The culture continues to change rapidly around you as a leader, and especially as a church leader.
If anything, the pace is accelerating, not slowing.
The question is: are you and your team ready for all that’s ahead?
For the last two years, I’ve kicked off the new year with a post on disruptive church trends. You might still find those helpful. You can read the 6 trends for 2017 here, and the trends for 2016 here.
It’s critical church leaders keep trying new things and keep experimenting.
Why? Because the gap between how quickly you change and how quickly things change around you is called irrelevance.
And as I’ve said before, too many church leaders are perfectly equipped to reach a world that no longer exists.
In the hopes of helping every leader better accomplish our collective mission, here are 7 disruptive church trends I see defining conversation and action in 2018.
1. A Move Beyond Church In a Box
Let me start out by saying I’m a huge supporter of the local church. Anyone who’s read these pages would know that.
The mission of the local church is the most important mission on planet earth. Which is why this issue is so critical.
This year I think more leaders than ever are going to rethink our centuries-old model of making people come to a building on Sunday.
If you think about it, most churches (even growing churches, new churches and large churches) effectively say “We’d love for you to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and to do it you need to join us at a set hour every Sunday in a particular space we meet in. Beyond that, we’re not sure what to do.”
That’s a remnant from a day when everything was done on a set clock. You sat down Thursday night at 8 to watch your favorite show, because you didn’t want to miss it.
Of course, for years nobody has watched any show at a set time unless it’s a live game or a live event. You watch everything else on-demand wherever and whenever you want.
Shopping happens on your phone 24 hours a day, not during the set hours of a physical store that has limited stock.
Streaming has changed how we listen to music. You don’t own music anymore. You rent access to anything, anytime, anywhere.
And yet in the church, we perpetuate a model that says “We have 1/2/3 services on Sunday. We do midweek X. And that’s how we help you come into a relationship with Christ.”
The cultural change has been underway for decades, but the church has been slow to adapt.
For years, we’ve noticed that even committed Christians are attending church less often (here are 10 reasons why), but this is the year we’ll see more and more church leaders re-imagine what it is to be the church.
There’s never been a greater need in our culture for community and connection. The church isn’t going away anytime soon.
So what’s the rethink here?
Future churches will have a building…they’ll just reach far beyond it.
You’ll still need a facility, a broadcast location, a school or theater to rent—some space in which to meet. But you’ll need to think way beyond it.
Craig Groeschel, from Life.church, told me he discussed a piece I wrote about engagement driving all future church growth with his team and made some strategic changes. He says as much as they’re committed to building new buildings, their team is re-focusing on the OTHER 167 hours in the week of their attenders and of unchurched people. (Craig will share more about this in the January 2, 2018 episode of my leadership podcast episode. Subscribe for free to catch it when it releases.)
Bottom line? Churches who only think Sunday and who only think building will continue to shrink.
In 2018, if coming to Christ means coming to your church in a set location and a set hour, you need a new strategy.In 2018, if coming to Christ means coming to your church in a set location and a set hour, you need a new strategy. Click To Tweet
2. The Digital Will Become Real
So what does better engagement beyond a set time and place on a Sunday look like?
That’s a great question, and it the answer will require a ton of experimentation, but for sure it involves your digital reach.
As my friend Clay Scroggins put it recently, virtually everyone’s life has become both analog and digital. You run to the store to get milk, but you order your next video game on Amazon and then listen to a podcast on the ride home.
For years, the church has been questioning whether their digital space ‘counts’—whether it’s real.
In 2016, we launched our live-stream at Connexus Church where I serve. In 2017, our physical attendance grew but our weekly online ‘attendance’ for the first time became bigger than our physical attendance. That’s not going to stop us from adding physical locations, but it also means we need to decide what to do with people who watch and engage online. (See Trend 1 above.)
Unfortunately, I still ask “do online people count?”
But increasingly that question is becoming downright silly.
Here’s the truth: Church leaders, in 2018 asking whether people who watch church online ‘count’ is like Sears asking if Amazon counts. It’s like New York City cabs asking if Uber counts or Lyft counts.
Of course they count.Church leaders, in 2018, asking whether people who watch online 'count' is like Sears asking if Amazon counts. Click To Tweet
A majority of first time guests at our church now tell us they watched online for weeks or months before they walked in the door.
And naturally, we need to figure out how to engage with people we may never meet.
Have we figured that out yet? Well no. No one has; we don’t know what it means.
But just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask the question.
In 2018, ask the digital question at your church.
I get that you may not have a million dollars to throw at technology. Or even 1,000 dollars.
But you probably have a free Facebook page or an Instagram account. Start treating that as real in 2018.
See what happens.Just because you don't know the answer doesn't mean you shouldn't ask the question. In 2018, ask the digital question at your church. Click To Tweet
3. Location Independence Will Rise
In many ways we’ve already seen this emerging, but there are a growing number of churches who will start to minister independent of location.
In the future, many will consider a church to be their home church, even though the church is in a city they’ve never been to.
Some leading churches are already getting innovative and are facilitating viewing parties, remote baptisms, remote gatherings, small gatherings and other connections will be part of the new normal for churches.
In the same way more workers are increasingly location-independent thanks to technology, more churches will emerge as location independent.In the same way more workers are increasingly location-independent thanks to technology, more churches will emerge as location independent. Click To Tweet
4. Pop-Up Churches Will Become More Common
Remember that the future will be more digital and analog. One will not kill the other. As technology increases so does the need for human connection.
In thriving ministry models, both digital and analog will grow.
But as every church leader knows, to open a new campus or church in a new community takes time, money, risk and experimentation.
That’s why you’ll see more pop-up churches in 2018 than before.
In the same way you’ve seen the rise of pop-up restaurants or pop-up stores, you’ll see more pop-up churches that open in a new location for a night or a month or a season.
We’ve done for that last two Christmases at Connexus Church, hosting Christmas services now in four cities where we didn’t have permanent locations. (I shared the strategy here.)
We’re adding a new permanent location as a result of that.
You can rent old churches, theaters, restaurants, banquet halls or whatever to bring your church into a new community. It gives you a chance to test the waters for expansion and to bring the hope of Christ into a new place without making a massive initialy investment.
Again, practically speaking, maybe just do a night of worship somewhere in a different city where you have a small pocket of people driving to attend your church. Or find a city where you have some traction online.
Then just do one or two events there really well and see what happens.In the same way you've seen the rise of pop-up restaurants or pop-up stores, you'll see more pop-up churches that open in a new location for a night or a month or a season. Click To Tweet
5. The Rise of Preaching (More Than Teaching)
Another curious trend I’ve seen is that the next generation of preachers (under 40s) seem to preach more than they teach.
It’s always hard to define the exact difference between the two, but simply put, preaching speaks more to the heart, teaching speaks more to the head.
Preachers facilitate an experience. Teachers convey information.
I think the best pastors do both well.
Preaching without solid teaching can become emotionalism. Teaching without preaching can become intellectualism.
Preaching leads people to say ‘That’s right. I need to change.” Teaching can lead people to say “He’s right. That’s a good point.”
I default toward teaching so this is a challenge for me.
Try to find an under-40 influential pastor of a growing church who’s more into teaching than preaching. There really aren’t that many.
It’s just a trend I see.Preachers facilitate an experience. Teachers convey information. The best pastors do both well. Preaching without solid teaching can become emotionalism. Teaching without preaching can become intellectualism. Click To Tweet
6. A Desire for Non-Downloadable Experiences
I realize you could argue that all these trends compete with each other (and they do), but welcome to 2018.
Another trend you’ll see more of in 2018 is a growing desire for what I think of as ‘non-downloadable’ experiences.
Yes, the church will become more digital, more location independent, more remote. Sermons can be consumed on a run, on a commute and while cooking dinner. I get that.
But that consumption of content will also leave people hungering for greater community, greater experience and greater transcendence.
Theologically, God is both immanent and transcendent.
Immanent means ‘near’ and even ‘accessible’, as in God with us in Christ.
Transcendence leans toward the supernatural, the holy and toward the wholly other.
While God is both, most churches swing toward one or the other: we focus on the immanent or the transcendent.
I think the best churches will have content that leans toward the immanent—practical, helpful and digestible. And they’ll also offer experiences that are transcendent…that you had to be there to experience.
If everything your church does in the future feels downloadable, probably all you’ll get is a lot of downloads, not a lot of gathered people.
If what your church does touches the soul, people will continue to gather.
The best churches will offer both because that reflects the character and nature of God and the character of the Christian church at its best.If everything your church does in the future feels downloadable, probably all you'll get is a lot of downloads, not a lot of gathered people. Click To Tweet
7. The Team Is Eclipsing the Solo Leader
Finally, to get really practical, you’ll see more team in 2018.
The last few decades were characterized by leaders who owned a stage or a platform, preaching 52 times a year (or more with midweek).
Team effort is eclipsing solo effort. A decade ago, you could name influential worship leaders.
In the same way, solo pastors will likely be replaced by teams of communicators and leaders. A few years ago we split the roles of Lead Pastor and Lead Communicator at Connexus Church, and even lead communicators (like me) often only teach 30-35 times a year.
Part of that is because so many people are listening to so many voices, it requires greater preparation and attention to preach well. And leadership is complex enough now that it requires greater focus to lead well.
Again, don’t think megachurches are the only one who will see this trend.
I started in very small churches and almost immediately raised up volunteer teams to lead.
The leader who can do everything well is being eclipsed by the team that can do everything well.
This, by the way, will be incredibly important to every church of every size who is looking to replace retiring founding pastors or lead pastors who have been in their church a long time.The leader who can do everything well is being eclipsed by the team that can do everything well. Click To Tweet
A Strategy For Breakthrough
If your church is leveraging these trends and are 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.
What Do You See?
Those are the disruptive trends I see for 2018. And yes, my brain’s melting too.
But we’re in this together. We can accomplish more together than we can apart. I’ll be drilling down on these issues more (especially 1, 2, 3 and 6) as 2018 unfolds here on this blog and on my Leadership Podcast. So think of this as the start of a conversation, not the end of one. With much help to come.
In the meantime, what do you see?
Scroll down and leave a comment!