Have you ever wondered why virtually every church leader is constantly writing and speaking about change? Including me?
Because we live in the fastest-changing culture ever.
If we’re not aware of how the world around us is changing, we’ll miss out on an opportunity to share the gospel with that world. Not because the gospel will become irrelevant. Quite the opposite. The more everything else changes, the more important the good news of Jesus will be.
But the way people hear, understand and receive the timeless gospel is changing. Fast. If we don’t realize and adapt to those changes, the people who need to hear it will be left on the sidelines – at least in part due to our stubbornness and ignorance.
People whose lives are constantly being upended by change are desperate for a permanent rock they can cling to. That rock is the gospel of Jesus.
Here are five changes every Christian leader needs to be aware of.
1. The Way People Earn Is Changing
A generation ago, our culture shifted from one income per household to two. Today we’re shifting from one income per person to two.
It is now normal for a person to come home from their job and spend the evening selling items online, doing clerical work or repairing cars for a few extra dollars.
If you haven’t experienced this phenomenon yet, you will. In expensive, heavily-populated cities like where I live this is already the norm.
For years, this was done by power couples wanting to support a lavish lifestyle. Now, it’s being done by average families trying to pay the bills.
As we’ll see in the following points, this is affecting how people live, how they give, how often they can attend church, and more.
2. The Way People Give Is Changing
When earning patterns change, giving patterns change.
By every account, people in their 20s today don’t just give less than people in their 50s give. They’re giving less than people in their 20s used to give. And people in their 50s (and 40s and 60s and more) are giving less than they used to, as well.
Because of this, churches must figure out two things: how to do more ministry with less money, and how to find opportunities people want to give to.
As an example, in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations there was no faster way to get people to give than to launch a church building program. Not today. People in my kids’ generation are more likely to respond by asking “why should I give my hard-earned money to help you build yet another church building?”
But they will give directly to people with needs they can relate to.
The successful church of the next generation will erect fewer (and smaller) buildings, but meet more direct, hands-on needs.
3. The Way People Attend Church Is Changing
A generation ago, a strongly-committed church attender went to church three times a week. About a decade ago, it was three times a month. Now, it’s about twice a month on average. And, according to Thom Rainer’s statistical analysis, “The Once-a-Month Churchgoer is the Fastest Growing Segment of Church Life.”
Yes, once a month.
This is happening for many reasons, including changing work patterns (see above), blended family schedules and more. But too many of our churches rely on a church schedule that’s suited to the three-times-a-week attender.
I’m certainly not saying we should encourage or be okay with less frequent attendance, but we need to be aware of it.
No, we should not lower our expectations. Church attendance has always mattered and will always matter. But if we’re going to keep people committed to the church, we need to offer them something better than the mostly bygone three-times-a-week schedule of 1) a good Sunday morning service, 2) a not-quite-as-good Sunday evening service, and 3) a not-very-good weekday service.
People used to attend out of duty. Not any more. And they shouldn’t. If church attendance doesn’t help them grow as believers, they need to find something that does. And, to a large degree, people are discovering that this is unfortunately true for them.
Great churches are doing fewer services, but getting more out of them. When they ask people for a second commitment in their weekly calendar it’s for something that isn’t already happening in the main church service. Like an opportunity to meet real needs or have deeper study and fellowship.
4. The Way People Commit Is Changing
If people aren’t committing to the things they used to commit to, we need to offer them something better to commit to.
In previous generations, people committed in a steady stream of time. They’d volunteer for a weekly event and be there every time. Not anymore. Now, people commit to chunks of time with a clear end date.
So what are we to do? Give them great chunks of time to commit to, with clear end dates!
Instead of Wednesday Bible Study every week, have a six-week Wednesday night series on Ephesians. Then break for a few weeks and come back for a five-week series on the Ten Commandments, and so on. In most churches, that will create higher attendance and stronger engagement.
5. The Way People Trust Is Changing
People used to trust the church and clergy until we gave them a reason not to. But we’ve given them plenty of reasons not to. And we’ve lost their trust.
Now, people don’t trust the church or clergy until we give them plenty of reasons to trust us. We have to earn it. Then we have to work hard to keep it.
Of all the changes affecting today’s church, this is the biggest, by far. And it’s not their fault that trust has been lost. It’s ours.
The good news is, it’s also in our hands to change this perception. One church at a time. One Christian at a time. One pastor at a time. One act of decency and integrity at a time.
No, we may never win back a general trust of the institutions of church and clergy. But we can get out of the way and let people see that Jesus is, and always will be, trustworthy.
And isn’t that what really matters anyway?
(Photo by Sydney Missionary Bible College | Flickr)