18 Church Trends (and More!): Trend 2

Continuing my highly derivative series on church trends, the next 10 are from an article by church growth consultant and author Thom Rainer:

Trend 2:  Renewed emphasis on evangelism. 

Many church leaders want to know how their churches can better reach the non-Christians where they are. This emphasis on the “Jerusalem” of Acts 1:8 will result in more intentionality in evangelism and, thus, more people becoming followers of Christ.

Praise God! We’ve all been working very hard at being a better church that can outcompete the other churches in town. It’s high time we thought in terms of outcompeting Satan for lost souls.

It took me a minute to get the idea behind “the ‘Jerusalem’ of Acts 1:8.” I’m pretty sure the point is that it’s not enough to send missionaries and to plant churches in other towns. We need to reach lost in the city where we already are, too. Again: Praise God!

(Now if I could just persuade some of my Church of Christ brothers and sisters that “evangelism” does NOT mean handing a copy of Muscle & a Shovel to a Baptist and hoping to re-baptize him or her.)

Recommended reading:

Matt Dabbs, Church Steps Outreach Program

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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18 Responses to 18 Church Trends (and More!): Trend 2

  1. Dale says:

    Hmm…shows you just how long I’ve been out of the loop. It used to be a copy of “Why I Am a Member Of the Church of Christ”.

    But as far as reaching those outside the Church of Christ, especially in areas such as the South, most people do not see anything more it has to offer than they have right now. Culturally and politically it is the same as their neighbors, who pretty much view their cultural and political views as part of their moral and religious convictions, even if they are of the “non-churched”.

    As unsettling as this may be to many in the church, the message will have to be a radical one that will not a popular. But the church has to be convicted first…and that’s going to take a while.

  2. Dale, a lot depends on how you define neighbors. A LOT of our churches have members that drive in from outside the neighborhood where the building is located. They not only don’t reach those around them, they don’t even know how to relate to them. This is often because the makeup of the neighborhood has changed, but there is also the fact that culture has undergone major shifts that the church has not kept up with.

    I do agree with your assertion that we need a more convicted message. But we also get to know our communities.

  3. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Now if I could just persuade some of my Church of Christ brothers and sisters that “evangelism” does NOT mean handing a copy of Muscle & a Shovel to a Baptist and hoping to re-baptize him or her.

    This is perhaps the biggest limiting factor in CoCs writ large. Having spent a considerable amount of time in evangelistic efforts with the “sign-out-front” wing of the CoC, I can attest to the inordinate amount of capital that we expend on trying to “convert” our Baptist and other churched neighbors. Unfortunately, we view them as no more saved than a devout atheist. Our priorities have been so very deeply and sadly misplaced.

  4. Gary says:

    Changing demographics may be the biggest news story of the 21st century. Urbanization continues no matter which political party is in power. Less than 20% of Americans live outside of metropolitan areas and that percentage will only decrease as this century progresses. Our nation will more and more become a network of metropolises surrounded by depopulated rural areas. This trend is especially evident in those of the Millennial generation who are flocking to cities and to a lesser extent suburban areas. So church plants in urban areas are the ones that make sense going forward. The demographic foundation of cities is diversity: racial, ethnic, immigrant or native born, and straight, gay and trans. The worldview of most in Churches of Christ make urban church plants difficult.

    One huge practical change is the coming evolution away from auto ownership and towards a combination of ride sharing, cycling, public transportation and walking. The most in demand neighborhoods in cities now are the ones that are deemed the most walkable. Young adults don’t want to have to drive everywhere they go. They want to live in neighborhoods with nearby retail and restaurants. This is already evident in the Washington DC metropolis. Real estate inside the beltway is now more valuable than real estate in far flung neighborhoods that require long commutes. McMansions that were prized even a decade ago in Washington’s outer suburbs have decreased in value compared to rising prices inside the beltway. With most Churches of Christ primarily made up of members who drive a number of miles to come to church this does not bode well for the future.

    These kind of matters need to be taken into account for any evangelistic efforts to be successful.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    I agree with your analysis. In Birmingham, those under 30 increasingly live in the city where they can walk to a restaurant or a store and where they avoid the commutes. This is driven in part by delays in having children or having no children — so that school quality and having a yard to play in is less important. The city is enjoying a massive apartment construction boom in the downtown area — a very dramatic change.

    The old downtown Churches of Christ fled to the suburbs decades ago, but so did the Baptists and many others. There just wasn’t much housing in the downtown area other than government-subsidized housing.

    But this creates great opportunities for church plants — and there have been some efforts at church plantings. Land is extremely expensive, and so a plant will have to either re-purpose an old church building or else meet as a house church or in a leased store front or a community building, such as an apartment-house community room. These are not bad models at all, although I think house churches have limited appeal. Few house church networks manage to grow very large since so few people will fit in a single room, meaning it’s hard to have enough leadership for every meeting. (Maybe someone can point me to an example of a house church network showing long-term growth.)

    Anyway, the opportunities are there, and young couples are open to spiritual conversations — and so a well-led plant would likely thrive in such an environment. And one proven model is when an old, dying church turns its property over to the leadership of a planting team and the members agree to stay to support the new effort.

  6. Gary says:

    We sang in church this morning a beautiful song about baptism that speaks of baptism in a positive and gracious way with the emphasis on what God does for us. It is entitled Down by the Jordan with words by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. My church is Disciples of Christ but this hymn is published by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church in Nashville. We’re instrumental but I think the song would lend itself to a capella very well. I spent 52 years in Churches of Christ but we seemed to have few songs about baptism.

  7. Gary says:

    Jay, you touched on what is likely to be the biggest demographic trend of the 21st century: the falling fertility rate. In 2015 the US fertility rate hit an all time low. Demographers had expected our fertility rate to increase with the end of the recession but it has continued to fall instead. As much as a fourth of women in developed countries are choosing to not have any children. Most of the rest are only having one or two children. US population is expected to continue to increase through this century but only because of continued immigration. The world’s population is expected to peak between 2050 and 2100 and then rapidly decline. Long before then the substantial increase in the proportion of the population over the age of 65 will result in a society that looks quite different from what we grew up with. Many countries are already experiencing peak working age populations which is having social and economic repercussions.

    Since at least the 1980’s most Churches of Christ have been intentional about centering congregational life around couples with children. Some of what goes with that emphasis will continue to be needed with each new generation of children. But too much of that emphasis will increasingly leave out individuals and families who don’t fit that model. This will especially be true in urban areas where birth rates are even lower than the falling average national fertility rate. A significant percentage of urban households consist of only one person. That percentage is likely to increase. Smaller households tend to live in smaller homes and apartments which are not compatible with house churches. Urban areas do usually have many church facilities that are underutilized or vacant.

  8. Mark says:

    I live in DC and see first-hand which churches are barely staying afloat and which are growing. Some Orthodox, Catholic, and Episcopal/Anglican (as well as one Calvinist Baptist) congregations are doing evangelism and growing with families and single members of both genders, many of whom did not grow up in those traditions or in Christianity at all. These people are in DC for a period of time, be it for 3 months or a few years becoming permanent and might talk to their new friends about a church or Christianity or listen to a sermon online before ever attending. I’m talking about in the District or right across the line in Bethesda, not the huge community churches out in Virginia suburbs. Yes, property is expensive though most of these churches were built between 100 and 200 years ago, and parking is nonexistent. For a church plant, there are plenty of community centers where a room could be rented for an hour or two a week. Now, those old churches can get back to growth because they read a large portion of prophets, epistle, psalm, and gospel every Sunday and preach some rough homilies on Jesus and how radical his actions and teachings were and then put the focus on the Eucharist, even offering it daily. It is the preaching on Jesus that changes lives and converts people today.

  9. “Few house church networks manage to grow very large…” To which I would ask, “So what?”
    The idea of making any particular group large seems entirely foreign to scripture and a purported virtue for which I can find no basis. Is there something more inherently godly about one group of 100,000 people meeting in one place than ten thousand groups of ten people? Other than human pride?

  10. The point of evangelism is to make disciples, not to increase the size of local churches. Unfortunately, our measurements concern themselves only with the latter, those groups having no idea whether or not they are accomplishing the former at all.

  11. Dwight says:

    Charles I have argued that same point that 200 churches with 40 people is better than 40 churches with 200 people in it for a long time or at least the same. We are very concerned with more in one place as opposed to the same amount in many places.

  12. Alabama John says:

    There are already far more small churches meeting than large ones.
    We fail to count those meeting to worship in places like hospitals, old folks homes, recovery centers, jails, prisons, orphans homes, rehabilitation places of all sorts, etc. Some in a meeting room all together and some by a single bedside. All these have worship and study times and bring thousands each year to know Christ.
    Some of the quickest and easiest to convert are those in dire circumstances when shown they are lost but can have that assurance that Gods arms are open ready to receive them when they cross that river and enter the open gates into heaven.
    Too many of us are waiting for them to come to us when we must go to them. Talk is cheap, we need action!

  13. Dwight says:

    AJ. come on those aren’t real “churches”, they are just people meeting together in the name of God for edification.
    Just kidding of course.
    We imagine that churches must have a permanent residence in a permanent building with a membership role. We kind of forget God is keeping track of everyone.
    Worst of all, AJ, is that we think that since they are in need and in dire circumstances, they are not worthy of our time and effort as they probably will not turn to God, so instead we focus on those who are already in Christ, but not up to our standards.

  14. Mark says:

    Jesus himself talked to the two thieves and heard confession from and granted pardon to one when they were all hung on crosses on one Friday morning.

  15. Gary says:

    Demographically, Japan is a preview of coming attractions for developed countries. The current issue of The Economist (January 7, 2016) has an excellent article on the practical effects of an ageing population in communities. In Japan ageing is affecting not only rural areas but also suburbs as young adults migrate to the central areas of cities. The article is entitled “Ageing in Japan (Cities Vie for the Young).”

  16. Gary says:

    Correction: January 7, 2017 is the correct date of The Economist article mentioned above.

  17. Alabama John says:

    Dwight,
    Two things are very different in these churches I mentioned that cause most churches with their names on the buildings to not go there.
    1) we must go to them as they can’t come to us and that requires more effort.
    2) the Lords Supper is passed or brought to them and the collection plate is not passed. The one requires more effort to prepare and deliver and the other doesn’t give a return.
    On the other hand there are churches of Christ that go to prisons every Sunday after their regular services, divide up as there are many different buildings,, and bring the Lords Supper and teach or preach a great lesson. Raleigh NC or Butner, NC is one.
    Start off with a prayer and remember that all the apostles including Paul, and even Jesus himself all served time. Good place to start.

  18. Dwight says:

    AJ, I have never seen any congregation that has done what you speak of in regards to prison.
    I live in the Bible Belt and go to a conservative congregation. Enough said.

    Part of our problem, a big part, is bowing down to convenience and using that as an excuse. I talked to one brother who thought that bringing their own reusable cups to the Lord’s Supper would be too much of an imposition and bother than using the little cups and throwing them away. But it is strange that we will take time and effort to tie a tie, but can’t bring a few cups. We are wimps compared to what the early Christians did and were willing to do.

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