Five Ways Churches Will Have Changed One Year From Now

I am not prophetic. And if I am prescient, it’s only because I have the incredible vantage point of hearing from tens of thousands of church leaders every year.

While it is admittedly difficult to project trends in typical times, it is exceedingly difficult to do so in a time of pandemic headed for, hopefully, a post-quarantine era. Because we hear from so many church leaders and church members, allow me to venture where local churches will be in one year. 

  1. At least 20 percent of those who attended before the pandemic will not return to church. Of course, this number will vary from church to church, but early indicators point to this level of losses. Some of the former in-person attendees will become digital-only attendees. Most of this group, however, will not attend at all.
  1. More pastors will leave vocational ministry over the next twelve months than any time in recent history. Pastors suffer a death by a thousand cuts. It’s usually not just one or a few factors that push their limits, it’s the drip-by-drip effect of constant criticisms and conflicts they experience. That continuous pressure and discouragement has been exacerbated by the incredible pressures brought by the pandemic. 
  1. Churches will move to a new emphasis on conversion growth. Churches have been quietly disobedient to the Great Commission for three decades. We are seeing signs of a new wake-up call. Church leaders are becoming increasingly convicted that they must lead their churches to reach those who are not believers in Christ. Church members are reflecting that same conviction and commitment. Most church growth for the past three decades has been transfer growth, Christians moving from one church to another. That dismal reality is about to change. 
  1. Churches will start more churches, many of them as microchurches. Churches are moving from vertical growth (getting as many to attend as possible at one place on Sunday morning) to horizontal growth (growth beyond one site on Sunday morning). A lot of this new growth will include the starting of microchurches, congregations of around 25 to 30 people. As a side note to be unpacked later, these trends will have huge implications for the future of church facilities. 
  1. Two movements will grow rapidly: church adoption and church fostering. There will be more unhealthy churches needing help in the next few months. There will be more struggling churches without pastors. Some of these churches will be adopted; they will be assumed into another church family and become a site of the adopting church. Others will be fostered, which means a healthier church will help those struggling churches for a short season. I will address both of these movements next week.

While it has become cliché to say we are living in unprecedented times, we are living in unprecedented times. Those organizations that view this new reality as an opportunity will indeed see limitless possibilities. This perspective is especially true for the organizations we call churches. 

It’s a challenging time. It’s an exciting time. 

The next twelve months will be incredibly telling for the future of local churches around the world. 

Let me know what you think.

Posted on August 17, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Mary-Ellen Secula says on

    Well this trend could be very discouraging but we must remember that God works through adversity. When the pandemic exploded leading to everything shutting down I prayed and asked God what we as believers are to understand in this. Is it judgement? Is He trying to get the world’s attention? What I believe He impressed upon me is that this is first and foremost a wake up call for the Church (for us individually and the the Church universal). Your #3 describes the issue. If that is the case we have to be in prayer, seeking God’s direction to navigate these troubled waters. And of course He is also trying to get the world’s attention, so we can see how the two can be used by Him to work together for good. And I agree with April, we have all become lazy, but particularly the younger generation who has been raised to “connect” on social media, replacing in person engagement. In our desire to reach people through virtual services are we contributing to the ever increasing problems of social isolation and depression?

  • Thom,
    I do pray that churches will reopen with the passion for conversion growth as per the Great Commission. I agree with you that our SBC churches did depart from this passion and priority decades ago and we are now reaping what we have sown. Thank you for always sharing your insights and your heart for the Great Commission.
    Don McCutcheon

  • April Jones says on

    I have found that my generation (I’m 42) has lost the art of hospitality in the home making it difficult to find someone to host small groups. Right, we host Back Yard Sunday School with only a few people committed to coming. I think virtual preaching & teaching have made us lazy. I pray that people will see the need to gather and worship together again.

  • Rev. Ron Verblaauw says on

    A few “first reactions” from a UCC pastor in NJ:

    1. Unscientific survey monkey poll of membership – only 13 of 29 express interest in returning to in-person worship.

    2. “Death by a thousand cuts” – spot on. In spite of entering ministry as a 3rd career pastor (I was 57 when ordained); with 35 yrs experience as CPA/accounting/finance background, my congregation has treated me as if in my 20’s with no life experience whatsoever. Have submitted my resignation in this congregation but will not leave this vocational calling.

    3. Whether one uses the SB language of “decision for Christ” or the UCC language of being transformed by encountering God and Jesus Christ … a move from private salvation alone to both personal and communal salvation and works of justice and mercy will be the work of the faith community.

    4. Small group / house churches / micro churches that are nimble, feed the soul, and work to help the needy will be the predominant form of faith community.

    5. This will be a tougher transformation. Given human egos and turf-protecting I see in colleagues of my tradition and those from other traditions in this local community. It will take a greater in-breaking of the Spirit for this work to begin. Some experience with attempting this that was slapped down fast by my churches leaders and membership.

  • Janet Hanna says on

    Timely information. We are certainly living in changing times, but the good news is that we serve an unchaging God. As Christians, we have a golden oppirtunity to reach the unsaved for Christ. May we be ready to answer His Call.

    Janet Hanna,
    Nassau, Bahamas

  • I would like ministers to be more open about what is going on.. I know that we are into the book of revelations.. So I think that the ministers should be covering the book of revaluations. From the beginning. The book of revelations hasn’t been preached on for years. I have forgotten alot about it.

  • Darrell Webb says on

    I agree with your vantage points. I am already seeing several churches that I serve through our state convention considering the need for being adopted or perhaps seeking a stronger church to foster them. Thanks for your ministry!

  • Derick Were says on

    Good comments. I see it already.. Am Pastor and already planning to engage elsewhere.

  • Guy Earle says on

    Good insight. Thanks for the info.


  • I agree. I see it already. I pray this deepens the need that I have felt for us to learn (again) the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit into a new season of harvesting souls and re-imagining what it means to be a church. Our identity can no longer be our (aging) facilities or holding onto traditions no one cares about anymore. Lord, may you strengthen your pastors and hold them up (2 Timothy 4:17) while creating a harvest of souls and correct discipleship to build Your Kingdom.

  • thank you, you have made an effort to help our global vision to the church from high perspective analysis

  • Great comments regarding the church coming out of the Pandemic.