The culture continues to change rapidly around you as a church leader.
You get that.
And yet sometimes the change is easy to miss.
Last January, I outlined five disruptive church trends that would dominate 2016.
2017 is no different. In fact, the need for change is more urgent because our culture is arguably changing faster than it was even a year ago.
The question—as always—is: are you ready as a leader?
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 six disruptive church trends I see defining conversation and action in 2017.
1. Consumer Christianity Will Die Faster Than Ever
Over the last 100 years, North American Christianity somehow fused with consumerism to the point where we wrongly defined discipleship as what we can get from God (or from a church).
That’s because, at its heart, consumer Christianity asks What’s in it for me?
As I outlined in this post, that view of Christianity is simply backwards. Christian maturity isn‘t marked by how much we know or what we can get, it’s marked by how much we love and how much we give in light of how deeply we’ve been loved and how much we’ve been given.
Even critics who have left the church have done so under the pull of consumer Christianity because ‘no church’ meets their needs.
All of this is antithetical to the Gospel, which calls us to die to ourselves—to lose ourselves for the sake of Christ. Our faith calls us to live for Christ and to love and reach the world for which He died.
As the church reformats and repents, a more authentic, more selfless church will emerge.
When you’re no longer focused on yourself and your viewpoint, a new tone emerges.
If your church is still defined by what you ‘offer’ members to satisfy them, and isn’t defined by how you love each other and the world around you, the clock is ticking faster than ever.
2. Cool Church Will Morph
Many church planters and leaders who are transitioning churches continue to want to create ‘cool churches.’
In this post, I wrote about why—surprisingly–cool church is dying and what the rebirth might look like.
Since that piece was published, it’s become even more clear that having great preaching, a great band, and even lights and haze is less a guarantee of growth.
The reason ‘cool church’ was effective for a few decades is because most churches were so bad. So Christians (and a good share of non-Christians) gravitated toward a new breed of churches that were bridging the cultural gap.
But things continue to change.
Imagine for a minute that you aren’t leading a church, but running an incredible hamburger stand. You may have the best burgers in town, but what if people want to eat kale? It doesn’t matter how awesome your hamburgers are if nobody wants to eat hamburgers. (Before you email me, I love burgers. But that’s not the point…)
With the rise of post-Christian America, fewer people want what the church is offering, no matter how great we think the offering is.
Cool church was a bridge to get us out of ‘bad church’ (as in completely out of touch) and into something better.
Somewhere along the way, though, many of us confused mission with method. Cool church is a method. It is not the mission.
Having great preaching, a decent band and an awesome facility or environment is not a bad thing. It beats having terrible preaching, pathetic music and a dingy facility.
But unchurched people are increasingly interested in the mission more than the method. They want to meet Jesus.
They have enough cool in their lives. They don’t have enough Jesus.
Cool church might not stop being cool (cool helps), but increasingly we’ll all realize cool is not nearly enough.
The cool churches that make it in the future will continue to morph into deeper authenticity, deeper community, deeper love and greater hope as I outline here.
3. Preachers Who Can’t Speak to the Unchurched Will Preach to a Shrinking Crowd
Just because your church is growing doesn’t mean you’re accomplishing your mission. Unless, of course, your mission is to attract unhappy Christians from other churches.
One day, every church will have to learn how to reach unchurched people because only unchurched people will be left.
Better figure that out now if you want to be effective in accomplishing your mission.
Preaching is a big part of that.
To me, Josh Daffern made the most significant observation I’ve seen over Andy’s approach, and that’s simply that Andy is speaking to an audience most preachers never speak to: non-Christians.
Like North Point, many of the people who come to Connexus for the first time self-identify as having no pattern of regular church attendance (about 60 percent of new guests in our case). I preach to them regularly.
I promise you, if you think you can speak to a group of believers and nonbelievers the way you would speak to believers alone, you’re wrong.
You certainly don’t need to alter the foundational message, but you do need to rethink your approach.
Empathy, more than almost anything, helps you connect with people in this culture.
If you’ve never thought through what it’s like to be in church for the first time, with little to no church background, with a different moral code operating in your life, hearing truths that are thousands of years old, and trying to figure out your life through a very different lens, well, it will be exceptionally difficult for you to connect with unchurched people.
Preachers who can’t speak to the unchurched will speak to an ever-shrinking crowd because one day only unchurched people will be left.
4. Preaching Will Fuse Both the Head and the Heart
Some preachers preach from the head. Others more naturally preach from the heart.
I believe the most effective preachers in the future will be those who fuse the head and the heart in their preaching.
If you preach mostly to the head of your audience, start thinking about what connects with the heart.
Information alone doesn’t bring about transformation. Preaching to the head can lead to a changed mind, but not a changed life.
If you preach mostly to the heart of your audience, start thinking about what connects with the mind.
Preaching only to the heart creates emotional followers, whose faith rises and falls with their feelings.
The goal, of course, is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
Preaching that reflects that goal will connect far better.
5. Anonymity Will Continue to Give Way to Community
For decades, being anonymous at church was seen as a virtue. And to some extent, that’s still true.
To be awkwardly smothered on a first visit is almost always a turn-off.
The rise of technology in the last decade has created a strange paradox; people are more connected than ever but feel more disconnected than ever.
My sense on where connection is heading in the church is that it’s a lot like how I feel when I go to a store. I want to be anonymous until I don’t. The moment I’m ready, I want someone to engage me.
Some people head into your church wanting to be connected immediately. Others want to kick the tires a bit longer.
But when they want to engage, they want to engage. And in the future church, almost everyone will want to engage.
The days of sitting in the back row not knowing anyone, not serving anywhere, not engaging at all for years on end, are dying. After all, online is a great place to start and stay anonymous. And there are thousands of online options.
Figuring out how to connect people faster, at their own pace and in their own sequence, will become the hallmark of churches where many gather.
Anonymity is slowly giving way to community. People want to be anonymous, until they don’t.
6. Engagement Will Become the New Attendance
For decades, church leaders have used Sunday attendance as a measure of effectiveness in ministry.
The challenge these days is that even committed Christians are attending church less often. Which means you can be reaching more people overall but your attendance may be flat or growing more slowly than you hoped simply because the person who used to come once a week now comes a few times a month.
This trend bothers me because, all too often, a step away from church is a step away from Christ. Very rarely do I see an irregular church attendee growing more deeply in their faith and effectiveness in reaching others than a regular church attendee. It happens, but it’s surprisingly rare.
So how do you break the cycle of infrequent attendance?
As I outlined here, wise leaders have stopped trying to attract people and started trying to engage people.
Engagement will become the new growth engine in the future church.
One of the changes you’ll see happening in 2017 is leaders who measure engagement as much or more than attendance.
How many people serve, how many give, how many invite their unchurched friends and how many jump into community beyond Sunday will become the new measure of effectiveness in growing churches even more than attendance.
If you don’t know those numbers, you won’t be able to evaluate the effectiveness of your ministry.
If you’re not focused on engagement, you will only see declining attendance.
After all, in the future church, only the engaged will attend because only the engaged will remain.
If you want to dig deeper than this post, I outline more the trends facing the future church in my book Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.
If you want to drill down deeper with your team, The Lasting Impact Team Edition video series will walk your leadership team through seven pivotal conversations in a way that will help your church navigate the change you need to make to stay effective in a changing culture.
Wondering whether the seven conversations are the right ones for your church? You can read the customer reviews here.
Become a High Impact Leader in 2017
So you want this year to be your best yet, but it’s hard. Constant interruptions and distractions keep many leaders from getting their most important priorities accomplished. In addition, work keeps bleeding into family time. And before you know it, all your hopes for a better 2017 get dashed.
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The High Impact Leader Course will open for new registrations for the final time on January 16, 2017. It’s a 10-part, online course designed to increase your personal productivity so you can get your life back and your leadership back.
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What Trends Do You See?
Those are the trends I see for 2017. What are you seeing?
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