I’ve been doing trends and predictions for churches for many years. My track record is good, but it has nothing to do with my sagacity. To the contrary, my approach is straightforward. I look at the data points and try to connect them to see the trends.
This COVID year is different. We know the world has been turned upside down by the disease, and churches have definitely felt the impact. My confidence level in projecting trends in past years has been high.
But this year is different. Indeed, much has changed.
You will see how significantly COVID affected my projections in each of these ten trends. Also, this exercise is biased for a North American context. Some of the points simply may not hold in a non-North American world.
1. Worship attendance will average 80% of pre-COVID numbers. We are essentially predicting that attendance will not fully recover in 2022. As more COVID variants enter the world, there will continue to be a hesitation by many people to attend weekly worship gatherings.
2. Neighborhood churches will become a movement. We think this movement has already begun, but we will see clear indicators of it in 2022. We define a neighborhood church as a congregation that is laser-focused on ministering to a specific geographical area typically described as a neighborhood.
3. There will be more community focus than any period in 30 years. While the neighborhood church movement is a factor in this renewed community focus, it is not the only factor. We are greatly encouraged by this growing direction. Anecdotally, we see it at Church Answers. Our Know Your Community report is our fastest-growing resource.
4. The micro church could become a movement, but there are challenges. We define a micro church as a congregation with 30 or fewer attendees. The growth in the number of these churches was on an upward trend until COVID. Now, we see hesitancy to invite people into homes. We will see where this trend heads.
5. There will be more emphasis on evangelism than any period in 30 years. This trend is mostly positive. More churches and their leaders are obeying the Great Commission. But it is also a bit pragmatic as churches see other sources of growth like cultural Christianity declining rapidly.
6. More churches will merge or be adopted than any period in 30 years. There is a greater willingness of struggling churches to be adopted, and there are more churches willing to adopt other congregations than at any point in many years. This movement will prove to be pivotal to keep the doors open of churches that would otherwise close. It is also an indicator that the multisite movement will continue to grow. Once a healthier church adopts a struggling church, the healthier church is immediately multisite.
7. Denominational structures will begin to look more like networks. Many denominations realize that a top-down structure does not work in most contexts. Leaders in the denominations that are adapting are getting their guidance and ideas from the churches and their leaders who are at ground level.
8. Departures of pastors will increase by 20%. The Great Resignation will hit pastors hard. It is a conversation we have at Church Answers almost every day. There is definitely a pastor shortage on the horizon.
9. Ministry training will begin to evolve into different models. Seminaries, Bible colleges, and Christian universities are not going away. But new models will begin to grow at a rapid pace. We will have more on this trend in the next several weeks.
10. Church giving will decline 5%. Many churches experienced increased giving or at least level giving in 2020 and 2021. We are grateful for the generosity and stewardship of many faithful believers. But we also know that a large amount of liquidity was injected into the market by the government. Billions of dollars made it into the accounts of church members. We don’t anticipate future governmental support at that level. I just talked with one pastor whose church’s giving grew by 10% each of the past two years. He has decided not to budget an increase in 2022 for the very reason noted here.
Many of these projected trends are good. Others are not. Stay tuned at Church Answers and our podcast, Rainer on Leadership, as we dive deeper into these projections.
Posted on December 13, 2021
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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Will the statistics be magnified in an area I’m in, like Seattle? For example, 80% might be higher. Also, some very encouraging news too. Confirmation that we at Maple Park Church are doing at least some things right.
#7 is spot-on. We have so many rules and edicts. The individual churches know their own needs and can adapt quickly . And, small churches can’t fill the financial needs of the large organization that seems to be more of a union than anything else. How can a small rural town pay the same as a large metropolitan church for pastors, subs, mileage, annual memberships. Covid has done a number on many of us.
Weldon pastor Thom s. Rainer
I think we should also help churches in term of prayer
The pastor shortage is in full swing. We can’t keep up with the numbers of churches that need pastors and are asking for help.
Yes, we are hearing that a lot, Rodney.
I totally agree. I am 48 years old. I started this church in my living room 8 years ago and we merged with another dying church. We are in a middle to lower income neighborhood. Our church had about 110 in attendance before Covid. We had just merged and saw an increase in attendance and moving upward. Now we’ve settled out at about 80. We have been laser focused on our neighbors and their needs and we have fed over 10,000 people in our parking lot. We’ve given away over 100,000 lbs of food. We recognize people are hurting and we’ve prayed personally with every person who has received food from us. Many miracles have happened. Many have come to Christ. Almost none have come to church. There have been a few but not many. Our tithing has stayed fairly level. In honesty, we have all and more than we need. What I’m finding is that our church is growing now in small gatherings. Our Monday night bible study has about 20. Our student ministry has about 15. Our Senior adults meet twice a month and have about 20. Our women and mens group have about 20 each. We are working on a small group and marriage ministry but it’s been very slow getting up and going. I was on staff as a worship leader at Willow Creek in Chicago from about 1999-2001. Mission City Church is nothing like Willow. Almost nothing that worked there, works here except the gospel. Hasn’t that always been the case though. I don’t have any seminary degrees and I’ve been shocked God has been able to use someone like me to be a pastor. I find your post very encouraging. Our church seems to follow most of the trends you mention. Keep them coming. Keep encouraging us. I am sad when I read that so many pastors are leaving the ministry. It also makes me mad. Maybe they didn’t know what they were signing up for. We have to count the cost before we follow Christ. It’s been dangerous and frustrating and discouraging when I look to the people. But it is the highest honor to be called by God and I will never abandon that. He’s been faithful to me and I intend to be faithful to Him. I’d love to meet you guys someday just to encourage you. You’re doing a great job and I hear great things about you. Keep the faith. It’s all we have, and it’s all we need. -Kyle Dillard
Thank you so much, Kyle, for your kind words. Bless you and this ministry
Hello Kyle, thanks for sharing what’s happening in your church. Why do you think there’s a difference between many coming to Christ and ‘almost none’ joining the church? Have they joined other churches for example?
Good thoughts. On point number 10 I agree that giving will be a challenge. However, the real culprit is the aging donor base with Boomers entering into retirement.
Good point, Mark.