Having been through a year like no other, what can you expect as a church leader in 2021?

In all likelihood, this year will lead the church into the post-pandemic world. It won’t be the light switch you hope for (and suddenly, we’re all back!). Instead, it will be a gradual emergence into whatever our normalized future looks like. But at some point in 2021 you’ll look back and realize most of the pandemic is behind you and the future is ahead of you.

The question is, what kind of new reality will emerge?

For church leaders, it will be a different world for sure.

Since 2016, I’ve done an annual church trends post. For the most part, many of the trends have emerged and are still relevant to what we’re all experiencing right now. Some accelerated dramatically.

You can access the entire archive for free here:

The Original 2020 is History: 7 NEW Disruptive Church Trends Every Leader Should Watch

5 Disruptive Leadership Trends That Will Rule 2020

6 Disruptive Church Trends for 2020

5 Disruptive Church Trends for 2019

7 Disruptive Church Trends for 2018

6 Disruptive Church Trends for 2017

5 Disruptive Church Trends for 2016

While no one can say exactly what the future holds, here are 8 trends I’m watching and would encourage you and your team to consider and process as well.

1. The Majority of Attenders May No Longer Be In The Room

Physical church attendance has been in decline for decades and COVID in all likelihood accelerated the decline even further.

The average church has seen their re-opened attendance come in around 36% of previous levels. Almost no leader I’ve interviewed expects church attendance to jump back to pre-COVID levels for a while.

For years, most pastors didn’t know how to handle anyone who engaged the message or mission outside of their facility.

Moving forward, many church leaders will realize that people who are engaging from home or other places will count just as much as those who are attending in a facility.

Over the last year, so many things have shifted home: work, shopping, food, fitness, school and (at least for a season) church.

People have realized they don’t have to go to a building to engage. And as a result, some won’t do that nearly as much in the future.

As 2021 rolls on, many growing churches will see off-facility attendance (home partipation, micro-gatherings and distributed gatherings) eclipse facility-based attendance: the number of people participating in the mission who are not in the building on a Sunday will surpass the number of people participating in the mission inside the building.

More and more growing churches will embrace online viewing from home, micro-gatherings and micro-campuses as normal.

What pastors have to understand quickly is that this trend isn’t about people who are dropping out. It’s about people who are leaning in.

If you can be good with the fact that micro-gatherings, distributed gatherings and people watching from home count, then you can mobilize those people in the same way you would people who are in your building.

In the same way retailers have come to understand that an online purchaser is still a client, and restaurant owners have embraced the fact that drive-thru, take out and delivery can still be fulfill their mission around food, so church leaders have to get good with the fact that people who aren’t in the main room count.

Your church is still around. The church is still around. It’s just left the building.

In the post-pandemic church, it’s possible that the majority of attenders as well as your most engaged people may not be in the room.

2. Growing Churches Will Shift Their Focus From Gathering to Connecting

This leads us to the second trend. Historically, the church has wagered almost everything on gathering people in a building.

This year, however, growing churches will focus less on gathering and much more on connecting. (Thanks to Tony Morgan for this language.)

Connecting people who are engaging from home both with the church and with one another will become an essential skill for all church leaders.

In 2021, if coming to Christ means coming to your church in a set location and a set hour, you need a new strategy.

The easiest way to think about this is the same way church leaders have thought about small groups for the last 25 years.

Almost no church leader today feels threatened by the idea that hundreds or thousands of people will be meeting in their homes to connect with other people. The church facilitates groups but doesn’t host them in a centralized facility.

Instead, leaders simply connect people who want to be connected and engage them in the mission.

This is where the potential for Sunday morning starts to move it to the new direction.

Small groups by nature tend to be closed and intimate. Gathering in people’ homes and outside the building on Sunday morning (or off-Sunday) would consist of micro-churches that are outward focused. Think of groups, but with an evangelism thrust.

The good news is that this scales in a way that gathered worship doesn’t period. It costs less and produces for more.

Gathering people on Sunday mornings will be as important as ever. It just won’t all happen in a building owned by the church.

3. Some Pastors Will Try to Fill Auditoriums While Others Focus On Fulfilling The Mission

The first two trends are disorienting and it’s easy to see why they would seem discouraging to many leaders. It’s a whole new paradigm the church is emerging into.

Just search the comments on this blog or social media and you’ll see church leaders who are having a really hard time coming to terms with what’s happening. I get it—it’s hard.

As a result, the natural tendency will be to ignore Trends 1 and 2 and focus on filling up auditoriums again once everything is fully open.

That might create a short term win but result in a longer term loss and missed opportunity. After all, for most leaders filling rooms was getting harder long before the pandemic.

So what’s underneath the obsession about filling auditoriums?

Often arguments include things like “Christians can’t forsake getting together” or “we have to gather in community.” That’s deeply true.

What’s not true (or biblical) is that the gathering has to happen in a building owned by the church (see the first two trends).

As someone who’s led a church for two decades, I promise you I like full rooms too. A little too much to be honest.

As much as they make for great pics on Instagram and make you feel better about yourself, full rooms do not guarantee a fulfilled mission.

What’s under all this? Let me quote from a text a friend sent to me recently:

It would be interesting to know whether pastors value in-person attendance more than distributed attendance (micro-gatherings) or online attendance.

My feed had a lot of pastors quoting the stat that showed only people who attend in person saw improved mental health in 2020.

Personally, I saw that as very self-serving and bit dangerous as in “see…you need to come back to the building like I said you should…”

I’ve seen that in my feed too.  (I also haven’t seen any pastor mention that in the same poll, low income earners, young adults and single people fared better than others. No one wrote about the political findings either.)

At stake here is a full room versus a fulfilled mission.

In the future, leaders who only focus on filling a room will miss the biggest opportunity they have to fulfill their mission.

If the size of your vision shrinks to the size of a room you can fill, you’ve missed the church’s mission.

4. Growing Churches Will See The Internet and Their Buildings Differently

So, what do you do with your building?

Great question.

You use it to equip people, not just gather them. Yes, people will gather in your building. And that’s awesome.

For too many years, pastors have been focused on one thing: Getting the greatest number of people in the room at the same time.

Sometimes that’s about ministry. Sometimes (honestly) it’s about ego. I’ll confess to both.

The church facilities of the future will be places where people assemble to be equipped to do ministry during the week. I realize that, theoretically, we’ve always believed that, but we often haven’t behaved that way. What we believe and how we behave are often two very different things.

The difference is that most of the people you’re equipping won’t be in the room. You may be speaking to them from the room, but they’ll be in their homes, in their cars, at work and in the community.

Right now, most pastors are using church online to get people into the building. In the future, most pastors will use the building to reach people online.

Just because they’re not attending doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged or in community. They can and will gather outside a church building.

In the future, churches that equip Christians will eclipse churches that gather them.

5. Content Alone Won’t Cut It. Community and Connection Will. 

The rush in 2020 was to get content online. Which was completely natural and appropriate.

Heading into 2021, the mood around content is shifting.

Pastors are complaining that views are down because people are ‘Zoomed out” or “Screened out.”

Sure, the spike in screen time has been a shock to all our systems, mine included.

But just because you personally feel screened out doesn’t mean the culture is.

If you think people are screened out, run your theory by TikTok or Instagram. Apparently, people aren’t nearly as done with screens as church leaders think.

Which leads us into the fourth trend. Yes, content matters because sharing the Word of God matters…immensely.

However, many Christians now realize they they can watch or listen to their favorite preachers, content creators and voices in the world today any time for free. So they do.

One approach is to try to equal or match the exceptionally gifted and skilled communicators out there. But for most of leaders, that’s not a winning strategy. You won’t be able to compete.

Growing churches (and yes, that includes small and mid-sized churches too) will realize that connection and community will win out over content in the end, and they’ll focus their resources there.

Nobody should be able to out-local or out-community the local the church.

Absolutely produce the best content you can, but make the goal connecting with people.

When you provide connection (getting to know people, moving them into community, caring for them), it will provide a loyalty and sense of tribe that people can’t get elsewhere.

Therefore, make the goal of digital content connection, not consumption.

6. Generational Differences Will Become Clearer Than Ever

Shifting gears a little, one of the creeping trends in the last few years is that generational differences are becoming sharper than ever.

While according to one survey, 71% of Boomers preferred physical worship as opposed to digital or hybrid church, only 41% of Gen Z preferred physical worship. Everyone other than Boomers had a preference for hybrid (a combination of in-person and digital gathering) or digital gatherings.

Many studies these days show stark differences between younger adults and older adults.

And while leaders love to pick part data, try a simpler approach. If you think attitudes about worship, racial justice, sexuality, economics, and even things like climate change aren’t morphing where you live (i.e. folks around here are pretty traditional), talk to a youth pastor.

Youth pastors more than almost anyone else sense where trends are heading.

If you want to get more personal, talk to some churched and unchurched teens and young adults.

While this doesn’t change core Christian theology, it does mean wise leaders will think about their tone and approach.

If you want to get a sense of how the dialogue is changing, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon’s UnChristian is still remarkably relevant even fourteen years after its first publication while Faith For Exiles offers an updated perspective.

As Gen Z emerges into the workforce, attitudes and beliefs most leaders were thinking were aberrations and exceptions will become mainstream.

Leaders who understand the emerging culture, its language and its values will have the best chance of reaching it.

7. The Political and Ideological Churches Will Lose Influence With the Unchurched

If 2020 surfaced anything, it’s how political and ideological some kinds of churches have become.

It’s easy in a tribalized culture to become tribal. And while that might score some short term points with like-minded people who are angry and self-righteous (both are characteristics of the political left and the right), in the long run it will diminish your influence with most of the people you’re trying to reach.

Unchurched people aren’t looking for an echo of the culture, they’re seeking an alternative to it.

Moving ahead a few years, the future church will consist of Christians who look, live and sound much more like Jesus than the political candidate of their choice.

What many church leaders are about to face is this truth: Unchurched people aren’t looking for politics or ideology. They’re looking for Christ.

I pray they find him in our churches.

8. Spiritual Entrepreneurs Will Thrive

These are hard times for all leaders, but as the dust settles and we emerge into the post-pandemic world, leaders who see opportunities instead of obstacles will thrive.

The missing gift set in the church is spiritual entrepreneurship—something the New Testament calls apostleship. It’s the kind of radical determination, innovation and fierceness the Apostle Paul showed.

As I wrote about here, the church today is filled with shepherds, to the point where shepherds are perhaps over-represented in church leadership. What we need most as we navigate new waters in a post-Christian culture is not more shepherds, but spiritual entrepreneurs.

Whether you call it spiritual entrepreneurship or the gift of apostleship, what we need is a new generation of Apostle Pauls who forge out in new directions.

Who experiment boldly. Who dare greatly.

Spiritual entrepreneurs are the kind of leaders who will find tomorrow’s solutions when most leaders can only see today’s problem.

In a marketplace that’s in love with start-ups and new ventures, we need some leaders who are inclined to spend their lives in the marketplace who will take their God-given talents and energy and throw them full time behind the mission of the church.

Some of the ideas that will become widely embraced five years in the future are being birthed right now.

New ways of gathering people, mobilizing and equipping people and moving the mission forward are being developed as you read this.

Micro-churches, the distributed church, community focused churches, the location independent church, and many other new forms of expression are leading the way into the future.

Right now, most of those approaches will get more criticism than praise. In the same way few people thought private citizens renting out their homes and vehicles to others was a good idea (Airbnb and Uber), so a lot of the ideas for church you’ll see in 2021 will be denounced and dismissed…until they’re not.

As is often in culture, the leaders you criticize today will be the leaders who coach you tomorrow.

So be open. A lot of good, messy, untested, might-not-work initiatives are going to launch. It’s out of that the future is always born.

What Do You See? 

There could easily have been a dozen trends and I kept it at a meta-level to hopefully spark some creative thinking.

Watch for my 2021 Leadership Trends posts to follow in a few days.

What do you see as you head into 2021? Scroll down and leave a comment!

What can church leaders expect in 2021? Here are 8 disruptive church trends that will rule 2020 as the post-pandemic church emerges.

74 Comments

  1. Jorge de Ramos on January 14, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    Thank you Carey for these insights. From your place in the world, there is much optimism of seeing herd immunization in 2021. In places like Metro Manila, where I live, this may take a longer tilme. In my estimates in thr. mid-2222. I agree very much that the thrust of the church is connection and mission. The longing for a big gathering in auditoriums must point to the ultimatr gathering of natios when Jesus comes.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 15, 2021 at 5:35 am

      Jorge…first, great to hear from you and thanks for the work you’re doing in Manila. As much as everyone is so focused on reopening, almost all the long term economic forecasts agree with you. Most industries won’t fully rebound until 2022 or 2023…industries like travel, airlines and live events have taken massive hits. And many businesses will simply be gone. It will be a long recovery.

  2. Tim Claus on January 13, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    After reading through these comments, I really like the openness of the readers to moving away from inside the box thinking. How can we uses the changes that challenge us work for us to expand our respective missions? And the reader comment of not letting mission shrink to the size of the building is right on target. I would like to think that the thoughts expressed by Carey and those that responded to the article really do reflect the jolt needed to move out of a restrictive way of thinking of how we reach those we need to reach, in a way that will actually touch them.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 15, 2021 at 5:37 am

      Tim…gonna join you in that one. I am very thankful for the open and more forward looking dialogue on this post and some recent ones. Check out the comments on my 2020 posts…much more push back. Excited for the future.

  3. Don Jones on January 13, 2021 at 9:29 am

    Carey, we shared this post in our staff meeting and the response was “so we keep hearing we need to engage people, but where is the how to?” Perhaps you have written this some place else where you can provide links to practical methods to do that. Yes, phone calls, emails, texts, but are those the only options? Micro groups or small groups aren’t happening though we have tried because folks are isolating themselves concerned about Covid or had to quarantine. Trying to work on engaging people who might view the streaming service from the community, but haven’t had much success yet. So as I mentioned, the response from our Team was we are told that we need to “engage” or “connect” but need help with practical ideas to do that.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 15, 2021 at 5:38 am

      Don you’re right. Glad you shared it with your team. There are a lot more resources coming in 2021 on that. Hope it helps. Filming a new course in two weeks that will come out in mid 2021 that will have a lot of specific content on engagement.

  4. Jane on January 12, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    This is a great article. I appreciate it and our leadership team is reading it in advance of an upcoming meeting. Once leader asked me about the what definition is intended in this article for “micro-gatherings” and “distributed gatherings.” He asks because there is a “micro-church” plant in our community and there may be some confusion of how we’ve used this term in our local community and how it is intended here. Could you give a quick definition so that we are clear if we are talking about the same things in our discussions? Thanks so much.

  5. Rod Peake on January 9, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    Lots here to ponder… The behavioural trait of extrovert and introvert will have a play in some of this but I still feel we are God designed for close community.
    I am trying to figure our how to filter this through a large year around Christian Retreat / Camp setting. If folks are not getting their needs for community/belonging in the church perhaps once a year retreats will be the place to be or do wee do a reading for a equipping centre?

  6. Rod Peake on January 9, 2021 at 4:27 pm

    Lots here to ponder… The behavioural trait of extrovert and introvert will have a play in some of this but I still feel we are God designed for close community.
    I am trying to figure our how to filter this through a large year around Christian Retreat / Camp setting.
    If folks are not getting their needs for community/belonging in the church perhaps once a year retreats will be the place to be or do wee do a reading for a equipping centre?

  7. Rod Peake on January 9, 2021 at 4:26 pm

    Lots here to ponder… The behavioural trait of extrovert and introvert will have a play in some of this but I still feel we are God designed for close community. If we don’t provide this somehow… everyone will be owning a pet!! ( tongue in Cheek)
    I am trying to figure our how to filter this through a large year around Christian Retreat / Camp setting.
    If folks are not getting their needs for community/belonging in the church perhaps once a year retreats will be the place to be???

  8. Rebecca Stringer on January 9, 2021 at 6:41 am

    Hi Carey–as usual, you’ve brought together insightful content, thank you! Perhaps it’s the enneagram 8 in me, but I can’t help but gently push back on #7. Although I agree that ideologically-heavy churches who have pushed one particular party (and candidate) at people will lose credibility with the unchurched, being politically “neutral” isn’t a great option either. Supposed neutrality or being apolitical is how the white church allowed congregants in the south and beyond to lynch and terrorize not that long ago. Sometimes, in speaking up, the church can be viewed as being partisan– as it was when churches spoke up on behalf of racial justice and marched with MLK, or more recently, churches who affirm that Black lives matter. In my experience, the churches that will engage the most unchurched will be those that tackle deeply the social issues of our time. The gospel has never been apolitical by definition, yet I do hope we can engage people in a non-partisan way (aka- manage to offend those on the right and left alike!) We lose unchurched people when we come across as clueless– or worse– complicit in the wrongdoings of our age.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2021 at 7:53 am

      Hi Rebecca. Thanks for this. I agree with you on this one. My frame is simply that biblical justice (which includes racial justice, economic justice and many other things) is different than a particular party line or ideology that’s not rooted in scripture. Completely agree that churches that ignore justice will miss this next generation. I just hope we can shape the narrative differently than partisan lines do.

      • Calvary Callender on January 9, 2021 at 10:13 am

        Carey, I appreciate your insight and agree. Biblical Justice is not a partisan issue, but something we as leaders must teach and lead the church in.

      • Tim Claus on January 13, 2021 at 10:07 pm

        On this topic, I think churches need to move towards personal and local community commitment to help meet the needs of the specific neighborhood. Fresh Expressions and the Dinner Church Collective focus on getting out of the building, feed and meet the needs of their communities and build networks that don’t focus on getting folks into a building, but meeting over a meal. These groups have some tools online and have had some seminars where member of the group at large explain how they have had to continue their mission, while working with local COVID restrictions. Everything I have heard boils done to forgetting what we are used to doing, exploring options available, then pushing through obstacles and not taking no for an answer. The gaol is fixed, do God’s work in the community. The plan of execution is malleable to work around changing conditions. My wife leads a lunch food ministry that started the spring of 2020 because of kids being at home and not in school, and not getting there lunches. The ladies serve between 60-80 meals per week and deliver any extras to a mission named Thrive, while supports outreach in the community, so no meals go to waste. I think the path forward, along the lines you lay out, is stop worrying about names and tag lines that politicians have kind of added some unsavory connotations to, and just get out and get down to business.

  9. Cindy on January 8, 2021 at 4:32 pm

    This is a hard reality that the church needs to face sooner than later. Thank you for this wisdom!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2021 at 7:53 am

      Thanks Cindy!

  10. Robert on January 7, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    Lots of good stuff here Carey, thanks.

    However, I guessed I am still wrestling with an idea presented in #8. Where did this idea come from that “spiritual entrepreneurs” are “apostles”? Not animosity here, just curious wrestling.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:24 pm

      Appreciate the question. It’s a rephrasing (mine) of the gift of apostleship. There’s a link to an article where I explain it more deeply. Hope it helps!

      • Tim Claus on January 13, 2021 at 10:31 pm

        I took the term spiritual entrepreneurship to mean Christians seeing a need and figuring out how to address that need. And folks that are leading those charges in a new area are apostles. Their creative Christian spirit is leading them to follow the path of the original apostles and do God’s work in the world.

  11. Amy-Kate Sheaves on January 6, 2021 at 7:45 pm

    Wow! That was brilliant. I cannot express my thanks for such a clear and articulate take on things. Thank you x

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:32 am

      Amy-Kate. Thank you so much and thanks for leading. 🙂

      • Tom Peachey Jr. on January 8, 2021 at 5:16 pm

        Refreshing Carey to hear you affirm the very issues I’ve been wrestling with and anticipating. I just preached last Sunday on God’s “new thing” (Is.43:19) and mentioned some of these very trends before ever reading your blog. Thanks for some confirmation.

  12. Matthew Mirabile on January 6, 2021 at 11:58 am

    Perhaps the most insightful thing in the article is this “Unchurched people aren’t looking for an echo of the culture, they’re seeking an alternative to it.” As the pastor of a liturgical that maintains the Eucharist as the central act of worship, as as a pastor who is growing a traditional liturgical church in one of the least churched sates in the country (NH), I would say that this statement is true and in ways your article does not address. Your article and POV is evangelical and the people who read your work are as well. It is hard to imagine another way. However, there are traditional orthodox liturgical churches that literally running a whole counter-cultural program, from start to finish. These churches have not, and will not be echoing the culture.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:33 am

      Matthew, thanks for sharing. I hear you and agree there is great promise in your approach. It’s going to take the whole body of Christ to share God’s love with the world. Thanks for being a very important part of that.

    • Mark on January 8, 2021 at 11:04 am

      Exactly, keep the church weird. There are growing Anglican churches that use the old services right out of medieval England, plainchant, prayers for the nation/empire and their leaders or the sovereign, and Elizabethan English with wine in the chalice. Their congregation is not shrinking. The gospel is read at every service and is the basis of the homily. This should transcend anything culture throws at it.

  13. David Faulkner on January 6, 2021 at 5:06 am

    Hi Carey,

    Your last sentence of point 5, “Therefore, make the goal of digital content connection, not consumption”, could do with a blog post all of its own. (Perhaps you’ve done one and I’ve missed it.) It’s already been quite a journey to discover the best content for a recorded act of worship for YouTube and editing it together when I’m one of only 2 or 3 tech-savvy people in a congregation, so if you could offer some pointers about what to consider in order to focus on connection, then that would be a great help, please.

    I hope you’re recovering well from your surgery.

    • Hannah on January 6, 2021 at 6:04 am

      Yes to this! Just what I was thinking, David. A blog post specifically about this connective content would be great.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:23 am

        Soon. 🙂

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:23 am

      It’s coming. 🙂 You didn’t miss it. Later this month. There’s a whole understanding under that about content, scarcity, what is free, what’s valuable and what people are really looking for and needing. Thanks.

      And I am. Thanks David. Learned how to type again.

      • David Faulkner on January 7, 2021 at 6:26 am

        Great – I’ll look forward to that.

        And glad you’re getting better.

  14. Bruce Weyers on January 6, 2021 at 1:57 am

    A question for us:

    1. Who told us that there was a pandemic?
    2. Who is going to tell us when the pandemic is over?

    Generally, these very questions will get Christians like myself into trouble in a forum like this. I am not saying that there is no virus. Just like we are not saying there isn’t TB, Ebola, measles or any other decease or pathogen. However, the fact that I with other believers who haven’t stopped meeting, gathering, visiting the sick, meeting in church or homes without masks and social distancing and that we don’t take instructions from the CDC, Dr Fauchi, mayors or governors are somehow scorned!

    But, people are getting saved, people are joining the church because they say that their church isn’t open and even the need for weddings, funerals and baby dedications have people seeking out pastors and leaders who are not hiding behind their laptop!

    Tonight I have just come back from a meeting of missionaries from around the world – close to 1000 people – worship, pray, prophetic and gifts in operation (no social distancing and masks) mighty testimonies of things that God has done in a year of lockdowns!

    On the note of ministry online – no objections! Except that I have so many friends in ministry who have been de-platformed! And, would be open to comments on how ministry online has changed after being de-platformed!

    • David Hidlebaugh on January 10, 2021 at 12:56 pm

      I’m with you Bruce. Fear is the motivation in this “pandemic” and our churches for the most part are happy to go along with the latest government edict. Make no mistake my friend, all this talk about how great the on-line church and zoom meetings are, do not come close to what the church is commanded to do, namely; gather to gether not “on-line” BUT physically. Here in my Province in Canada the government is prohibiting any gatherings other than your own household. No “micro church” or small gatherings period. The sooner the church wakes up to what is really happening the better.

  15. Ben DiStefano on January 5, 2021 at 11:18 am

    Great content as always and will be a part of our staff meeting today.
    In NW PA we’ve been open for in person for only about 10(+/-) weeks since mid-March. Some of that from the original shut down and some from our own choosing as we work with our county leaders in an area where the spread has grown rapidly.
    When we were open, our in person was about 25% – 35% of pre-covid. Online was running 60-70% of pre Covid in person #s.
    What I’ve learned is that each context is different and we should honor where we each come from and seek to help. Even in PA and in our local community there are differences. But we are being faithful to our call in this moment.
    We’ve noticed your work has been spot on and we’re doing our best to keep advancing the gospel. We’re trying a lot of things and seeing what sticks. Thanks for the resources and work. Hope your thumb heals well!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:24 am

      Ben great to hear from you. Hang in there and keep up the great work.

  16. John Cockling on January 5, 2021 at 7:32 am

    Great food for thought. Providentially, we had begun experimenting with online streaming of our in-person services in January 2020, so were ready to hit the road running when the UK was locked down in March. Many more folk are now accessing our online services than previously could have attended in person; and as everyone now Zooms to small group meetings anyway we have started to integrate into our groups those who previously could not have attended due to geographical distance.

    A challenge we now face is deciding how we facilitate our new people to help fulfil our mission (for us this is summarised as ‘helping people to find and follow Jesus’) in communities that are many miles away when their only engagement with ‘church’ is on-screen.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:25 am

      John that’s a great question, and where micro-gatherings can help potentially. To connect them with each other, or invite some friends a long might go a long way. Excited to see this new growth for you.

  17. Leonard Edloe on January 4, 2021 at 9:33 pm

    The political and ideological issue is very troubling. Many people are turning away from Christianity for this very reason. I send a suggestion to support that you interview Jemar Tisby the author of the Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism. Both are written from a Christian view. I’m sure he would consent to an interview. He has two podcasts that you can listen to. Pass the Mic and Footnotes.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:25 am

      Thanks Leonard. I appreciate the recommendation.

  18. Sarah on January 4, 2021 at 5:48 pm

    I believe it took a pandemic for God to wake up the church to these principals. If we are being brutally honest, these were issues that existed far before covid highlighted it. We have neglected to equip people and have made it about being a bringer, get them inside the doors, smile enough, wave enough, and that’s where our job stops. True connection has not been developed and that was hugely pointed out during covid. So many church goers felt disillusioned because they realized their concept of relationship was mostly fabricated well wishing.

    I love the micro church idea. I think it’s the way of the Bible. I think it’s a healthier model of spiritual growth for people, which in turn will grow the church.

    As you said so well, is it about the size and production of the gathering (ego) or actually fulfilling the mission.

    On another note, I have not ever seen much info on how to practically and biblically measure “success”. Its so easy to say, yeah, we equip people, here is 2 weeks of growth track and a link to you version. How do pastors and leadership know when the flock is healthy and healthy relationships are flourishing?

  19. Mike Megginson on January 4, 2021 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks Carey for again helping/leading us to think deeply about where the church is headed in the future. I agree that technology is pushing us to become more digital dependent as opposed to analog, but we have to remember that the one weakness of digital is personal. It’s having real people (though imperfect) around us who can be role models and examples to follow and emulate. It’s that important point of personal connection. In a digital world the Apostle Paul could not have said “Follow me as I follow Christ.” So, it’s not either/or but both/and. I love the idea of micro churches distributed throughout the community that are expressions of the mother church but are given the freedom to gather and impact their respective circles of influence. That model gives us the best of both worlds, and it scales to any size. Do you know of churches that are currently seeing success with this model?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:29 am

      Hey Mike. I know a number of churches are experimenting with this right now. J.D. Greear’s Summit Church, King’s Church in New Brunswick Canada and Crossroads in Cincinnati have all been trying some fresh things. Many others as well. 🙂

  20. Cameron on January 4, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    Quite a bit to chew through and work out implications in our church but something resonates is that point about buildings become more about equipping as it fits with what is often call ascension gifts Ephesians that were given for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

    Interesting that something that kept on coming back to me during pandamic was that in our church statistically there probably would be over 10 people with pastoral gift yet one pastor so 90% are infusing their gift. Also what I’ve seen in past as we pay a pastor to do things they are not gifted to do so even more are it using their gifts.

    I have no idea where we will end up but my prayer is as we change and have more micro assemblies that well see more people operate in their giftings eith olobvious fruit of more salvations and healthier body.

    Something I struggle with is my wife and I are now so busy doing half the roles in church since pandemic as by more watching online we’ve lost 80% of our volunteers. Last week for example we organised AV, decorated church and removed Christmas decorations, taught kids church, undertook covid compliance, my wife preached and then we cleaned both auditorium and kids church. It may seem doing too much and we agree but we had teams for all these areas pre-covid and now were like a church plant but with a larger number of attendees (online and physical) and with it comes more pastoral care etc… we also have 6 young children who help but starting to be sick of always working while their peers socializing and online

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:31 am

      Hey Cameron, I hear you. Reactivating, re-galvanizing volunteers will be a big challenge in 2021. I don’t know where that will land, but I do know in my leadership vision is your best friend on that. People don’t want to serve nearly as much as they need to be reminded how their serving is making a difference. Once they see the connection, they stick around and step up.

  21. Barbara Burrill on January 4, 2021 at 3:30 pm

    Carey thank you for this thoughtful post. I believe families with younger kids will not be returning right away. Where I am in Massachusetts we haven’t had “regular” Children’s Ministry in a long time. I have tried many times to connect with families online with poor attendance. What do you think the trends are for family ministry? Encouraging smaller house churches and providing materials? Maybe quarterly “come to church” events once we can have them? Appreciate any insight you might have!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 6:32 am

      Hey Barbara, great question. I did an episode on my Church Pulse Weekly podcast with Frank and Jessica Bealer. Episode 12 of that podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. Hopefully it helps!

  22. Tommy on January 4, 2021 at 2:11 pm

    Carey this is eye opening. In view of these trends, where do you see full time church staff positions heading?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 3:11 pm

      Love the question. I think ultimately many larger churches might have 30-50% of their staffing budget go to line ministry. In smaller churches, one full time position. I think in every case, people’s job descriptions will pivot to including a digital expression for all they do.

  23. Dan Chun on January 4, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    A shoe should not dictate to the foot how large it should grow.
    An online shoe allows the growth of a foot while an in-person-only shoe will not.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 3:11 pm

      Truth Dan!

  24. Kevin Herrin on January 4, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Excellent stuff, Carey. You are truly a gift to the Church. There are things suggested that don’t fit us in our church here in Texas, but there’s a powerful current of wisdom permeating your message. I am inspired and encouraged to add it, in translated fashion, to the downloads the Holy Spirit is giving me and our team. Thank you, sir.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 3:12 pm

      Thanks Kevin!

  25. Min on January 4, 2021 at 11:17 am

    While I appreciate your insightful comments and points for the future, I have found the opposite of all of these to be true these past months. I feel lazy and disconnected from my church family. I have listened to sermons online and on the radio for years, and I haven’t stopped. Just the opposite – 2020 drove me to more time with the Lord in Bible studies and being in the word. But sitting in my house with a few people does not come close to replicating corporate worship with voices raised in song and distractions minimized while “at church.” Although the younger group may prefer online, I see in my own church and family that not meeting together on Sundays has been detrimental.

    This is not to say that the church should not be adapting to cultural changes in how we worship. But I do believe we are on a dangerous path if we continue to decentralize gathering together on a large scale.

    • Matt on January 4, 2021 at 11:41 am

      That is generational, as the post says. There will always be one-off’s, sure, but many people in the 40 and under age group are connected and gathered digitally with groups all of the time in various aspects of life. This age group doesn’t need to physically be in the same location to feel like they are in corporate worship, connected together and part of something.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 3:13 pm

        Hi Min. Thanks for your post. I agree with Matt…and I think there will always be gatherings for people with your wiring. I just wouldn’t leave the future to that being the only expression.

      • Don Jones on January 13, 2021 at 9:22 am

        Context may also determine response to digital. What we are seeing in our context in the school system that is attempting digital is that there is a significant amount of students who are not engaging digitally. And those who might sign on aren’t really engaging, they are just sitting there looking at the screen. So in this instance, a significant number of the younger set aren’t finding the digital approach to be really working. So for our setting and applying to local church I don’t think many of the younger set feel they are in “corporate” worship and “connected together”. Though we have been streaming the younger families are desirous to get back to “in person” attendance so they can experience “corporate worship” and “connection and being part of something.” That is our experience.

  26. Elver Mendenhall on January 4, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Well Carey, I think this is a thoughtful article with points that we as Pastors and church leaders must consider as we go forward. Where I take exception is with the inference that we have to many shepherds and not enough spiritual entrepreneurs which you equate as apostolic ministry. God has called pastors to be shepherds, to feed, lead and care for His sheep. Note Jesus’ discourse with Peter in John 15, “feed and tend My sheep”. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd. I really want to be like Him. What we need is creative, prophetic ideas that come from the throne of God. These are accessed by time spent with Him, I.e., the Word, prayer, fasting, etc. Moses did a pretty good job of this by turning aside to the bush/God where He received the direction to set Israel free from slavery.
    Carey, I may not agree with all that you say, but you always makes me think. Thank you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 11:51 am

      Thanks for the respectful counter point. I get it. I just think apostleship is under represented in the church right now. Shepherds play a huge role though. Thank you.

      • Dan Adam on January 5, 2021 at 1:15 am

        I agree Carey and am of the mind that the church has been understaffed for many decades. We have asked the Shepherds and Teachers (or if you prefer Shepherd/Teacher) to fulfill the apostleship, prophetic, and evangelistic gifts.

    • Chris Dixon on January 5, 2021 at 12:40 pm

      Yes Elver, this is making me think too.
      Since Pastor is a combination of prophet (speak the words of God), priest (connect people to God), and king (leader and setter of values), the pastor role in the church is critically important. I don’t think the prophet/priest/king role can totally be trained for in school, but requires the constant filling of Holy Spirit to give wisdom and revelation.
      Thankfully wisdom is a refillable tank, and Proverbs 13:20 says that those who spend time with the wise become wise. So as you spend time with the ultimate Giver of Wisdom, may you be blessed with spiritual entrepreneurial ideas that come from God.
      Praying for you and anyone who needs wisdom today,
      Blessings,
      Chris Dixon

  27. Steve on January 4, 2021 at 10:13 am

    Thanks Carey. My mind is racing with ideas after reading this post — and many of your posts. I work in digital technology, but am also a volunteer worship leader with my local church in San Diego. Thank you for challenging me to pursue a mission that does not shrink to the size of a building.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 10:21 am

      That’s such a great phrasing of the intent…a mission that doesn’t shrink to the size of the building. Thanks Steve.

  28. Charles Stanley on January 4, 2021 at 10:03 am

    I think #3 is the most critical.

  29. Ken Adams on January 4, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Hi Carey, I am new to you posts and this one is great. In thinking about point 3, where filled auditoriums do not equal fulfilled mission….I think it may be easier to fulfill the mission with an online audience as opposed to in-person at church. What I am going to say is not true of everyone, and I do not like broad brush comments, but….People in church can be there for the wrong reason….to be seen…or because it is the thing to do on Sunday. Is it possible the online attender has a different heart? I think that may be true in some cases, but again I do not want to over-generalize.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 10:23 am

      Ken…welcome. Couldn’t agree more. It is easier…much easier.

  30. Doru on January 4, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Thank you Carey for your faithful support and thinking stretch!

  31. Clayton Bell on January 3, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    Way to push the thinking. Thanks, Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 9:45 am

      Thanks for recognizing that Clayton. As some of my friends say, I live in the future. But I do sincerely think this is where things will land a few years from now. And if they do, why not get there first?

  32. jane on January 3, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    Happy New Year! I think that listening to podcasts or facebook is a really smart idea. There are people who are not mobile or who prefer to access their pastor in alternative ways. Great thoughts.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 4, 2021 at 10:23 am

      I’ve seen so much traction with podcasting Jane. Agreed!

    • Kyle Isabelli on January 4, 2021 at 6:24 pm

      I actually referenced that gallup poll yesterday in my sermon, but what people may miss is that the people who gathered weekly for religious services does include online gatherings since it was reported in 2020 where most people were online only for months 🤦 Online or in-person, church service or small group, a weekly connection is important! Love the language you and Tony Morgan have about connection versus gathering, great stuff as always!

  33. Chuck Congram on January 3, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Carey- Your ability to produce new content astounds me but this is one every church leader should be reflecting on with those in their leadership circle- and that recommendation comes from an old guy.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 3, 2021 at 12:06 pm

      Thanks Chuck. And Happy 2021. Just trying to figure it out in real time like all of us. 🙂

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.