I am not prophetic. And if I am prescient, it’s only because I have the incredible vantage point of hearing from tens of thousands of church leaders every year.
While it is admittedly difficult to project trends in typical times, it is exceedingly difficult to do so in a time of pandemic headed for, hopefully, a post-quarantine era. Because we hear from so many church leaders and church members, allow me to venture where local churches will be in one year.
At least 20 percent of those who attended before the pandemic will not return to church. Of course, this number will vary from church to church, but early indicators point to this level of losses. Some of the former in-person attendees will become digital-only attendees. Most of this group, however, will not attend at all.
More pastors will leave vocational ministry over the next twelve months than any time in recent history. Pastors suffer a death by a thousand cuts. It’s usually not just one or a few factors that push their limits, it’s the drip-by-drip effect of constant criticisms and conflicts they experience. That continuous pressure and discouragement has been exacerbated by the incredible pressures brought by the pandemic.
Churches will move to a new emphasis on conversion growth. Churches have been quietly disobedient to the Great Commission for three decades. We are seeing signs of a new wake-up call. Church leaders are becoming increasingly convicted that they must lead their churches to reach those who are not believers in Christ. Church members are reflecting that same conviction and commitment. Most church growth for the past three decades has been transfer growth, Christians moving from one church to another. That dismal reality is about to change.
Churches will start more churches, many of them as microchurches. Churches are moving from vertical growth (getting as many to attend as possible at one place on Sunday morning) to horizontal growth (growth beyond one site on Sunday morning). A lot of this new growth will include the starting of microchurches, congregations of around 25 to 30 people. As a side note to be unpacked later, these trends will have huge implications for the future of church facilities.
Two movements will grow rapidly: church adoption and church fostering. There will be more unhealthy churches needing help in the next few months. There will be more struggling churches without pastors. Some of these churches will be adopted; they will be assumed into another church family and become a site of the adopting church. Others will be fostered, which means a healthier church will help those struggling churches for a short season. I will address both of these movements next week.
While it has become cliché to say we are living in unprecedented times, we are living in unprecedented times. Those organizations that view this new reality as an opportunity will indeed see limitless possibilities. This perspective is especially true for the organizations we call churches.
It’s a challenging time. It’s an exciting time.
The next twelve months will be incredibly telling for the future of local churches around the world.