Last week I highlighted three trends in today’s churches that have brought changes in the way ministry is carried out in local churches. This week, I’ll offer some observations about how churches can continue to be relevant in our changing culture. Let me once again add my usual disclaimer: I am not an authority on culture or church growth, nor I am not a best selling author or pastor of a famous megachurch. However, I do pastor a local church where all three of these trends are front and center, and I believe most local churches are dealing with these same dynamics.
Trend #1: Irregular Attendance
Our culture has redefined what regular attendance means. Today, people consider themselves regular church attenders if they come to church more times than they are absent. Family lifestyles, especially for families with young children, make it virtually impossible to be at church Sunday after Sunday. What can the church do?
I believe the church needs to understand and work with families whose schedule is overbooked. Piling on guilt over church absence accomplishes little. Many churches are providing online opportunities to view or listen to the worship services. At my church, we are seeing an increase in online viewing of our worship services through our church app as we see our attendance dip during the summer.
Providing opportunities to get and stay connected with others is critical to keeping people coming back. The larger a church grows, the smaller it must become by connecting attenders through small groups, Bible studies, Sunday School classes, or whatever works for any given church. We might not be able to keep people from sporadic attendance, but we can provide ways to make people miss us when they are gone.
Trend #2: Optional Church Membership
This trend reflects the new attitude of our culture- individualism and autonomy. People today don’t recognize the importance of belonging to something bigger than themselves, thus they hesitate to commit to church membership. We as churches can make a couple of changes that counteract this new attitude.
First, we must make church relevant. People will never commit to something that has no relevance to where they are in life. Sermons must have life application. Worship services must be more than musical performance. There must be a point to what’s going on in church in order for people to find enough value to commit to membership.
Second, church must be real. Pastors and church attenders must be more than “perfect people” who project a perfectly lived life. They must be real people who aren’t afraid to own up to their failures and struggles. They must be genuine, authentic, and approachable. If church seems fake, contrived, and without integrity, it will be rejected.
Trend #3: Different Giving Habits
In today’s culture, people are paying their bills in much different ways that earlier generations, and those differences are showing up in the way people want to give to churches.
My wife and I are middle aged, and we (actually, she) spends time and energy making sure our checkbook is up to date and balanced against the monthly bank statements. But for much of today’s culture, checks are a thing of the past. Now many financial transactions are executed online.
What does this mean for churches? It means that if churches are reaching younger people, they must offer an online option for people to give to their church. I’m not advocating a shift away from cash and checks, because the majority of people still give in this way. I’m saying that in addition to cash and checks, an online option must be added. Although giving online seems foreign to many traditional church attenders, we must realize that writing a check seems equally foreign to many younger people. The key word is options.
I realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic. There are some very good books written about the changing dynamics of church in our culture. One of my favorites is Lasting Impact by Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwhof.
I believe in the mission and power of the church. The ministry of the church changed my life years ago, and it is still changing lives today. The church is alive and well. But living things change. Changing things grow. And growing things live. That’s my prayer for the church- that it would live, change, and grow.