This week, I want to weigh in on what I see are some important trends for today’s churches. I realize that some of my readers are not church-going people, which is fine. Because I’m a pastor, I deal with this subject on an everyday basis, and this is what I do. If church affiliation isn’t part of your regular life, then perhaps you can use these views to learn how things have changed since you last went to church.
Let me start with this disclaimer. First, I want you to understand that I affirm the holy status and mission of the church, and I am totally committed to the church, both the universal body of Christ as well as my own local church. I believe that the church is and will always be God’s chosen instrument through which He will change the world, and His church will endure no matter what happens in this world. I say this to ensure you that if my observations come across as critical, I don’t mean them to be. I love God’s church, and I love my own church.
I am the product of a lifetime of church influence. Because of my age (not exactly young any more), I have seen some profound ways churches are changing in the face of a rapidly evolving culture. Here are three trends I see in today’s churches.
1. Redefinition of the term “Regular Attender”
When I was young, I remember a particular Sunday morning when our small church was giving out awards for perfect attendance. A few people received recognition for being present every Sunday for the past year. Then, a special award was given to an old gentleman who achieved perfect attendance for 20 straight years! I was shocked.
For church attenders today, the term “regular attendance” no longer means they come Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Regular attendance now means people show up a couple of times a month. They consider themselves regular attenders if there are no extended absences between appearances. And that trend has forced the church to make some important changes. Churches who use weekly attendance numbers as indicators for success are setting themselves up for disappointment. Churches that don’t aggressively minister to and reach out to people when they finally come are missing important opportunities. In today’s churches, time is of the essence.
2. Church Membership Is Perceived To Be Optional
There has been a tectonic cultural shift in people’s attitudes toward organizations. Earlier generations of Americans saw value in being part of something bigger than themselves. Not so today. Culture has encouraged us to be suspicious of belonging to groups. The current buzzwords are individualism and autonomy. People don’t mind coming to church, but asking them to commit to membership is another matter altogether. They just don’t see the value of belonging when they can just attend.
3. Checks Are Becoming A Thing Of The Past
When it comes to giving to the church, less and less people prefer to give by writing a check or giving cash. So how do people prefer to give? They prefer to give electronically- through a church app on their smartphones or via an online giving platform. What if my church doesn’t offer that option? Chances are you are missing out on that segment of people’s gifts.
I lead a small group of young single adults, and I’ve learned that their preferences for financial management is much different than my own. They use their smartphones for everything- including shopping and paying bills. They rarely carry cash, and they look at me funny when I mention a checkbook. Recently, my own church launched our church app and online giving platform, and immediately our online giving amount increased. It’s a generational thing.
Bob Dylan was never more correct: times they are a changin’. While the mission and the purpose of the church must never change, the methods must in order for the church to be relevant. The challenge for churches is how to navigate that fine line being on mission and being relevant. That sounds like a good topic for next time.