7 Insightful Church Trends for 2018
Updated: Oct 29, 2019
Church Trends Give Perspective
I have been blessed with good vision! My wife has always struggled through wearing glasses or ordering contacts….while I have sat by taking my perfect 20/20 vision for granted. That is until I turned 42 and all of the sudden I started needing reading glasses! I ordered my first pair and my kids had their fill of laughter when they saw then on me for the first time….Oh well. Reality hurts.
In the same way, sometimes we need the corrective lenses of “the big picture” to help us see what Christ is really doing with his church…and help us take our laser-like focus off our small part of what Christ is doing. God is doing some incredible things with the church! If you are only focused on your congregation you might be missing some really exciting things that are happening! With that in mind, let’s consider these 7 exciting/troublesome church trends for 2018.
(This article is also available as a podcast and can be listened to by clicking here)
1. Churches are declining in membership
This a harsh reality and it is backed by almost every major statistical study. But don’t be too alarmed. There is both a good side and a bad side to this two-sided issue. First, the ‘good side’ is that church attendance has dropped in part because of the disappearance of “cultural Christianity” within the American fabric. In other words, there were many people that were ‘attenders’ of church but were not really part of the body of Christ. As soon as the culture moved away from church attendance as a measuring stick for political or social influence…they punched their ticked and headed out the door! This really isn’t a bad thing. If you take a pot of salty water and begin boiling away the water, what is left in the pot is more concentrated as the water is removed. This cultural shift away from ‘cultural Christianity” has actually focused the church and helped concentrate followers of Christ.
The ‘bad side’ of this trend is that some churches refuse to minister to a changing culture; there is a resistance to any change (not speaking of doctrine) and a desire for things to stay the way they have been since the church was founded. These churches are often seeing a decline in membership due to the aging demographic within the local assembly. A failure to reach young couples and families with children will almost always set the local church on a pathway that leads to declining membership and future struggle.
2. Renewed focus on textual preaching
This is a trend that has me very excited! I have talked to more pastors and church leaders this past year that are focused on letting the context of Scripture drive the interpretation of the text as opposed to forcing the text into a pre-determined box. I have listened to sermon after sermon of young new pastors that are letting God’s Word drive their pulpit ministry as opposed to ‘hobby horse’ or ‘soap box’ sermons. I am seeing incredible care being taken with the handling and interpretation of God’s Word as opposed to sloppy exegesis that forces external meaning into the text of Scripture. This is an wonderful trend!!
3. Resurgence of new theologically rich music
Consequently, as pastors focus on allowing the text of Scripture to guide their pulpit ministry, we have seen a growth of theologically rich hymns that reinforce the pulpit ministry! There has been a resurgence of congregational singing that goes beyond just singing the songs that we heard from our childhood. We are seeing hymns written that are deep in theology, rich in Biblical language, and are paired with chords and a melody that reinforce the Biblical truth in your heart. I only see this continuing for years to come! Go to my podcast website (www.letstalk.church) for a future episode with Matt Taylor (of the Wilds Christian Camp) that deals with the value of theologically rich music!
4. Balanced approach to technology
With a changing culture comes changing technology. I am glad to see that many churches are using various forms of technology to extend the reach of the local church as opposed to replacing it. The most exciting opportunities seem to be in the area of online audio and video. We are living in a mobile generation that is connected to audio/video content continuously. Podcasts, though an ‘older’ form of audio content, are seeing a resurgence and podcast audiences continue to steadily grow. Churches are using this forum to communicate their message with both produced content as well as using podcasts as a sermon distribution platform.
*On that note, I am excited to tell you about a podcast I am hosting for pastors and church leaders called “Let’s Talk Church.” (www.letstalk.church) We regularly interview pastors and church leaders about real church issues that are affecting local churches and their congregations. Click here to listen to the episode titled “7 Insightful Church Trends for 2018.
5. Increased legal attacks on the church
This is something that is looming on the church’s horizon. Don’t be alarmed or let your faith be shaken! Jesus told us to expect persecution; with the direction our country is headed, it probably isn’t too far around the corner. This may be the year that churches are seriously challenged for their beliefs about marriage and gender. With individuals being challenged all over the country and losing in the legal system (and in the court of public opinion), it won’t be too long until the church is put to the same test as well. My biggest fear with these issues is that some churches have extended their reach beyond the ‘umbrella’ of true Biblical ministry and are relatively exposed to challenges in the court system. Churches…stay focused on the fundamental task to which God has called the church! Click Here for a great podcast episode about religious freedom and the local church by “The Bold Church Podcast.”
6. Pastoral Leadership Crisis
Sadly, this next reality isn’t exciting but must be acknowledged. As pastors are aging and retiring from ministry, there are not enough younger pastors to take their place in local churches. This is painfully seen in our rural area by the number of churches that are looking for a pastor but cannot find one to lead their congregation. As a result, the time that churches are going without pastors is naturally increasing. The average time to fill a pulpit is 12-24 months and the vast majority of churches are ill-prepared to begin the process when it presents itself! Another angle to this issue concerns the “pastoral career” climate with which young pastors often become allured. Rather than seeking to minister to people and shepherd the sheep, there is an infatuation with larger pastoral ministry in more influential churches with staff to handle the ‘shepherding’ of the flock. If a young pastor sets his eyes that direction, he will never be satisfied to “only” shepherd a small ‘insignificant’ congregation
7. Churches willing to connect
The final trend we will consider is a good one! I have seen the trend (over the past few decades) that when a church gets established in a community it often becomes protective and possessive of the ‘turf’ that God has called it to minister. This is best seen in a church’s unwillingness to acknowledge/cooperate/fellowship with a church of like faith that is in the same neighborhood. Pastors become skeptical and protective. Other churches almost become the enemy! I am thrilled to hear of pockets of pastors all across the nation that are coming together to encourage one another, pray for each other’s ministries, share ideas and methodology…this networking together of local bodies will be even more important as our culture begins attacking the foundations of the local church and trying to weaken its resolve. Pastors, find a network of local pastors that you can connect with on your journey to lead God’s people!
Were there difficult church issues that rose to the surface in 2017? Yes. However, I am excited to see churches that are remaining faithful to the Scriptures and are working hard at accomplishing the edification of the local body! No matter what 2018 holds for the church, I am thankful that we serve an omnipotent and omniscient God that uses weak and broken vessels to accomplish his will!
Pastor DJ Harry