Change or die.
Such has been the reality of too many congregations the past ten years as the rate of church closures has accelerated. Many have died; others are on life support.
But what are some of the major changes that have taken place in congregations that are doing relatively well? What are some of the ways these congregations have adapted to new realities? Here is a hint: None of the changes in healthy churches have compromised doctrine, diminished the centrality of preaching, or abandoned sharing the gospel.
So what changes have occurred in healthy churches in the last decade? Here are eight of them:
1. Today: Smaller worship gatherings.
Ten years ago: Larger worship gatherings.
There are several factors impacting this change, among them more multi-site churches, more non-traditional worship times, and a desire among the Millennials to be a part of a smaller gathering rather than a larger gathering.
2. Today: Smaller church facilities
Ten years ago: Larger church facilities
There are three major issues at work here. First, church leaders are more hesitant to spend funds on largely unused facilities. Second, churches are building with less space for adult small groups or Sunday school, and are choosing to have those groups meet off-site or on non-worship days. Third, the smaller worship gathering noted above means smaller worship centers.
3. Today: First priority staff person hired: children's minister
Ten years ago: First priority staff person hired: worship leader
This shift is largely influenced by the large Millennial generation and their children. Millennials are looking for a church that is safe, sanitary, educational, and fun for their children.
4. Today: Ministry degree optional for church staff members
Ten years ago: Ministry degree strongly preferred for church staff
Churches today are more likely to call someone on staff from within their congregations. That person may not have a Bible college or seminary degree.
5. Today: Emphasis on congregational singing
Ten years ago: Emphasis on performance singing
Healthy churches are seeing an awakening of congregational singing today. Ten years ago, contemporary churches emphasized the performance of the praise team and band, while traditional churches emphasized the performance of the choir and soloists.
6. Today: Community focus
Ten years ago: Community myopia
Too many churches the past two decades all but abandoned their communities and are paying the price for their shorts-sightedness today. Healthy churches realize that the community is their place of ministry, their "Jerusalem" of Acts 1:8.
7. Today: Vital importance of groups
Ten years ago: Marginal importance of groups
Healthy churches today make groups (community groups, home groups, Sunday school, life groups, etc.) a high priority. Ten years ago, many church leaders did not see how groups could enhance the health of the church in discipleship, evangelism, prayer, ministry, and fellowship.
8. Today: Church leaders are continuous learners
Ten years ago: Church leaders were "degree and done"
For several decades, church leaders essentially ended their education process with a college or seminary degree. In today's ever-changing world, leaders of healthy churches have intentionally established a discipline of continuous learning.
These eight major shifts took place in a relatively brief period.
More are on the way.
Are you ready?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 10, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and nine grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.