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5 Signs Your Church Isn’t Ready For the Future


It’s a tough question to answer: so, is your church ready for the future?

A lot of the time, I’m afraid the answer is no.

Culture is changing so rapidly that’s it’s hard for anyone to keep up.

Ask people what’s changing faster, the culture or the church, and pretty much everyone will tell you the culture is changing much more quickly. Hands down more rapidly.

The gap between how quick your church changes and how quickly culture changes is called irrelevance.

So how would you know if your church is ready for the future?

Here are 5 signs it’s not.

1. You Don’t Understand the Culture

Listen, this one’s hard.

Culture is changing rapidly. But in addition to that, it’s also fragmenting, fast.

Knowing the culture is changing and understanding how it’s changing are two different things.

There are two primary reasons it’s becoming difficult to truly understand the culture:

First, the pace of cultural change continually speeds up. The internet has both increased connectivity and speed. As a result, we know about trends faster and they tend to change faster.

Second, tastes and preferences are far more fragmented than they used to be. For example, since music has switched to on-demand streaming, there’s not much a common playlist anymore.

Don’t believe me? Check out the top 40 songs on iTunes or Spotify and I guarantee you most church people wouldn’t know the majority of artists, let alone like them. Matchbox 20 and Celine Dion aren’t exactly lighting up the charts much these days.

The point? If you don’t understand the culture, you lose the ability to speak into it.

You don’t have to agree with what’s happening to speak into it, but you do need to understand it.

2. You’re Not Taking The Internet Seriously Enough

It’s 2019, people. Pretty much everyone slips seamlessly between a digital and analog life these days.

Think about it. You’re reading this online. We’ve probably never met personally. And, about 70% of you are reading this on your phone.

Here’s what will happen next. You’re going to put your phone back in your pocket or purse when you’re done and likely talk to a real person who’s next to you or who just interrupted your reading.

We all slip unthinkingly between the digital and non-digital.

So why does this matter?

Well, it matters because that’s how the world behaves too. And everyone who you want to reach but isn’t in your church is online.

Despite knowing that everyone we want to reach is online, most churches staff, allocate resources and strategize about 99% of their time, energy and money for ministry within their physical buildings.

Want to really stretch your thinking? Start thinking of your church as a digital organization with a physical presence, not a physical organization with a digital presence. Let that bend your mind for a while.

Remember, everyone you’re trying to reach is online. Why aren’t you taking that more seriously?

3. You Think Small Changes Are Good Enough

Change can be hard in the church. (For example, here are 7 signs your church will never change).

So when it comes to change, most leaders settle. Any change is better than no change, right?

Well, that’s true.

But just know this: small changes never solve big problems.

And when the vast majority of churches aren’t accomplishing the potential of their mission…that’s a big problem.

Small changes won’t move you into a substantially better future. If the problem is big, the change needs to be big too. Small changes never solve big problems.

This is true for stuck and declining churches, but it’s also true for larger and successful churches.

One of the biggest challenges for larger or even growing churches is, as Jim Collins puts it, the hubris born of success.

Don’t focus just on what God has done through you or is doing through you. Pray about what he might do through you yet. Does your current success give you a sense of satisfaction? Let the mission drive you to further action.

If you don’t, you’ll settle for small changes that will inevitably lead you into future decline.

4. No One In Your City Even Knows You’re There

A growing problem for many churches is not persecution, it’s indifference.

Most leaders tend to overestimate how well their church is known, loved and respected in their community.

But the next time you drive by a church you know nothing about, ask yourself if you’d notice if it was gone. Most of us have no idea what goes on inside.

That’s how most people who live in your community probably feel about your church.

How can you change that?

Jeff Henderson of Gwinnett Church has pioneered something that’s spread to thousands of churches—the #FOR initiative—in which churches demonstrate to their communities that God is for them and the church is for them. Rather than waiting for people to love us, the #FOR initiative shows the city that we love them. I interview Jeff Henderson about the #FOR initiative on my leadership podcast. You can listen for free here.

5. You’re Not That Passionate About the Mission

You know what’s missing in so many churches and so many leaders?


The church has the best mission in the world. There’s none better, and it has the potential to transform the entire planet.

But so many church leaders have lost their passion. So have many churches.

It’s easy to get distracted by challenges that take you off mission. Or to have life and leadership suck the juice out of you.

Leaders, your church will never be more passionate about the mission than you are.

And congregations, your passion for the world should be so white hot that people can’t help but wonder what’s going on.

Reignite Your Passion

You may read a post like this and think “I don’t really have the time to make the changes we need to make at our church. I’m already overwhelmed with trying to keep with everything that’s going on, despite the fact that I know it’s not working as well as it should be.”

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by life and leadership, you’re not alone.

What if it could be different?

What if you could have the time to fix what’s broken, re-engineer the future AND have more time with your family?

That’s the heart behind The High Impact Leader Course.

This 10-session online course will show you highly practical, proven strategies on how to finally get time, energy and priorities working in your favor. It includes 10 videos, an online workbook and 10 specific exercises that will help you create a personalized plan to help you get productive and accomplish the things you know are most important, but rarely have time for.

Check it out here

The course, which proceeds at your personal pace whenever you’re ready to tackle a unit, is designed to help you:

Get your most important priorities done early in the week, every week.

Spend more of your time at work doing the things that energize you and less time doing the things that drain you.

Invest more of your time with the people who energize you and less time with the people who drain you.

Discover time to finally exercise, pursue a hobby,  launch a blog, start a podcast or write that book.

Actually be OFF when you have a day off.

Be far more focused on your family when you’re with your family.

Learn how to say no nicely, so you can free up time for the things you’re truly called to do.

In short, it’s designed to help get your life and leadership back, or perhaps find them for the very first time.

Get Your Church Ready To Jump Growth Barriers


If you’re reaching more people but you’re currently stuck at an attendance plateau, I have some practical help for you.

Breaking 200 Without Breaking You is a course I’ve created that provides strategies on how to tackle eight practical barriers (including a more nuanced and practical dive into everything I covered in this blog post) that keep churches from reaching more than 200 people. And it’s designed so I can walk your entire leadership team or elder board through the issues.

So whether your church is 50, 150 or 250 in attendance, the principles will help you gain the insight you need to break the barrier more than 85% of churches can’t break. Even churches with attendances of 300-500 are finding the material helpful as they try to reach more people.

Click here to get instant access for you and your team.

See Any Signs?

What are some signs you see that tell you whether your church is ready for the future or not?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Signs Your Church Isn’t Ready For the Future


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  5. […] on Christianity from the Right * Dan Antal: How Do We Know the Bible Is True? * Carey Nieuwhof: 5 Signs Your Church Isn’t Ready For The Future * John Zmirak: Is Christianity Still Legal? And Other Awkward Questions Raised by the 2nd Circuit […]

  6. Will Rice on March 5, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    I have nothing to add. This piece is spot on. I am not just going to send people the link, I am going to go into their offices, load the page, sit there while they read it, and talk about it when they are done.

    “The gap between how quick your church changes and how quickly culture changes is called irrelevance.” That may need to be a poster on my office wall!

  7. […] 4. 5 Signs Your Church Isn’t Ready for the Future […]

  8. Lynn on March 3, 2018 at 7:39 pm

    Ideas on how to get a pastor to come into the here and now. Very old school and very unwilling to work with younger families in the congregation. Have had many struggles with this pastor. Don’t want to leave a church that my family has been a part of since my great grandparents but we are at a loss of what to do or say.

  9. Weekend Leadership Roundup - Hope's Reason on March 3, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    […] 5 Signs Your Church Isn’t Ready For The Future – Carey Nieuwhof […]

  10. Jeremy on March 2, 2018 at 10:13 am

    As an elder, any ideas on how to convince the head Pastor to do more online, like online giving? He refuses to go that route because people “should” make the weekly decision on how much to give. I think that’s fine, but more of an individual decision.

  11. […] 5 Signs Your Church Isn’t Ready For The Future by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  12. […] 5 Signs Your Church Isn’t Ready For The Future by Carey Nieuwhof. This is Carey at his best. Every church needs to read and argue about. […]

  13. Greg on March 2, 2018 at 8:50 am

    Great article. Carey, what ways or resources would you suggest for us to grasp a better understanding of the culture? I know you mentioned music, but what other areas or resources would you recommend?

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