The cultural tides of Christianity seem to change more rapidly every year.

As the acceptance of Christianity increasingly moves to the fringes of society, churches are in a unique season.

While the church template remained consistent for decades, there seems to be significant recent changes in church methodology that is causing people to either accept, adjust, or reject certain models.  

Let me explain what I mean.

  • Neighborhood Churches – For years, the neighborhood church was the model.  The size of the neighborhood or community really determined the size of a church body.  Many churches had a few different denominations in a mill community or such, and you went to the one in close proximity that you most aligned with.  End of story.
  • Mega Churches – As people became more mobile, commutes became more routine, and selective options in every arena of life became more regular, the polarization between the small church and the large church became vast.  A growing number of leaders tapped into the American mindset and figured out how to grow fast and quick by seemingly addressing people’s spiritual needs and preferential wants when it came to church life.
  • Video-Based Multisite Churches – With the rise of popular platforms, Christian living resources, and social media presences, many churches grew on the dynamic personalities of their pastors.  By showing previously recorded or live footage of a talented preacher, it has proven to be a quick way to grow but also a sudden way to die in many cases around the country when that preacher can no longer preach.  Technology is a wonderful gift but there are so many things to consider when implementing its usage.  The debates on this trend are numerous and this isn’t the post for my opinion on such but the concept has moved in recent years from a few ambitious churches using the tech to a growing number of differing sizes of churches accepting the concept and utilizing it as well.

Changing Trends

Now what?  It’s kind of already happening.  There are obvious different options to what was mentioned above, but as I often see, I am noticing the pendulum shift dramatically in many ways.

  1. Many targeted millennials are rejecting the bigger is better model.  Some have noticed that this generation is almost turned off by the “too-professionally polished” approach of church.
  2. Many new believers are attracted to “sacred-looking” spaces instead of the auditorium model claiming that there’s something unique about a place that doesn’t look like everything else they are a part of throughout the week.
  3. In the boom of the ever-increasing catalog of new worship music, people have a greater affinity for old hymns, simple instrumentation, and liturgical guides.
  4. After the success of what was called the “Reader’s Digest Self-Help Short Sermon Series,” people are gravitating to seasoned theologians and expositors walking slowly through books of the Bible.
  5. In the era when technology abounds, people almost seem refreshed from simple, organic, and almost technologically bare environments.
  6. Now that you can watch the top preachers in the world right from you mobile device, there is a growing desire to know a real-life preacher in the room on a personal basis.

Growing Tension

But yet, there is a tension.  Obviously, not everyone is there.  Many larger churches continue to get larger and many smaller churches continue to get smaller.

There is a growing tension in people who want to live in both church worlds.  They do want a more authentic, personable church, but yet they don’t want it to be insufficient to satisfy the programmatic cravings of which we have grown accustomed. I don’t mean that harsh in any way.  Even as a pastor, I have grown accustomed to what I want available in our church.  I have lived in such a way for such a long time, it is hard to tell me I can’t have certain things.  I have normalized my appetite.

There is a growing number of people who want their church to have numerous, packed, cutting-edge worship services and yet also want to know the pastor personally.

And there is the unique tension at this moment in time.  I am a pastor.  While I would consider our church a medium-sized church, by the average church size in America, we are large.  In recent stats, 50% of American churches average less than 100 people in worship attendance and only 10% average more than 350 in worship attendance.  That’s remarkable to consider when you think how large some churches are that the average could still be at those amounts.

While we are blessed to be in a season of church growth, we are struggling with the question: “How big do we want to grow?  Do we keep growing at this spot?  Do we add more services?  Do we plant more churches?  Do we need bigger buildings?  Do we assist other congregations?”

As people visit our church, there are consistent threads that I am hearing.

People want to know their pastor as if it was a small church but they want to benefit from the programs as if it was a large church. 

And as a pastor, I cannot tell you how difficult of a balance that is to find.

  1. The unchurched new believers only know what they are experiencing right now and are fine with it currently.
  2. Those who have moved from a smaller church are enjoying the perks of programming within a somewhat larger church than what they are used to previously.
  3. Those who have moved from a larger church are enjoying the ability to know and to be known.

While I think the medium-sized churches have been overlooked the last few decades as those who could never cross a particular threshold, I am seeing a renewed place for them within the mindsets of many in our culture.

In one day, I can talk with people who say these things:

  1. “You know, I wish our _______________ ministry could do things like _______ __________ Church.  They really draw people in.”
  2. “I started looking around and realized I would never know my pastor.  I had a moment of panic when I wondered who is going to marry and bury me?  I love the smaller size of this place.”

That’s kind of difficult to lead both of those people.  You can alienate people if you push too hard in either direction.

Can a church have polished programs and personable pastors?  

I‘d like to think so, but the growing desire to have both in the same place is a delicate tension.  I would pray that our churches could have “polished” programs in that they would lead their disciple-making environments and opportunities in an excellent way.  Don’t do something halfway in the name of Jesus.  But I would also pray that pastors would maintain their ability to be called shepherds by being around sheep.  I can’t lead people if they aren’t close enough to see where I am going.

Increasing Options

Unfortunately, if you are looking for a grand conclusion or takeaway from this post, you might finish somewhat unsatisfied.  I don’t know what all this means.  I’m not sure how I feel about it or what to do about it, but I do see the culture either changing or dividing even further.  Something is awry.

If there is a takeaway beyond hoping to cause you to think, maybe it is this:

Commit to a church that you can grow the most, know the most, and serve the most.

Hopefully, you are already in it.  I pray that if you are in a church, you are being discipled and making disciples.  Embrace where you are and get after it.

While we used to compare to the church down the road, we can know compare to any church digitally in the world.  Beware of that temptation.  Be the church that God has called you to be right where you are.  Don’t be ashamed of your church size.  Don’t try to be something you are not.  God can use all types of sizes and models and cultures and flavors.  Just make sure you make the main thing the main thing – make disciples not consumers.

It will be interesting to continue to watch the trends, but I am one who isn’t going to wait until hearing where it is heading and trying to adapt to it.  Because as soon as we get there, another trend will come along the way.

Instead of a trend or a tradition, how about we settle on a truth?  Here it is: make disciples.  It doesn’t require a certain style of church to do that.

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (Col. 1:28-29).