The question is, are you ready as a church leader?
As I shared in my new book, Lasting Impact (you can download the first chapter for free here), if the change inside the church isn’t equal to or greater than the change outside our walls, irrelevance is inevitable.
While that thought can be somewhat depressing, think of the flip side.
History belongs to the innovators. It belongs to the leaders who dared to dream, to try things no one else was trying, to experiment, to push the boundaries of what everyone else believed was possible.
As Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Or as Steve Jobs put it, “A lot of the time people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
If you are prepared to tackle change with a fully engaged heart, you can help not only your church but maybe even the church better accomplish the mission before us.
So what’s changing before our eyes? I see these 5 things becoming major players as 2016 unfolds.
1. Church online will become an advance, not just a supplement to or replacement for church
You can make the argument that online options that churches offer—everything from message podcasts to social media to full online streaming of Sunday services— have too often played the role of a supplement to or replacement of church for many Christians.
For a growing number of Christians, online church has become the like TV preachers were to some Christians in the 70s and 80s who decided Sunday morning viewing at home was better than participation in a local church. Too tired or disengaged to go on Sunday? Just watch online.
Watch for church online to become far less of a supplement or replacement and far more of an advance into the lives of people who don’t attend church at all.
Churches will get innovative and more intentional about reaching out into their communities using digital options at a point of first contact with unchurched people.
Think about it: everybody who wasn’t in your church last Sunday is probably on Facebook. And everybody who wasn’t in your church last Sunday is probably online.
So go connect with them.
More than ever in 2016, online church will begin to open a door into the lives of people who will never walk through yours.
I’ve noticed that preachers are both getting better at communicating and speaking less often.
It wasn’t that long ago that some preachers were writing 100 to 150 messages a year between Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.
Many Sunday evening and Wednesday night services have disappeared in the last decade.
But a growing number of preachers are realizing that preparing 52 excellent Sunday messages is increasingly difficult. Personally I’ve cut back from writing 70 messages a year a decade ago to about 35 a year today.
The result? I’m a much better communicator.
What’s creating all this change?
Simple. It’s the wide availability of digital options. (See point #1 above.)
A decade ago, people who attended your church only really ever listened to you. Now they can hear anyone for free. And they do.
As a result, the local pastor is often being listened to alongside today’s best communicators, and local pastors are opting for quality over quantity.
At some point, quantity and quality compete. And in today’s digital landscape, innovative leaders are opting for quality.
By the way, if you want to sharpen your communication skills, I’m speaking on 3 Painful Things That Will Make A Better Communicator at the free Preach Better Sermons 2016 online event January 14th 2016.
Join Perry Noble, Jud Wilihite, Derwin Gray, Charles Stanley, Jon Acuff, Jeff Henderson, Judah Smith and me. You can register for FREE here.
For many years, growing churches focused on doing church better.
Better music, better preaching, better buildings, better design, better everything drove much of the growth of the last few decades.
But as every leader knows, eventually better gets you diminishing returns.
One more moving light is probably not going to bring another 1000 people to Jesus in the same way the first moving light did. (Okay, moving lights never brought people to Jesus. But church was often so stale and bad in the 80s and 90s that moving lights were a hallmark of churches that innovated and as a result collectively baptized millions.)
The effective churches I’ve visited and seen recently by no means had the best lights, stage or production. Some had almost no stage and no lights, while others had a pretty decent package, but not nearly the level you see at some churches.
What did they all have in common? Passion.
When it comes to reaching the next generation, passion beats polish.
It’s not that polish is bad, but I think it’s increasingly trumped by a raw authenticity that exudes from leaders who will do whatever it takes to reach people with the Gospel.
In the churches I’ve seen doing a superb job with young adults, smaller facilities and stage sets were more than compensated for by preachers, worship leaders and team members who exuded passion for the mission.
Passion beats polish.
If you want to read about the other four characteristics I see in churches doing a great job reaching 18-35 year olds, you can read that here.
In the past, if you were Christian, you went to church on a Sunday. It was almost automatic.
But it led to many disengaged Christians filling up seats on Sundays. They attended, but they didn’t serve, didn’t give and didn’t invite anyone to come with them. They simply attended.
That group is increasingly disappearing, opting for online options (see point 1 above) or has dropped out all together as our culture becomes more and more post-Christian. This trend will only accelerate in 2016.
As a result, your weekend gatherings will increasingly be attended primarily by two groups: the engaged and the curious.
The engaged are people who are on mission with you. They give. They serve. They actually have unchurched friends they’re bringing to church. They live out their faith far more than they sit in a back row and ‘absorb’.
They’ll be joined on the weekends by the curious. The curious are people who haven’t made a decision to follow Jesus but they’re open. They’re exploring. They’re asking questions. They’re probably there because a friend invited them or because they found you online and wanted more.
When I look to the future, I see those two groups forming the core of the people who will continue to fuel attendance at your weekly gatherings.
So what does this mean for church leaders?
It means you need to stop valuing attendance more than you value engagement.
Ironically, if you value attendance over engagement, you will see declining attendance.
And if you want to raise attendance, raise engagement.