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8 major changes in churches the past 10 years

July 8, 2017 | by Thom Rainer

Change or die. Such has been the reality of too many congregations the past 10 years as the rate of church closures has accelerated. Many have died; others are on life support.

But what are some of the major changes that have taken place in congregations that are doing relatively well? What are some of the ways these congregations have adapted to new realities?

Here is a hint: None of the changes in healthy churches have meant that they compromised doctrine, diminished the centrality of preaching, or abandoned sharing the gospel.

A decade of change

So what changes have occurred in healthy churches in the last decade? Here are eight of them:

1. Today: Smaller worship gatherings
Ten years ago: Larger worship gatherings

There are several factors impacting this change. Among them are more multi-site churches, more non-traditional worship times, and a desire among millennials to be a part of smaller gatherings, rather than larger gatherings.

2. Today: Smaller church facilities
Ten years ago: Larger church facilities

There are three major issues at work here. First, church leaders are more hesitant to spend funds on largely unused facilities. Second, churches are building with less space for adult small groups or Sunday school. They are choosing to have those groups meet off-site or on non-worship days. Third, the smaller worship gatherings noted above means smaller worship centers.

3. Today: First priority staff person hired: children’s minister
Ten years ago: First priority staff person hired: worship leader

This shift is largely influenced by the large millennial generation and their children. Millennials are looking for a church that is safe, sanitary, educational, and fun for their children.

4. Today: Ministry degree optional for church staff members
Ten years ago: Ministry degree strongly preferred for church staff

Churches today are more likely to call someone on staff from within their congregations. That person may not have a Bible college or seminary degree.

5. Today: Emphasis on congregational singing
Ten years ago: Emphasis on performance singing

Healthy churches are now seeing an awakening of congregational singing. Ten years ago, contemporary churches emphasized the performance of the praise team and band, while traditional churches emphasized the performance of the choir and soloists.

6. Today: Community focus
Ten years ago: Community myopia

Too many churches the past two decades all but abandoned their communities and are paying the price for their short-sightedness today. Healthy churches realize that the community is their place of ministry, their “Jerusalem” of Acts 1:8.

7. Today: Vital importance of groups
Ten years ago: Marginal importance of groups

Healthy churches today make groups (community groups, home groups, Sunday school, life groups, etc.) a high priority. Ten years ago, many church leaders did not see how groups could enhance the health of the church in discipleship, evangelism, prayer, ministry, and fellowship.

8. Today: Church leaders are continuous learners
Ten years ago: Church leaders were “degree and done”

For several decades, church leaders essentially ended their education process with a college or seminary degree. In today’s ever-changing world, leaders of healthy churches have intentionally established a discipline of continuous learning.

Movement ahead

These eight major shifts took place in a relatively brief period.

More are on the way.

Are you ready?


Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.



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