Seven Trends That Affect Your Church

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Do you long for the “good old days”? I often hear friends talk about “the way it was when we were kids.” And, those were good days—playing outside after dark, riding my bike (without a helmet or pads) to the nearby store, standing up on the front seat of my daddy’s pickup, playing with a friend who had contracted polio as an infant, worrying about a nuclear bomb attack from the Russians . . . Well, maybe not all of the days were so good.

For my parents, my “good, old days” were their “scary future”. My scary future is the world inhabited by nieces and nephews who do not know a world where polio and small pox vaccines were necessary. Yet, they also live with the pressure of a future that is changing more rapidly than any of us can fathom.

The church is no different. Is your church living in the “good, old days” or trying to make sense out of the “scary future”? Perhaps it is trying to do both, struggling to let go of old ways and yet, not quite ready to embrace the new. The new is exciting, but it is also frightening when we do understand what is happening around us.

Changes in the culture affects us, individually and as churches. Failure to recognize the changes and their impact on the church will leave us tending to dying institutions that are irrelevant instead of growing vibrant communities of faith that are ushering in the Kingdom of God.

In my quest to understand culture, I look at the trends and changes that influence the church—for better or worse. Here are seven things I believe we need understand if our churches are to grow and influence their communities with the Gospel.

1. We live in a diverse world. This diversity extends beyond language and ethnicity to include religious and political beliefs. It includes our families of origin and our families of church. It influences the way we shop, eat, and vote.

2. Women are a significant part of the workforce and in many cases are the primary breadwinners—even for traditional families. The role of women in the church is viewed differently across generational lines.

3. Millennials are dominating the landscape. This is the largest and best educated generation in American history. Yet are most like to declare, that while they are spiritual, have no religious affiliation. Diversity of culture and lifestyle is their “normal”

4. Families look different. Marriage rates continue to decline. More and more couples prefer co-habitation over marriage.

5. The middle class is disappearing. More factory jobs are lost to technology than to outsourcing to other countries. No longer is it possible to find good jobs with a high school education. And the cost of college is out of the reach of many.

6. “Nones” and “Dones” mark the religious landscape in the US. More and more Americans identify as having no religious preference. Add to that the number who have been members of mainline and evangelical churches who are “done” with traditional religion and the number grows even more. Women are leading the exodus.

7. Population growth influences our world and churches. The US population continues to expand. Immigrants are increasingly from Asia, not Latin America. Worldwide, the population is aging. Birth rates have fallen. The “Greatest Generation” is dying at the rate of 1000 people per day.

How does your church reflect each of these trends in culture change? What happens to church budgets when the middle-class families are unable to maintain their levels of giving? What happens when there are fewer women in the church available for leadership positions? How many long-time, faithful members have disappeared from your church over the last few years?

Grappling with these issues may seem daunting and defeating. But, there is always hope and good news. Today’s world has much in common with the first century. The book of Acts is a roadmap for engaging diverse cultures and peoples in a rapidly changing world. The words of Isaiah, read by Jesus as he began his public ministry provide a renewed sense of direction for the church today,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”
(Luke 4:18-19, NIV).

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