5 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2016

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There’s little doubt culture is changing rapidly.

The question is, are you ready as a church leader?

As I shared in my book, Lasting Impact (you can download the first chapter for free here), and in my Church Growth Masterclass, if the change inside the church isn’t equal to or greater than the change outside our walls, irrelevance is inevitable.

While that thought can be somewhat depressing, think of the flip side.

History belongs to the innovators. It belongs to the leaders who dared to dream, to try things no one else was trying, to experiment, to push the boundaries of what everyone else believed was possible.

As Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Or as Steve Jobs put it, “A lot of the time people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

If you are prepared to tackle change with a fully engaged heart, you can help not only your church but maybe even the church better accomplish the mission before us.

So what’s changing before our eyes? I see these 5 things becoming major players as 2016 unfolds.

Irrelevance happens when change inside the church is slower than the change outside the church. Click To Tweet

You can make the argument that online options that churches offer—everything from message podcasts to social media to full online streaming of Sunday services— have too often played the role of a supplement to or replacement of church for many Christians.

For a growing number of Christians, online church has become the like TV preachers were to some Christians in the 70s and 80s who decided Sunday morning viewing at home was better than participation in a local church.  Too tired or disengaged to go on Sunday? Just watch online.

Watch for church online to become far less of a supplement or replacement and far more of an advance into the lives of people who don’t attend church at all.

Churches will get innovative and more intentional about reaching out into their communities using digital options at a point of first contact with unchurched people.

Think about it: everybody who wasn’t in your church last Sunday is probably on Facebook. And everybody who wasn’t in your church last Sunday is probably online.

So go connect with them.

More than ever in 2016, online church will begin to open a door into the lives of people who will never walk through yours.

Online church will increasingly open a door into the lives of people who will never walk through yours. Click To Tweet

2. Preachers will preach less often

I’ve noticed that preachers are both getting better at communicating and speaking less often.

It wasn’t that long ago that some preachers were writing 100 to 150 messages a year between Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.

Many Sunday evening and Wednesday night services have disappeared in the last decade.

But a growing number of preachers are realizing that preparing 52 excellent Sunday messages is increasingly difficult. Personally I’ve cut back from writing 70 messages a year a decade ago to about 35 a year today.

The result? I’m a much better communicator.

What’s creating all this change?

Simple. It’s the wide availability of digital options. (See point #1 above.)

A decade ago, people who attended your church only really ever listened to you. Now they can hear anyone for free.  And they do.

As a result, the local pastor is often being listened to alongside today’s best communicators, and local pastors are opting for quality over quantity.

At some point, quantity and quality compete. And in today’s digital landscape, innovative leaders are opting for quality.

Eventually, quality and quantity compete. Innovative leaders choose quality. Click To Tweet

3. Experience will trump content

Technology has made world-class content both portable and affordable.

Anyone can listen to the best communicators and best bands in the world for free or next to free on any device they own.

And they do.

The attractional churches of the 90s and 2000s built their congregations by offering excellent preaching and amazing music.

The challenge, of course, is that technology has disrupted that model.

What used to be both exclusive and something you had to experience personally is now portable and affordable thanks to your phone.

I’ll blog on this trend again soon, but the short answer is that ultimately, experience will have to trump content.

Why? Because more people are asking this question: If I can watch and listen on my phone, why would I come? 

If you don’t have a good answer to that question as a church leader, you lose.

Churches that cultivate a great experience will win.

What makes for a great experience?

  • Community
  • Serving one another in love
  • A sense of mission and movement into a city or region
  • Amazing kids experiences
  • Actual caring, prayer and human interaction

Church leaders will have to sift through what can only happen in person and what can happen online.

Those who do will continue to grow. Those who don’t, won’t.

It’s not that you shouldn’t have an online presence. You should have a great one.

But you should also offer something in person you can never get online. This year, the most innovative leaders will get better at figuring out what those differences are.

Churches that cultivate a great experience will do better than those that cultivate great content. Click To Tweet

Free Resource: Thriving Churches Checklist

In a rapidly changing culture, pastors and church leaders are facing never-seen-before challenges. The good news? You’re not alone. With the right tools and resources, you can weed out the unhealthy areas of your ministry and lead a thriving church.

Churches that aren’t just surviving but thriving in this season share 8 common traits. Download the Thriving Churches Checklist & e-Book to discover these traits and lead a healthy, growing church.

4. Passion will beat polish

For many years, growing churches focused on doing church better. 

Better music, better preaching, better buildings, better design, better everything drove much of the growth of the last few decades.

But as every leader knows, eventually better gets you diminishing returns.

One more moving light is probably not going to bring another 1000 people to Jesus in the same way the first moving light did. (Okay, moving lights never brought people to Jesus. But church was often so stale and bad in the 80s and 90s that moving lights were a hallmark of churches that innovated and as a result collectively baptized millions.)

The effective churches I’ve visited and seen recently by no means had the best lights, stage or production. Some had almost no stage and no lights, while others had a pretty decent package, but not nearly the level you see at some churches.

What did they all have in common? Passion.

When it comes to reaching the next generation, passion beats polish.

It’s not that polish is bad, but I think it’s increasingly trumped by a raw authenticity that exudes from leaders who will do whatever it takes to reach people with the Gospel.

In the churches I’ve seen doing a superb job with young adults, smaller facilities and stage sets were more than compensated for by preachers, worship leaders and team members who exuded passion for the mission.

Passion beats polish.

If you want to read about the other four characteristics I see in churches doing a great job reaching 18-35 year olds, you can read that here.

When it comes to reaching the next generation, passion beats polish. Click To Tweet

5. Only the most engaged and the curious will attend

There is a shifting attendance pattern happening in every church, including growing churches and mega-churches: even people who attend church are attending less often.

I outlined 10 reasons why that’s happening here, but I want to drill down on one in particular that I believe we’ll see more of in 2016 than ever before.

In the past, if you were Christian, you went to church on a Sunday. It was almost automatic.

But it led to many disengaged Christians filling up seats on Sundays. They attended, but they didn’t serve, didn’t give and didn’t invite anyone to come with them. They simply attended.

That group is increasingly disappearing, opting for online options (see point 1 above) or has dropped out altogether as our culture becomes more and more post-Christian. This trend will only accelerate in 2016.

As a result, your weekend gatherings will increasingly be attended primarily by two groups: the engaged and the curious.

The engaged are people who are on mission with you. They give. They serve. They actually have unchurched friends they’re bringing to church. They live out their faith far more than they sit in a back row and ‘absorb’.

They’ll be joined on the weekends by the curious. The curious are people who haven’t made a decision to follow Jesus but they’re open. They’re exploring. They’re asking questions. They’re probably there because a friend invited them or because they found you online and wanted more.

When I look to the future, I see those two groups forming the core of the people who will continue to fuel attendance at your weekly gatherings.

So what does this mean for church leaders?

It means you need to stop valuing attendance more than you value engagement.

Ironically, if you value attendance over engagement, you will see declining attendance.

And if you want to raise attendance, raise engagement.

Church leaders, if you want to raise attendance, raise engagement. Click To Tweet

What Do You See?

Those are 5 big trends I see emerging in 2016.

I call them disruptive because they will ensure that things never stay the same. And for leaders, that should be exciting. It gives us the chance to innovate and actually advance our mission.

By seeing the trends clearly, you can respond to them.

After all, leaders who see the future can seize the future.

Leaders who see the future can seize the future. Click To Tweet

What’s Stopping Your Church From Growing? 

Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of church leaders to help them understand the dynamics of church growth.

And here’s what I've learned.

It’s almost never a lack of passion or effort that leads to stagnation, it’s that growing churches are effective at removing the barriers that stand between them and reaching more people.

And that’s exactly why I created The Art of Church Growth course.

By taking a thorough evaluation of your leadership team, volunteer core, missional alignment, and culture, you'll create an action plan to:

  1. Discover and eliminate the barriers that keep your church from growing
  2. Guide your church through transformational conversations that lead to growth and discipleship

While only God can grant growth, you can position your church for it. The best time to do that is now.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

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