, in all areas of the church and doing so happily in the church God has placed you. You are there for a reason, that Body needs your specific gifts, not so they can “feed” you.

  • Vincent A

    Carey, your comments about the rapid expansion of the 1st century church trouble me. The 1st century church was not intrinsically trusting of others and was chased down by both Rome and the Jewish establishment, many of our earli church mothers and fathers being executed for their faith. History shows this to be the case, that public executions and the refusal to recant ones faith had much more to do with spreading the message than any kind of intentional public engagement. As professing to be a follower of Christ in any kind of public way was likely a death sentence.

    • For sure Vincent, witnessing was a big part of what happened. But I think it is a little more complex than that. The ethic of love in the early church was compelling…extra biblical sources point to that as well. Thanks!

      • Vincent A

        Carey, the problem is assuming that anything regarding seeking converts in the early church would be remotely similar to the modern western church just does not square. Bart Ehrman suggest that church spread by wird of mouth. Meaning I convert you by telling you stories of Jesus, than you convert you spouse or a friend by doing the same. This was done in a highly secretive manner that today’s church would not be able to link up with. Point of fact Dr martin Luther King was once quoted as saying, unless the church returns to her first century church, she is in danger of becoming nothing more than a useless social club. The 1st century church had no structure that would resemble our modern churches, and mega churches would look pagan and blasphemes to our 1st century kin. .

        • I appreciate your devotion to accuracy but I’m not sure that’s a complete understanding of 1st century church history. I agree that the structure of today’s church is very different than first century churches, but that does not make the church today blasphemous by any means. Maybe we just disagree. Thanks for your comments though.

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  • Carey…very thoughtful overview. Thanks for sharing.

    I’d like to elaborate on your comments about simplified ministry. I think we’re going to see much closer collaboration between “simple” churches and parachurch ministries in the future with the two types of organizations complimenting one another as opposed to competing. I’d also envision churches collaborating with one another within a geographic area when they have complimentary programming. Specialized ministries (counseling, care/recovery, disability ministry, recreational ministry, possibly online ministry) could become shared resources offered by one church/organization. Such an arrangement allows churches to focus time, money and resources on a few things they’re uniquely positioned to do while ensuring the needs of attendees are still met.

    Another prediction is that we will have many more “bivocational” people doing ministry. Thriving churches will find ways to tap into the gifts and talents of their people who have achieved success in the home or marketplace, either through creating positions in the organizational structure for them to advance the core mission of the local church or through resourcing their people to pursue ministry outside the church when their gifting and positioning doesn’t fit with the simplified ministry priorities of that particular church. North Point has had lots of success recruiting folks with non-traditional ministry backgrounds to advance their mission.

    • Stephen…some great points! Thanks for contributing the dialogue in a meaningful way. Appreciate it!

    • Kyle

      Very good idea. The churches in my area gather together (all denominations) to provide events as outreach. We do what’s called the “Sights and Sounds of Newark” which takes many different churches in the area, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal among others and each church puts on a show and tour of the area and the church.

      I strongly believe working with other churches regardless of denomination is key to reaching a community. While we may not agree on the specifics, as a whole all churches want to lead people to Christ as He called us to make disciples of all people.