Growing Churches In the Future Will Do These 5 Things

Need some hope in a world where so many churches have stopped growing?

It’s not all gloom and doom. I’m an optimist.

You can always find the opportunity in every obstacle.

And yet, I get it. It’s easy to get discouraged about the future of the church.

While the world seems to be falling apart, so does the church.

Attendance in many places is shrinking, not growing. Even committed Christians are attending less often (here’s why). And young leaders aren’t exactly flocking into ministry.

And often we shoot ourselves in the foot, with everything from Pharisee-like self-righteousness to downright stupid things Christians do (here are 5).

There are some characteristics that will be true of all churches that grow in the future. The more closely you align with principles like these, the more likely it is you’ll reach more people.

I won’t include things like prayer and scripture in the list because I hope they’re foundational. The five listed below are, well, less obvious.

As you think about the future and how you need to change as a church, here are 5 characteristics of opportunities you have that might really help you grow.

1. Fill the relational void

The truth about our culture is this: thanks to an abundance of technology, we have never been more connected as a culture before, and we’ve never felt more disconnected.

As our lives have moved online, and as people have become more mobile and even (in growing numbers) location independent, people have never felt more lonely.

We know our neighbors less than we ever have before. Note to self: it’s really hard to love someone you don’t know.

We have never been more connected as a culture before. And we've never felt more disconnected. Click To Tweet

Our social media feeds give us the illusion of community. But read between the lines and you’ll see intense loneliness and even the re-emergence of tribalism where we only (virtually) associate with the people who agree with us.

When I talk to people in my community and around the world who are working through life issues, I always ask them “Who are you talking to about this?”

The number one answer? Nobody.

People may have friends, but few have deep friendships, friendships that can carry the weight of life and faith and hope and meaning and existence.

Today, people may have friends, but few have deep friendships. Click To Tweet

The church hasn’t done a great job of community in the past. We claim to be friendly, but that usually only means we’re friendly to each other.

And catching up on what happened this week and talking about sports or the weather is hardly what Jesus had in mind when he told us to love one another.

But the truth is the real mission of the church is relationship. It defines the vertical nature of our faith (love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength) and the horizontal essences of Christianity (love your neighbor as yourself).

If anyone can get relationship right, it should be the church.

So ask yourself as a church leader: what are you doing to forge the deepest relationships you can forge in this life?

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

Nobody should be able to out-community the local church. Click To Tweet

2. Broker Meaning

In the same way that our lives are awash in hundreds or thousands of half-real relationships thanks to our phones, we are also drowning in a sea of information.

Never in the history of humanity has so much useful and useless information been available to so many so quickly.

And we have no idea what to do with it.

Never in history has so much useful and useless information been available to so many so quickly. Click To Tweet

The current and future crisis is not a crisis of information, it’s a crisis of meaning and purpose.

You’ve felt this every time you’ve scrolled through your social media feed and thought “there is nothing of value here at all”.

In fact, on some days, the constant rants, drivel, trivial observations, bragging, self-promotion and complaining has made you think about giving up social media altogether.

The challenge for leaders moving forward is not to produce more content. The challenge is to provide meaning. 

I believe the future belongs to leaders who broker meaning in the sea of endless content

It follows, then, that the key to providing meaning isn’t more, it’s better.

More content will simply get lost the constant chatter.

More without meaning will make you less relevant. You become yet another unhelpful voice.

Better is not nearly as easy as more. Better requires thought, reflection, digestion and ultimately resonance (it’s resonance that tells you your content is connecting).

The future belongs to leaders who broker meaning in the sea of endless content. Click To Tweet

This provides a huge opportunity for church leaders. Who better to provide meaning than the leaders called to share timeless truth in an era starved for meaning?

And for business leaders, the opportunity to stand out with your customers, your peers and your clients is right in front of you—help them craft an experience and a purpose.

Just know that the race to produce more will compete with the need to produce meaning.

The meaning-brokers will win the race.

Leaders who read widely, digest, think, and above all publish content that actually helps people find meaning will become THE leaders in their field.

The current and future crisis is not a crisis of information, it's a crisis of meaning. The meaning-brokers will win the race. Click To Tweet

3. Embrace selflessness

Narcissism is a rapidly growing problem in our culture.

You feel the pull to make your life all about you. I feel the pull. And we see it all over our culture.

The Gospel offers a powerful counterweight to selfishness; it calls us to die to ourselves.

When Christians do this, amazing things happen.

A life defined by generosity and service to others (especially those in need) is increasingly attractive to a world suffocating on itself.

A life defined by generosity and service to others (especially those in need) is increasingly attractive to a world suffocating on itself. Click To Tweet

A life devoted to the Kingdom of God stands out in a world devoted to the Kingdom of Self.

The church is just as guilty as the culture when it comes to narcissism. We can get obsessed with ourselves as easily as anyone.

But the opportunity to live generous lives of service to Christ and to others is a tremendous opportunity. Those disciplines put flesh on love.

The more Christians sacrifice their own wants and needs for the sake of the Kingdom, the stronger the church will be.

There’s even a promise in that. When you die to yourself, something greater rises.

When you die to yourself, something greater rises. Click To Tweet

4. Deal Hope

You know what’s missing in the cultural dialogue these days? Hope.

We seem to do a great job focusing on the problem and pointing out the shortcomings and sins of others and very little time pointing toward a preferred future.

We’ve read to the end of the story. We know how this ends. Love wins. Faith wins. Hope wins.

Christian hope isn’t a pie-in-the-sky that floats above reality.

It’s as gritty as the incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection of the dead.

Which means our message and lives need to get into the grit of addictions, conflict, brokenness and the utter fragility of life and fight for hope.

As Bruce Cockburn once said, you need to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

Hope that’s divorced from reality isn’t hope at all.

But hope that goes into the darkest places and cracks open a thin wedge of light that eventually floods the room is exactly what we need.

So deal hope. Real hope.

It’s what our hope-starved world craves.

Hope that's divorced from reality isn't hope at all. Click To Tweet

5. Make Your Mission THE Mission

So where does that leave you and me?

It probably leaves us changing our churches. Cutting through the junk of who we are. Tearing away the parts that don’t work and replacing them with an authenticity and power than do.

This is true whether your church is 50, 500, or 15,000. It’s true whether it’s growing, flat or declining.

Radical change outside the church demands radical change inside the church.

Just because you shouldn’t change the message or the mission doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change the methods.

If you don’t change, irrelevance is a hairbreadth away.

An unwillingness to change is what’s fueling the decline and stagnation of 90% of all churches in North America.

Just because you shouldn't change the message doesn't mean you shouldn't change the methods. Click To Tweet

Here’s some hope for churches that are willing to have the tough conversations and undergo a radical transformation: the future of THE church is secured.

Because the church is Jesus’ idea, not ours, the future of THE church is guaranteed.

The mission belongs to Christ, not to us. And he has more invested in the future of his church than all of us put together.

If you make your mission THE mission you will always have a future as a church.

If you make your mission THE mission you will always have a future as a church. Click To Tweet


In the meantime, what gives you hope for the future of the church?

Where do you see opportunities?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

Growing Churches In the Future Will Do These 5 Things


  1. Restoration Church on March 11, 2020 at 12:25 am

    Your blog lines and your things are very good. This line is very pointed for every person to need some hope in a world where so many churches have stopped growing? there is a restoration church they help peoples for there hopes.

  2. Shawn Gallagher on February 24, 2020 at 8:28 am

    Brian McMichan,
    You are case and point. Things have changed so dramatically. If nobody is listening, and you’re not being heard, even if everything you say is right, you are completely ineffective and reaching nobody. I don’t want to discourage you because you obviously have a good handle on the truth, but the way we present it is very important. When we cling to archaic method and style, we bind and gag ourselves.

    • Brian McMichan on March 11, 2020 at 4:03 am

      Shawn, Please readJohn 6:65 And He said, This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him [unless he is enabled to do so] by the Father.
      John 6:66 After this, many of His disciples drew back (returned to their old associations) and no longer accompanied Him.

      … so the same thing that is happning world wide to many who call themselves “believers” happened to Christ Jesus … why? … God is love and He gives people choice to believe or look back into darkness.

      I submitted a very extensive study to Carey today (Australia time) pointing out 5 of the key “disobedient” actions of many millions of “believers” throughout the world … hopefully he will share it on his web site …. because, sadly when Lord Jesus returns (likely very soon) He will spew many from His mouth (they will turn his stomach) or when many millions of others are left behind they will stand looking up, likely saying, “But, but!”

      For all who are born again & (like Christ Jesus) are led by the Holy Spirit … they are children of God (Read Rom 8:13-14)

  3. Marilyn A. on February 19, 2020 at 10:53 am

    “An unwillingness to change is what’s fueling the decline and stagnation of 90% of all churches in North America.”

    Over the course of my life (63 years) I’ve seen people being tossed around by movements of change, often for the sake of change itself, only to find deep resentments, discouragements and broken relationships scattered about. In the aftermath of great “changes” in our church that we attended for nearly 3 decades, my husband and I, our family, and many others were badly damaged. We left what had been our beloved church, heartbroken. What we have now discovered which is so sweet and simple, and as you say, foundational, is a church where the Word is preached, where love and acceptance is embraced, and where the Spirit is released through true Praise and Worship. This church is growing and vibrant. Why? Because the thrust of change and growth comes from Christ and His powerful Spirit.

    While I appreciate being thoughtful and intentional about Church leadership and growth, pride is alive and well in thinking that we are the ones to make these changes happen to grow our churches. Truly believing in Him with the childlike faith that Jesus spoke about, while in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in the midst of a loving, diverse Body is attractive and effective just like He said it would be: “I will build my church” (Mt 16:18)

    • Wayne on February 19, 2020 at 12:02 pm


      • Brian McMichan on March 11, 2020 at 4:09 am

        Yes, Christ Jesus is coming back for His bride … His church (not a man made, man’s ruls dominated church.

        Read the story of the 10 virgins …. without oil (the Holy Spirit) 5 virgins were locked out … you MUST be born again (John 3:3) and filled with the Holy Spirit …. so just be a branch of the Vine & receive, moment by moment ALL that you need to bear MUCH fruit for Father’s glory. (Read John 15)

    • Brian McMichan on February 19, 2020 at 9:12 pm

      Why is there a “falling away” of “believers” (or as stated in 2 Thess 2:3 “of those who have professed to be Christians”)? …. Because so many “believers” have NOT followed Christ Jesus’ command. (Amp Bible used.)
      Christ Jesus gave a command for all mankind ….. John 3:3 … I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.

      What example did Jesus set for all men to follow so as to be born again? (fleshly spirit dead and made spiritually alive)
      He was born as a man, but His Father’s essential plan was that He be equipped with His own Spirit (the Holy Spirit) before He began His ministry on earth. So He came to John the Baptist (a man appointed by Father) standing in the River Jordan and was baptised (The Greek word for baptism is “baptidzo” literally means to “dip” or to “immerse”. ) AND as He came up from under the water (leaving the “old man” Jesus, behind in the water) He received the anointing of the Holy Spirit …. He became Jesus Christ (the Messiah).
      Christ Jesus advised that as a consequence of being born again, ….. John 14:26 But the Comforter (Counsellor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will cause you to recall (will remind you of, bring to your remembrance) everything I have told you.
      But so many “believers” have not followed Jesus’ example, but have followed “man’s rules” and the deception of Satan and have only been “sprinkled with water” (usually as a child when they had no choice of taking the step of faith. Thus many, many people (including teachers, pastors, ministers, etc.) are going back to the error that Adam and Eve made …. seeking knowledge (of the world), relying on pride, self thought, self glory …. their flesh because they have not had the Holy Spirit come upon them to provide a new spiritual life.
      Paul is a wonderful example of what God can do in anyone’s life … Saul (Paul), a former persecutor of Christ Jesus’ followers, was chosen by God to be an apostle to the non-Jews. But before He could start his ministry, he had to be equipped ….Acts 9:17 So Ananias left and went into the house. And he laid his hands on Saul and said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you along the way (He saw the Light) by which you came here, has sent me that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
      Acts 9:18 And instantly something like scales fell from [Saul’s] eyes, and he recovered his sight. Then he arose and was baptized. (following the example Jesus set).
      Paul said – Gal 2:19 -20 For I through the Law [under the operation of the curse of the Law] have [in Christ’s death for me] myself died to the Law {and} all the Law’s demands upon me, so that I may [henceforth] live to {and} for God. I have been crucified WITH Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion] (spiritually – when Christ died); it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the (new) life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
      Paul was born again! (see Zech 4:6 … not by might, nor by power but by My Spirit …so, born again Christians have His Spirit available to work in them and through them in the world.
      But, Father being a loving God, gives all people the power of choice …… Rom 8:13 For if you live according to [the dictates of] the flesh, you will surely die. But if through the power of the [Holy] Spirit you are [habitually] putting to death (making extinct, deadening) the [evil] deeds prompted by the body, you shall [really and genuinely] live forever. Rom 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
      So born again believers, who are led by the Spirit of God, are equipped (not by self effort) to abide by God’s commands in Ephesians 6:10-17 plus 18 .. being strong IN the Lord (grafted into the True Vine [Lord Jesus] at baptism), with His FULL armour on AND to intercede for ALL the saints. (thus joining the Holy Spirit and Lord Jesus in intercession – Rom 8:27, 34 … so when all believers simply rest in Him, they are as He was on earth – having total trust in the Holy Spirit.
      PLUS, the extra benefits …. John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give {and} bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.] …. They can understand that their sins have been paid for and forgiven by Christ Jesus sacrificing Himself on the cross. Therefore, through the Holy Spirit, they can have a personal relationship with God and trust totally in Him and their cleansed spirits (see Luke 4:18-19) imparted to them.
      The world needs to know that God loved everyone so much that He gave His only begotten Son to free mankind from the burdens, influences, deceptions and controls of the Prince of this world … Satan (the devil, Lucifer who encourages, tempts man to rely on self, others and possessions .. this is sin .. or separation from God Who loves us.) . Jesus’ life on earth was sinless – He totally relied on God and was One with Him. His death was the sacrifice and full payment for all human sin … believe in Him and His payment and you are freed! John 3:16 For God so greatly loved and deeply prized the world, that He even gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him (clings to, abides in) shall not perish, but have eternal life. (This was not only for those living at the time of Christ Jesus’ crucifixion, but for whoever lives on earth up to the time of His return …. which, due to the horrible state of our world, relying on self, etc., may not be too far away).

      Christ Jesus’ closing words on the cross were “It is finished!” (John 19:30)… He had achieved what He was sent to earth for … to spiritually free mankind and give spiritual sight! (Read Luke 4:18-19) … when anyone turns to the Light they will realise that.
      1 John 3:16 For God so greatly loved and deeply prized the world, that He even gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him (clings to, abides in) shall not perish, but have eternal life. (This was not only for those living at the time of Christ Jesus’ crucifixion, but for whoever lives on earth up to the time of His return …. which, due to the horrible state of our world, relying on self, etc., may not be too far away).
      As examples of the benefits, read Romans 8:1-3, John 14:23, Acts 2:38, Acts 26:18, Heb 1:3, Jer 29:11-13, and frequently pray Ps 139:23-24
      I will be travelling, and out of computer contact, 23 February to 8 March, 2020.

  4. Dee Gee on February 19, 2020 at 10:00 am

    1) I will recognise a growth-delivering church when I see it – because it will be so different I won’t like it (at first, maybe never)
    2) My denomination has declined numerically since 1915. Its senior people correct this statement by pointing out that the actual date is either 1860 or 1830. What those people skate over is the obvious conclusion that what they are doing is badly broken. Not an easy pill to swallow.
    3) From another blog “there is plenty of seed, but it isn’t given to people who don’t know how to use it”
    4) Never mind the seed, we can’t get enough working tractors
    5) And the “fix” is………? [Now if we knew that we might actually apply it instead of just pumping the old system harder :-)) ]

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 19, 2020 at 6:48 pm

      Some great points Dee. Thanks!

    • Brian McMichan on February 19, 2020 at 9:14 pm

      Please refer to reply to Marilyn A on 19 February, 2020

  5. Wayne on February 19, 2020 at 1:33 am

    Carey, bless you Brother. I’ve heard it said recently that “if you’re not confused today, you’re not paying attention”. Some “feedback” after reading three of your last posts and over some warm milk at zero dark thirty.
    In point of fact, I am attending you’re “community” as we so loosely define the thing today, by joining in here and yet this exchange is a relative vapor in social media ether. I’m wrestling with my (100 plus year old) tribe’s declining churches in our area while other multisite campus churches are popping up within a mile or two of ours without a word (or thought) of cooperation. Check this out, just as we’re feeling relatively anemic and impotent in “Church Community” and in those brick and mortar communities, you publish Jim White’s consolidation move (in an effort to spend more on R+D for the digital world that we somehow all missed in our decline or our multisite blitz campaigns?) and suddenly we’re back on relative standing potentially or it’s yes/and. Jim White (being descriptive) says the move to one location for all has brought a feeling of “electricity” to their being together there. Wow, so the incarnate gathering-in is creating inclusivity buzz while he feels the need to spend resources from that “community” to “feed the machine” of digital media blitzing to reach the excarnate masses who then may still need gathering places that could foster churches of their own since “Meck” has already done the multisite thing? So growing churches will have to be and do both to a level of excellence to fulfill the Mission and yet how WILL we avoid becoming the denominations (tribes) of old (Borgs) and still do what you propose here? It’s a challenge, I get it. Perhaps the bigger denominations/tribes of old ended up being the best of both those worlds (inreach/outreach) to meet all the needs of their day in hindsight? Are we creating excarnate phantoms if we don’t have a brick and mortar for them? Are you high capacity leader training tribe/community folks actually creating independent leaders to make community church destination not beholding to your/any organizations so we can work toward genuine communities again? Thanks, keep writing, I’ll keep reading.

    • Robby Morris on February 19, 2020 at 10:00 am

      Wayne?????? Have very little idea of what your comment is saying. Rant? Information? Very creative wording though, but ?????

      • John L on February 19, 2020 at 10:32 am

        Great message Carey! I would add that people need to experience God, not just learn about Him. We need to make space for the Holy Spirit to move. He is active but we can easily quench him through our modern day tendency to over planning and production. I speak as one who has been tasked with these very things!

        • Wayne on February 19, 2020 at 12:03 pm


        • Carey Nieuwhof on February 19, 2020 at 6:48 pm

          So agree John!

      • Wayne on February 19, 2020 at 11:59 am

        Sorry to confuse, reread the first line for clarity…content out there today is confusing. Creative wording is drilled into us as being pithy/concise in our seminary program. Sorry again I guess., dont mean to offend. A main thrust for me is the “community” of high capacity leaders (self described) is seemingly lamenting the idea that tribalism where like minded people are seeking like minded people exclusively, like the tribe/community who subscribes, Irony perhaps? Im trying to balcony this and accurately define the dance going on amid the music…make sense?Thinking aloud as I read each day and see overlap back into the “problems” or concerns being addressed. Maybe I have too much content going on. Grace and truth.

      • JJ Hill on February 25, 2020 at 5:13 pm

        Thank you for this post! I am a small Christian Camp Director and we have been working to increase attendance at our camp. I have been trying to pin point what our main focus is to help drive our vision and mission! I now know this focus is Hope! Our mission is to build relationships between Christ, each other and nature and with each camper we strive to create a safe environment that they feel loved supported and have an adult pour into them with discussions and eye to eye contact. There is no WiFi at camp, just people that want to plant seeds of faith in kids and fill that void of lack of relationships and meaning. We deal in hope every week of camp! I will be sharing this with my team! I so appreciate you and the work you do!

    • Brian McMichan on February 19, 2020 at 9:17 pm

      Please read reply to Marilyn A 19 February, 2020

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