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5 church developments on the horizon

| by Thom Rainer

I believe I have a pretty good track record of seeing the future of churches in America. I hope I am not making such a statement out of arrogance or delusion.

The reality is I am able to discern some future developments because I hear from so many churches in the present. 

According to our estimates, we hear from about 250,000 different congregations each year. That’s about two out of three Protestant congregations in America. So, I’m really not that smart. I just have the blessing of hearing from incredible church leaders and members every single day. 

What’s ahead for church

In light of my ongoing contacts with so many congregations, I see five major developments on the horizon:

1. Shifts in the multi-site model. The multi-site congregation is the single most profound change in American congregations in the past century. That’s a profound statement, but I really see it. Though I don’t have the objective data yet, anecdotally I see that a multi-site church is more likely to be healthy than a single-site church. 

I will expand on that issue in a future article. For now, watch the multi-site model on a number of fronts. For example, I think the multi-site church will become a major catalyst in the recovery and revitalization of neighborhood churches.

2. More churches seeking to be acquired or merge into a multi-site system. A corollary of the first development is the proactive posture of churches seeking to be acquired. More church leaders see the health of the multi-site model. Thus, their desire to be a part of a healthy system rather than remain a struggling, single-site church.

3. Return to some level of programmatic behavior.  It was not that long ago that many church leaders were touting their abandonment of the programmatic model. “We are not a program-driven church,” many declared. I get it. Programs had become ends instead of means. Many churches were waiting on denominations and resource providers to tell them what to do. It was unhealthy indeed. 

However, too many tended to throw the baby with the bath water. When we have a healthy view of programs, they can save us much time and energy. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Now, more churches are asking for programs and templates, to allow the leaders to  spend their time being more productive.

4. Rise of networks.  While denominations will not die off completely, they will be augmented by more and more networks—both informal and formal. Those networks are more likely to have a common ministry focus rather than a common geography. Wise denominational leaders will see these networks as potential partners rather than competitors.

5. Attendance frequency becoming a greater focus.  Declining attendance frequency of “active” members accounts for more church decline than any other issue. This reality is getting the attention of more church leaders. It will become a greater topic of conversation and action in the near future.


Yes, the times they are a-changing. And these five developments are among the most dramatic changes we see on the horizon.

Photo source: istock 

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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