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Snapshot: The next 10 years in the American church

November 22, 2011

Sabbatical can do funny things to people, can’t it? I’ve returned from mine and there are many things that I feel the Lord is bringing to the front of my mind (one of which I will begin a blog series on next week). But one of those things is simply wondering, as a Futurist, what the next 10 years of the American church will look like?

We’re seeing many things right now as we survey the landscape of the church:

  • The explosion and continued growth of the mega-church, particularly with multi-site churches
  •  The church seems to be getting smaller and larger. Either decline or stagnation or rapid growth in larger churches with very little in between (interestingly, we’re seeing this happen economically for Americans as well).
  • Increased polarization of theological pockets within the BIG “C” Church
  • Increased outworking of social justice
  • Church budgets in crisis and churches starting to explore alternative revenue streams and economic engines
  • Missional emphasis that, at least in my view, may already be wearing out as a fad and not as a way of life
  • I’m noticing an uptick of interest in the discipleship conversation. I wonder where that will go?
  • Continued assault on the nuclear family without the recognition that the extended family is actually the answer
  • Huge drop in attendance for Gen X and Gen Y
  • Rise in charismatic expressions (i.e. fastest growing segment of the American church right now)

That’s a very quick, snapshot overview of where we are today. There’s a lot of good in that and some things that aren’t so good.

Here’s my question to you: Where do you think the American church will be in 10 years? 

What will be happening? What will it look like? What worries you? Excites you? Where do you see it going? Where is God already moving and where do you think it’s leading?

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43 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2011 3:51 pm

    If population trends show us anything we will see a huge growth in Latino and Asian American churches. Even in places that are not traditionally seen as multi-ethnic in our country we are seeing unprecented uptick in ethnic minority populations. I’m surprised you wouldn’t include this on the list.

  2. November 22, 2011 4:01 pm

    We had this conversation one night last week on Isle of Palms and we wished you were there! :) A lot of our conversation revolved around possibilities of the mega-church partnering with and resourcing micro-churches and house churches in their communities.

    Thoughts?

  3. November 22, 2011 4:10 pm

    Great questions to which I don’t really have any answers. Seems like everyone wants things to be different than they are right now, but very little prophesying is happening. Punditry is very different than prophesy.

  4. Dave Fishback permalink
    November 22, 2011 4:14 pm

    I think the church in America will become the hub for a culture in crisis and in an economical crisis.
    The church will be what people look to for stability and hope. They will only have the govn’t or the church and many people will want to try the church first. Will we be ready? Will we stay humble? Will we love our communities as they hurt and stuggle to find a new reality. We do not have a temple for people to make the center hub, but each church can be a gathering of hope and support or distribution. Let’s just pray we can stay part of the “mob” (every day man) and not go the route of the “Nob” (Nobility).

  5. November 22, 2011 4:19 pm

    Mike, I was very much looking forward to meeting you at the December workshop but looks like I’ll be plying my vocation instead. I think you’re spot on here. The context, of course, will be the dramatic social, economic, and political upheavals of the next 10-20 years. And, as you’ve written about previously, I have to believe the implications will eventually be the same as they were in similar periods of history, particularly European history: the cathedrals will someday be deserted. As for the future of discipleship, I think it’s a return to ancient and historical forms of the catechisis. Finally, I think you’re spot on with your recent concerns over leadership and seminary training, and see the future in parish-based / mentoring models, such as that of the Anglican School of Ministry. Blessings!

  6. November 22, 2011 4:28 pm

    I see the church stagnating and more feel good messages, rise in people molding the bible to what they think and not really studying and asking questions, why the gen x and gen y are leaving the church. I also don’t think we will see another great out pouring of God spirit on the church in a revival sense, but if you build a church God will use it and move in the church, but not in way people can see. I also see a lot more isolation going on in the church.

    my worried is what has church become today? is it about God or is it about something else? has the church become a prison for Christianity? are we doing discipleship right? are we becoming to narrow minded as a people of God? i.e. is there something beyond church? are we giving our leaders that we train up the chance to lead and build something with the dreams, passions, and visions that god gave them?

  7. Joanna permalink
    November 22, 2011 4:51 pm

    “Rise in charismatic expressions”: Is there an increase in the more obviously supernatural work of the Holy Spirit which speaks to a postmodern mindset? Or are we just more aware of it? Either way, it strikes me that many churches outside of this description at best don’t know how to handle it and at worst don’t believe in it. People who are experiencing it might be looking for a place that encourages, validates, and values that experience.

  8. Gene permalink
    November 22, 2011 6:12 pm

    Pardon my ignorance but what is the BIG “C” Church that you mentioned?

    • November 23, 2011 2:45 pm

      Gene, I meant that to say rather than one church in a local context, what will we see “en masse” in THE CHURCH.

  9. November 22, 2011 7:26 pm

    the Church in America will continue its instutional decline. percentage of Christians will fall – heading towards 60% of pop.
    What will God be doing in the Church?
    Immigrant Churches – Hispanics, Africans and Asians – will become more missional in the Americal mission field.
    The cultural crisis of Christianity within the secular American society will nearly be over – the challenge of God to engage culture through the Cross. Can American Christians live out the cross in a faith that appears – inefficient, unsuccessful, and even useless?

    • James Paul permalink
      November 22, 2011 9:34 pm

      Douglas said:

      Can American Christians live out the cross in a faith that appears – inefficient, unsuccessful, and even useless?

      Excellent insight. If the “Christians” of Jesus’ day couldn’t even recognize Him, I guess it makes sense that we have a difficult time recognizing forms of genuine Chrisitianity today, even when it’s right in front of us.

  10. Jeff Hudgins permalink
    November 22, 2011 9:19 pm

    In the next 10 years:
    I see the shaking of the church continuing. It is an earthquake that will either free it from the “Western” idols that have so become a part of our “church culture” or will be the impetus of its demise.
    Churches who are able to be freed from the chains of “Personnel, Programs, and Property” as the driving force of their methodology and begin to live into “Discipleship and Missiology” as the driving force of their methodology will begin to make their mark on the culture around them,and for Kingdom advance.
    Churches who only give themselves to more efficient and effective ways of doing church will begin find themselves even in deeper decline and at risk for not surviving. This will probally be true even in Mega Churches as well. In fact if the Mega Church is Mega for the wrong reasons, then it will eventually pay the price in this time of shaking.
    It is as if we are riding into the sunset and sunrise at the same time. A sunset on an era that has defined the “Western Church” for some time, both good and bad. And a sunrise on a new day that will have the conversation and commitment of God’s people being centered even more on “Discipleship” and “Mission” as the main foci of the church.

  11. November 22, 2011 11:57 pm

    1: The symbiotic relationship the Church has had with the government will be ending. Tax deductions for contributions will end, freedom from property taxes will cease, and tax advantages for clergy will be stopped. The Church will find it necessary to renounce patriotism as a core value.

    2. The dependance on large facilities and programs will be replaced by an emphasis on local churches utilizing the gifts and calling of their own people as it is no longer feasible to financially support expensive ministries. Property ownership will be viewed as an option rather than the accepted norm. Increasingly, the Church will not be defined by a building, address, or denomination. Consequently, the Church will become much more flexible and responsive to God.

    3. Groups that, through grace and creativity, find the means and method to apply unchanging scriptural truth to current culture will thrive with all demographics. Those that do not will decline or become apostate. Clinging to doctrine or methodology that is neither scriptural nor relevant will be followed by lack of favor with God and those who we would reach in His Name.

  12. November 23, 2011 12:07 am

    In the next decade, I see a continued growth of the organic expression and Believers living out their faith in context of really having that rlationship with Christ in every aspect of life, from job, to family, to community, and in leisure time. I also see a blending of the individual expressions that meet from house to house as they find common ground to come together for celabration & evangelism. Preaching is not out of style, but can and must be done in the larger occasional gathering. Still, the life of the church will be in small group gatherings as each disciple shares his/her gifting and the Holy Spirit has rule in the hearts of people to express Jesus and all His fullness in their midst.

  13. Marcos del Aguila permalink
    November 23, 2011 2:56 am

    What an odd question, yet, so typically ‘american’. Where will the american church be in the next ten years? More people, less people, bigger churches, smaller churches, house churches, institutional churches, it doesn’t matter. Unless, of course, you earn your living from the church. In which case it matters. To you. God isn’t waiting for the ‘church’ to do something. He isn’t relying on the ‘church ‘ to do something. He wants me/you to love my/your neighbor.
    Now.
    That’s got nothing to do with church as most folks know it. X-gen, Y-gen, they know this in their gut, so they don’t go. They know somethings going on and they don’t want to miss it.
    Jesus isn’t american. He isn’t a christian. The word christ (a synonym for king, not Jesus’ last name) is NOT God’s endorsement of christianity.
    It’s exciting to hear of avid followers of Jesus who are not christians.
    We are privileged to live in an exciting time where, as per Haggai chapter 2 and which Paul refers to again in Hebrews, God Himself is shaking the heavens and the earth and all things made, manmade, will fall away leaving only that which is built on Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven, that which Jesus called the ‘gospel’ over and over, is on the move, emerging more and more.
    It’s not a church.
    Love WILL rule the day and He, God, is busy right now influencing people all over the earth in the ways of love. Maybe a few, a lot, maybe even all(?) of the people in your church will be/are a part of that. I hope so. The church as a whole?… got my doubts. It’s not a corporate thing to do. It’s individual.
    God is love. Love is God.
    Maybe if we were moved by compassion instead of church growth, we might yet be loving.

    • November 25, 2011 5:03 pm

      Love your prophetic impulse here Marcos, but the individualism reflected in your response that God isn’t relying on “the church” to do something seems contradictory to me. Seems clear to me that now, through the church God wants to make His wisdom known (Ephesians 3:10). I don’t see discipling possible apart from a community of people, the church. Seems to me it’s a “both and”: God is in reality relying on the true church, the bride of Jesus to put on display what it looks like to be a disciple and to invite others into this. Love this discussion!

      • Marcos del Aguila permalink
        November 25, 2011 10:07 pm

        Hey Brian, Thanks for the response! A bit harsh on the ‘church’ I was I suppose. :-)
        I’m referring there to the concept of church that most folks have in our world today. I just don’t see it playing much part in the future. Worship services/praise celebrations (I should say that I;m a musician and have often been the ‘worship leader’) don’t make disciples. Church programs don’t make disciples. Sermons don’t make disciples. I would agree with your definition of the church as the bride of Christ. The wisdom that God has hidden FOR us, 1 Cor chapt 1, is being revealed and poured out all over the earth even now. I am excited to see that happening in ways and in places that my traditional christian upbringing wouldn’t recognize.
        True fellowship of believers is intrinsic to the growth, discipling and nurturing we can and should offer each other. Not trying to get rid of church here, just suggesting nobody really needs the country club approach that so many are. I think we can put aside all church strategy-zing, church analyzing, church focus in general and let Christ, love and disciple others through us, and we will be amazed at what takes place. I also believe with all my heart that if we do NOT do that, He, Jesus will do it anyway. We’ll just be marginalized… What if we could see the bride as global. I get excited, it’s coming!

    • Ernie permalink
      November 28, 2011 1:22 pm

      Marcos, love your passion here brother. And I think I get what you’re expressing here. The Kingdom of God and the “church” are not the same thing. I am particularly intrigued by your suggestion of “avid followers of Jesus who are not Christian”. Wow! Love that!

      • November 29, 2011 4:40 pm

        I was reading and talking about this with friends, about the yoke of these days Christianity (market, fake cultural insights and other things) and how to make Jesus’ disciples out of this yoke.
        I’ve read goods book in this reasoning.
        Love that issue and what it causes inside me.

      • Marcos del Aguila permalink
        November 29, 2011 6:41 pm

        Great discussion/comments! For me one of the best illustrations comes from two of the 12 original followers of Jesus. Peter and John. John calls himself ‘the desciple Jesus loves’ more than once. I used to think this was maybe pride? Now I see something else. Peter saw himself as the one who loves Jesus. John understands he is the one Jesus loves. Peter is busy cutting off ears and swearing he’ll never betray Jesus thereby ‘Doing’ for God while John reclines on Jesus breast ‘being’ with God. Jesus loves them both. Equally. The difference is how they saw themselves. I would rather see myself as the one who knows that Jesus loves him than see myself as the one who loves Jesus.

  14. November 23, 2011 10:07 am

    from what I’ve seen here, the attempt to grow a mega church comes from a lack of discipleship. Maybe that’s b/c the church’s main mission is “give the salvation message as many times as possible.” Here is eastern Canada I got in on the ground floor of one that’s already tried to become multi-site and is now just adding services to an attractive worship stage with great music and seeker friendly services. I had a friend with me that got saved last weekend at the end of the service and I had to explain to him exactly what he’d just done.

  15. November 23, 2011 2:50 pm

    You mentioned an “…uptick of interest in the discipleship conversation.” It’s about time. It seems to me that, too often, we get wrapped up in programs for the sake of programs. We focus on trying to recruit people to come to church (more specifically, “our church”) and seem to have lost focus on what we do with them once they get here. We weren’t commanded to “go and make church attenders” – we were called to “make disciples.” Why aren’t we? We recruit volunteers to make it more convenient for us to “do church” instead of recruiting servants to serve because that what God requires of us. We call on people to give so that *we* can do more, when what we should be asking people to do is give sacrificially so that they can experience what “giving sacrificially” means (and NOT simply to further our programs.) We practice learning how to share the “Roman Roads” with someone or the “ABCs of Salvation”, but how many people know how to coach someone through learning to read, process and apply scripture? To journal? To pray? To lead OTHERS to Christ? Are we encouraging others to share in true community with other people (outside or “organized church”? That’s what being a disciple is all about. If we’re not making disciples (who will make disciples, who will make disciples,, who will make disciples….), we’ll fail as a church – and it may not take 10 years to do so.

  16. November 23, 2011 3:00 pm

    I think it will be pretty hard to track true believers in the next decade, because ‘church’ as we know it will go underground. Forget church attendance, membership or mega churches. It is my prayer that the true, genuine, spirit-filled Church would be fueled by corporate prayer and would take deliberate steps towards orientating their lives around one another. Given that environment, would that the Holy Spirit pour out healings and supernatural experiences into the lives of those communities and the areas that they are influencing.

  17. November 23, 2011 5:48 pm

    I see this present time as critical. In the evangelical church we are at a tipping point. Depending on which way leaders decide on current trends and theology “light” we could go the way of the European church or we could turn the corner into thriving and a serious expression of and return to the Great Commission. The latter is my hope and prayer. So many undercurrents, e.g. confusion over and compromise with the definition and nature of the gospel, the emerging church, the house church movement, the general and over all decline of numbers and influence of the American church, to name just a few, it’s difficult to see a clear path into the future. I am trusting and praying and hoping for a passionate turn to Jesus that will burn up and out all the dross and traditionalism to pave the way for a fresh move of God on Jesus’ church leading it back to the biblical gospel and the mission of making disciples.

    • jane permalink
      December 17, 2011 4:48 pm

      what do you mean by “we could go the way of the European church”?

      Very interested to hear what this means as over here I have heard the phrase: “we could go the way of the American church” meaning a host of unhelpful stereotypes which I had started to type out but stopped as they are not helpful to even give airtime too.

      Could we possibly not stereotype one another and look for the called out, chosen ones, and chase hard after going after that?

      • December 18, 2011 4:12 pm

        Jane, my apologies. I’m not trying to paint unhelpful stereoptypes. When I say “go the way of the European church,” I’m referring to the % of active participants in a church community. Europe has as very, very low % and America has been on the same statistical trajectory since the 1960’s. That’s all I was trying to infer.

  18. November 24, 2011 12:17 pm

    The reality in Brazil’s church is almost the same but maybe with almost 5 to 10 years of delay.
    Could be better to have here encounters with opinion leaders to preview this points and anticipate strategies and observations.
    But to talk and divagate without discussions about theologic point or ministerial discordance.
    The contemplation of other realities must be an art among pastors and leaders.
    If anyone invent a dimensional gate between Sao Paulo and Pawley’s Island, could you inform me and let’s have a cup of tea with a good time of talking? ;-)

  19. December 2, 2011 1:20 am

    My wife and I have been fortunate for the last few years to get to travel around the country helping train folks and help them build healing communities in their areas. Most of them are a cooperative effort among folks who still love the church, but were not content to sit around and wait until the church made a place of ministry for them. In building and investing in those relationships there are two major things they all seem to have in common;

    One of those is an uncommon desire to establish a level of community that we know is possible, but has only been experienced once or twice in years gone by. Essentially the desire is to be part of a family that shares similar beliefs and values, and embraces serving one another and the community – while living life with and among one another. It has been a major component missing from discipleship and a major element unavailable in the healing of the broken. The good news is that people realize it is missing and are on the hunt. That will eventually work its way into the organized church and help to transform it, along with society.

  20. December 6, 2011 8:13 pm

    I used to work in Europe and while I lived there, and for a few years after, believed that the church in the US would follow the European trajectory.

    I no longer believe that to be the case at all.

    American spirituality is distinctively different than that found in Western Europe. For that reason, the emphasis on the “missional” is different in a way that’s hard to explain. I don’t think that you can use that word without giving more context to it when you are in the USA. I just don’t use it. I also no longer get too freaked out when somebody tells me that all young people are leaving the church. That prediction has been around the block a number of times and for whatever reason, it has not come to fruition. Maybe it will… maybe it won’t.

    One trend that you didn’t mention is that Reformed theology seems to continue to pick up steam in the USA.

    In our organization, we continue to see a healthy, steady, rise in the number of applications from people (mostly in their mid-twenties) to be missionaries. For years missiologists have predicted a decline in the number of missionaries from the US, but for now anyway, the numbers are holding their own.

    We left the “brick church” a few years ago and now are a part of a house church network.

  21. December 7, 2011 8:03 pm

    Where will the American church be in 10 years? I don’t see an appreciable difference on the whole of American Christianity. There is a lot of talks about different ways and methods to “do” church. There is a lot of talk about discipleship. There is a LOT of talk about church planting. My thoughts are: arguments over methodology are often about how people feel comfortable in organizing a church and less so about what the Bible says. I don’t really think it matters if a church is organized in a home, or is a Mega-Church with multiple sites.

    Blaming a structure or size of an organization is missing the point. How does that body of believers organize to accomplish the Great Commission while obeying the Great Commandment? That is the question I have for a given body of believers. It’s far more pertinent than the size of their space, or the number of members. Attacking a church’s size; whether you consider them too small or too large, I find to be completely unhelpful and often damaging.

    There are a lot of church plants occurring without totally thinking through the question of discipleship. So, churches plant with innovative music styles in movie theaters or other “third” spaces to keep costs low. Do they do anything differently? Do they disciple their people, or have they simply chosen a different paint job for the same old vehicle? By splitting from other churches to plant a “new” church, have they removed a number of gifted apostles and teachers from a church that could have used their efforts (even if resisted) to revitalize them? I’m not making the case however that church planting is bad. I do however think that much more rigorous focus needs to be applied to church planters/plants to determine if they need/should plant a church or if they should invest in the discipleship of people where they are.

    I could theorize the look of the American Church in 10 years, but I’m not worried about it. I am most concerned with my church. What can I do to accomplish God’s commission to make disciples where I am? How can I show the love of Christ tangibly to my church and my community?

    What I don’t want to see: weak preaching, lack of expository preaching, low-challenge environments, lack of family love among church members, in-fighting over issues not related to orthodoxy, a vicious defense of orthodoxy, and lastly a reclamation of who Jesus is. He’s not some wavy haired, starry eyed, pixie dust Jesus. He is Lord of lords, and King of kings. He is Creator, Prophet, Priest, King, Judge. He will return, and it won’t be a party for the unsaved. I want the American Church to remember their first love.

    • December 7, 2011 8:06 pm

      Didn’t proofread as well as I would have liked. Last paragraph should say:

      What I don’t want to see: weak preaching, lack of expository preaching, low-challenge environments, lack of family love among church members, and in-fighting over issues not related to orthodoxy. I do want to see a vicious defense of orthodoxy and a reclamation of who Jesus is. He’s not some wavy haired, starry eyed, pixie dust Jesus. He is Lord of lords, and King of kings. He is Creator, Prophet, Priest, King, Judge. He will return, and it won’t be a party for the unsaved. I want the American Church to remember their first love.

  22. Haniff Khan permalink
    January 3, 2012 2:57 pm

    I live in Trinidad and Tobago and I am a Seminary graduate returning. I see the need for Multi-site churches here because the effects of globalization is far reaching and leaders are reacting too slow. Therefore, a pastor who is aware of the trends and how to reach people is needed to show pastors who are “lost in transitions” how to “do and be the church.”This will give them (local/national pastors) some breathing room and at the same time keep their church reaching the young adults and youths.

    Discipleship is another area that needs help, most Seminaries in the past turned out “teaching pastors” as opposed to “missional pators.” what this have created is a disillusionment with “real discipleship.” Real discipleship takes time, and the disillusionment needs to be corrected by slowing members down. We need more small groups with an intentional commitment to spiritual growth. We must avoid the idea that carnal Christians (yes they do exists) can take on global spiritual warfare without proper spiritual preparations! Avoid the instant microwave mentality!

    We need to go back into our community as individual Christians and the church needs to partner/network with these individuals. We do not need to create parallel “Christian only cultures” because we are only duplicating efforts.
    The global mindset has its downside, but we must strive for a balance in local responsibilities and global outreach.

  23. Geoff Bloor permalink
    March 6, 2012 11:09 am

    As an Australian who has never visited America I find this discussion intriguing. I would hope that around the world we will all recognise that Jesus’ whole earthly life, death, and now resurrection life was on given up for us because of his love for us and that we would respond by entering the new self sacrificial life style that he has called us into and then both serve God and others and and call and train others to also live this new life.

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