By Thom S. Rainer
Trend prediction is both an art and a science. It is a science in the sense that I utilize the good objective research of credible research organizations like LifeWay Research and others. It is an art in that I depend on observations, anecdotal information, and ongoing interaction with church leaders and members.
At the beginning of every year, I attempt to present to you the major trends for congregations for the coming twelve months. I review my predictions from previous years to see how accurate I am. I have come to two conclusions. First, I am far from perfect in my predictions. Second, I do have a decent track record.
Some of my trends are called “tipping points.” Formally defined, a tipping point is the critical moment in an evolving situation that leads to a new and somewhat permanent reality. In simple terms, a tipping point here means that something has changed in our churches to the point that it appears to be permanent.
With that in mind, I present to you my 15 trends for 2015. They are presented in reverse order of their potential magnitude.
15. A rapid increase in bi-vocational church staff. We have noted the growing trend of bi-vocational pastors. We will see in 2015 an accelerated trend of other church staff becoming bi-vocational.
14. The tipping point of churches eliminating Sunday evening worship services. We see the number of U. S. churches offering a Sunday evening service to dip below 5 percent of all churches in America. In other words, this service will become almost extinct.
13. More emphasis on congregational singing. In many of our churches, both traditional and contemporary, you can hardly hear the congregation sing. There will be an increased emphasis on intentionally bringing the congregants into worship through singing.
12. Growth of verbal incarnational evangelism. Incarnational evangelism is simply defined as presenting the good news through our Christ-like lifestyle to non-believers. There will be an increased emphasis to share the gospel verbally as well as demonstrating a gospel witness through our lifestyle.
11. The waning and reconfiguration of denominational structures. This trend is already taking place, but it will accelerate in 2015. Denominational structures will continue to get smaller and more streamlined, and churches will not be able to expect the same type of resources they have received in the past.
10. Congregations growing in favor in their respective communities. Churches are transitioning from being an island in the midst of their communities to being a real and positive presence. As church members seek to serve their communities in a plethora of ways, the communities will see these churches more as valued partners.
9. Continued flow of people from smaller churches to larger churches. There will be a continued increase in the number of attendees in churches with an average worship attendance of 1,000 and larger. Churches with an attendance of 400 to 999 will be collectively stable in attendance. And the number of people attending church in congregations with an attendance under 400 will decline.
8. More partnerships between denominations and churches. Of course, not all churches belong to a denomination. For those that do, denominational entities typically created the resource or mission opportunity and churches would follow their lead. In 2015 we will see more “bottom up” partnerships, meaning that churches lead the partnerships, but denominations participate in them. That is particularly true for seminaries. That issue is thus a separate trend, noted in the number 7.
7. More focus on theological education in local churches. I am not among the pundits who believe that seminaries will become extinct. They still have a vital role for training ministers. I do see, however, a continued shift for more theological education taking place in local congregations. The successful seminaries in the upcoming years will seek to partner with churches rather than compete with them.
6. The tipping point for a plurality of teaching pastors. In the recent past, churches that had more than one regular preacher or teaching pastor were an anomaly, and they were usually very large churches. In 2015 multiple teaching pastors will become normative, and they will be pervasive in smaller churches as well.
5. Continued increase in the number of multi-site churches. Two years ago, the multi-site movement in America reached a tipping point. Their growth will continue unabated in 2015.
4. The beginnings of prayer movement in our churches. I am seeing the growth of more and more organizations dedicated to prayer in the local church. I am observing this passion become a greater emphasis with pastors, particularly Millennial pastors. This movement will accelerate in popular Christian culture with the release of the next movie by the Kendrick brothers in 2015.
3. The tipping point for small groups. The evidence for the efficacy of small groups in the local church is too overwhelming to be ignored. I see a new movement of “groups” taking place that will be similar in growth as the Sunday school movement was in the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century.
2. Increased difficulty in matching prospective pastors with churches with pastoral vacancies. This trend is growing and frustrating to both pastors and those in churches seeking pastors. It is particularly frustrating for those churches that use the pastoral search committee model. I will not be surprised to see that model begin to change in 2015.
1. Smaller worship gatherings. The era of the large worship gathering is waning. Churches that are growing will likely do so through multiple services, multiple venues, and multiple sites. This trend will accelerate through the growing influence of Gen X and the Millennials.
This article was originally posted on ThomRainer.com.
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.