Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ten Trends Impacting American Churches, Part 1

Dr. Randy Stone

The following list was assembled not as a detailed research project, nor was it the product of a survey of the largest churches in America. This list is merely the simple observations of a single staff person. Through conversations with colleagues, countless conventions, and tireless training events, I have surmised that the following are true. You be the real judge. I welcome your opinion.

1.               Church Size. Churches are making decisions concerning what type of church they want to be….Supersize or Boutique. [1],[2] Churches are mimicking business models. Just as businesses are choosing to specialize only in selected merchandise, a number of churches are directing their focus so that they may be good or the best at a few things.[3] Once refined, they often “franchise” to additional locations. Other churches are choosing “to be all things to all people”.  This model requires massive staff, organization, facilities, and of course, money. Both approaches seem to work.  Big and small churches are healthy and growing, while at the same time, midsize and neighborhood congregations are disappearing. Incidentally, reports are that… a growing number of Southern Baptists attend churches with more than 1000 in worship each Sunday, about 7% of the 45,727[4] congregations in our denomination.

2.               Institutional Internalization. The mission of the church has been lost. For a vast majority of churches, the overwhelming goal of the local congregations seems to be “preservation of the institution”, rather than the “pursuit of the mission”. The energy and resources of the churches have been increasingly directed to staying alive or preserving status quo. In the last 50 years the number of churches has increased by 50% while the number of baptisms has plateaued or declined.[5]  Church splits and starts seemed to have weakened congregations as the evangelistic zeal has faded.

3.               Crisis in the Clergy.  There are three sub trends in most clergy issues. A. Moral and Ethical Failures. The integrity of pastors, staff, and denominational leaders has eroded with each new scandal in the local or national news. People desire to trust and believe their pastors, but it becomes a challenge with the growing number of moral and ethical failures. B. Theologians vs. Leaders. I see a growing desire for pastors to be strong theologians rather than strong leaders. I have discovered that you can educate a leader, but you can not always develop a leader from an educated person.  Our seminaries are producing a great number of excellent theologians who unfortunately do not understand how to direct a local congregation toward spiritual health and vitality. C. Competence vs. Expectations.  Local congregations want pastors like Adrian Rogers, who can evangelize like Billy Graham, who are on call 24 hours a day, and are able to lead the church into dynamic health without changing anything. Pastors can not realistically achieve what most churches believe they want.

4.                  Dropout, Disillusioned, and Disengaged Christians. I personally know hundreds of people who have withdrawn from the church. Their reasons vary from change fatigue, irrelevance of sermons, worship wars, group life issues, and spiritual complacency to name a few.  Whatever the reason, I see a growing number of people who profess to be committed Christians, but find their church life increasingly unfulfilled. They want to follow Christ personally, but have chosen other options like staying home, starting house churches, and church hopping.  

5.                  Search for the Supernatural. Libraries, book stores, and the internet are experiencing phenomenal growth in topics about the spiritual and supernatural. People are searching and seeking to discover meaning and purpose. They desire to find a life that transcends the ordinary ones they live, but rather than engaging a culture and society that is hungry for truth and spiritual realities, the Church is absent and silent. Now is the time to speak to the metaphysical and epistemological vacuum that is evident.

To be continued……

[1]Oliver Libaw, “More Americans flock to Mega Churches” Accessed 9/21/11
[2] Ed Setzer, “Mega Churches keep Growing” Nov 22, 2011
[3]Chris W. Tornquist and John B. Aker, “The Shadow of a Megachurch”, Accessed 9/15/11
[4] Russ, Rankin, “Southern Baptists decline in baptisms, membership, attendance”  June 09, 2011,
[5] Bill Day, Leavell Center for Church Growth, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

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