I attended a conference this week which concluded with this question put to the panel: What will the church look like in 2050? I felt that the panel did a great job explaining our current challenges and a look ahead to maybe 2015 – but they did not give any indications of what to expect 35 years from now.
I felt that it was a questions worth addressing – though we’ll narrow it down to a 25 year time frame. I have included statistics that we know and trends we are witnessing and I concluded with some specific predictions that I make:
1) Aging population – The youngest Baby Boomers are turning fifty years old in 2014 and many are beginning to retire. The Boomers are the age group that give the greatest dollar amount and percentage of their income to charitable organizations. As they begin to fall into ‘fixed incomes’ the church should expect to see giving decline – as is currently the trend. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/173447-how-the-coming-boomer-crisis-will-impact-your-church.html
2) We are in a post-Christian culture where the knowledge of God and the Bible is clearly waning.
3) Churches, in general, are following the decline of culture and are not standing in contrast to this erosion.
4) We see a large amount of mail-line protestant churches closing each year.
5) Mega Churches with celebrity Pastors are the growing trend in church culture.
6) Technology is and will continue to advance quickly.
7) The Church is under attack from culture (hate speech) and from Government (through regulations).
The effect upon our churches:
1) Giving is down and will continue to decrease. The younger generations have not been taught to give (tithe). They also have grownup under the idea that all charitable donations and giving are equal (according to the IRS). Therefore, the money they give to their children’s school fundraiser, the donation to the Red Cross when the natural disaster strikes and the dollars they give to your church are all equal.
2) The culture – both in and out of church – is now in a new paradigm: Children always come first. Above all else! This is reflected in the areas of:
a. soccer practice for my ten year old is now more important than a church service
b. if my children are not happy and content at church we will go somewhere else or
stop going to church all together
c. Volunteering in my children’s ministries is more important to me than sitting in
d. I will provide whatever religious education I think they need at home.
3) People do not see the need for foreign missions. Why? Television and the Internet have made the world a much smaller place and we are now regularly told that everyone, everywhere is the same. Economies around the world are becoming more equal and therefore a church in Arkansas, United States does not see why they need to send money to another church in Bogotá, Columbia. The buildings look similar, the vehicles look similar, both churches have websites, both have email, both are using audio and video equipment. Literally, our churches are beginning to wonder why we are sending them money and they are not sending us money.
4) People live in debt. The Government is drowning in debt. The world economy is in crisis because of debt. Big businesses are re-organizing because of debt. So why is the pastor so adamant that the church is always in the black?
5) People question everything they hear at church. The Pastor will be checked by Google – maybe after the service is over – but most likely right during the service by way of their mobile device. Pastor’s need to defend the churches position against Wikipedia almost every week. The Church has lost its trust and is looked at skeptically.
6) The church (like any other business and individual) is being regulated to death – literally to the extinction of churches that cannot keep up with the regulations imposed upon them. Building expansions are red tape nightmares. Regulations are making it more difficult to have children’s ministries, transport people to events, hire and fire employees, maintain facilities, prepare and serve meals, compensate the Pastor and staff, etc.
How will churches cope and adjust over the next 25 years?
1) The growing trend of multi-site churches with celebrity Pastors has not yet shown what will transpire when these Pastor’s retire or are replaced. We have seen that the mega churches of the past 50 years have greatly struggled when the founder/leader has moved off the scene.
2) Technology has and will continue to greatly change the way we minister. Twenty five years ago a local independent church found that half of the children attended public schools and the other half attended local Christian schools. Today we see that half still attend public schools and the other half are home/cyber schooled and very few go to Christian school anymore. I believe we will find the same thing happen to our local churches. Many will begin to have church at home. Not watching Charles Stanley or John Hagee like some have done for years – but churches will begin to have more effective live streaming and interactive services that you can attend without leaving your home. If the growing trend today is to attend a church where the Pastor is being shown to you live streamed from another locations, than why not sit at home and have him live streamed? ** Notice the continued affect this will have on giving/tithing.
3) Churches will find such a struggle between decreased giving and increased regulations – combined with the ease and relatively low price of advanced technology – that the church will become less corporate and more home based. Churches will not be able to afford facilities, salaries, insurances, etc. The home church movement will be the ‘trend’ of the day.
4) More Pastors will become bi-vocational. They will work a full time job during the week and meet as a small group in the home of a parishioner on Sundays.
5) Churches that are culturally accepted in 2040 will be, by and large, churches with a weak message and are even heavier on entertainment and social gospel. Churches with a strong stand upon the Bible and morals will be considered too radical by society and will be forced ‘underground’ (like in so many other countries today).
6) The great need (growing now and even greater in 2040) will be helping the hurting. With the decline of God and morality in culture – relationships, children, marriages, health and more will be in greater peril with more people contemplating drastic measures such as suicide, drugs, or crime. Helping hurting people will be the key ministry of 2040.