The Changing Face of the Local Church
April 25, 2016
By Matt Morrison
In recent years, a slew of surveys and reports have claimed to show a decline in church attendance and Christianity as a whole in the United States. According to a recent Pew Research poll, Christian affiliation dropped 8%. Meanwhile, roughly 43% once active millennials have abandoned their local churches since going out on their own.
While these reports paint a gloomy picture of the church, they only tell half the story. In reality, the church’s influence in culture isn’t diminishing so much as it is shifting. Both nationally and globally, the momentum of Christian growth is moving in new directions and these trends have tremendous implications for the future. These five, in particular, can’t be ignored.
1. FROM NORTH TO SOUTH
In 1980, more people claimed to be Christians in the southern hemisphere than the north for the first time in over 1,000 years. In the past 36 years, that momentum has only gained steam. Today, unprecedented church planting and evangelism movements are taking root across Africa, southern Asia, and South America that have led to revival and growth. These local churches are highly missional and active in their communities. Many of them are also small and nimble, able to reproduce in their cities. While church growth may be slowing in the United States and Europe, it’s an entirely different story in the global south.
2. FROM BIG TO SMALL
In the United States, new types of churches are taking root, reaching specific communities and demographics that will not attend a traditional brick-and-mortar church. These congregations are small enough to meet in homes or apartment complexes, often in neutral and nonthreatening locations, and multiply instead of growing numerically. This allows them to make a wider impact over a shorter period of time. Last year, Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources, even named this movement one of the top trends to watch in the coming years.
3. FROM INSTITUTIONS TO MOVEMENTS
Additionally, more churches are transitioning towards a movement mindset over the traditional institutional mindset. As they become more missions-focused, they are shaking off deep organizational structures that sometimes hinder ministry. This is huge in reaching millennials, who are driving the growth of the “nones” demographic. Many even cite the institutionalization of the church as a driving factor in their decision to leave. But churches who focus more on leadership development, discipleship, evangelism, and social justice are bucking this trend and engaging the next generation.
4. FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL
Increasingly, churches are investing themselves in international missions. Rather than focusing exclusively on their own communities, they are embracing short-term missions as a way to partner with movements around the globe while still faithfully serving their neighbors. In fact, e3 Partners has recently experienced a spike in the number of pastors looking for help in developing a comprehensive missions strategy that engages their church members in God’s work around the world.
5. FROM SEGREGATED TO DIVERSE
It’s often been said that Sunday morning is the most racially segregated time of the week. In the United States, churches have long struggled with this. But that is slowly beginning to change as pastors embrace and celebrate the multicultural aspects of their congregations. This is even transforming the way they approach worship and missions alike.
The local church is changing in meaningful ways that will advance the Gospel for future generations. e3 Partners is serving local churches as they develop new missional strategies to engage their own communities and others across the globe. Learn how we can serve yours!