Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Author of 22 books, he is a frequent and insightful commentator on faith and culture. Dr. Rainer recently wrote a provocative piece titled, “Fourteen predictions for American Churches for 2014.” Here’s his list:
1. Larger churches will acquire smaller churches in increasing numbers.
2. Denominational structures will become smaller as their churches decline.
3. Many of our new members will come from other churches.
4. We will see more megachurches.
5. Worship styles will become more unified.
6. High-expectation churches, where members are asked to make significant contributions to the work of the congregation, will become more numerous.
7. It will become more difficult for churches to build and acquire land.
8. More large churches will function as mini-denominations, with multiple locations and their own missions programs and literature.
9. Worship centers will be smaller, as people seek greater intimacy in church life.
10. Small groups will become more significant.
11. Pastors will stay at their churches longer.
12. Local churches will increase their role in training ministers.
13. Church members will find new ways to take their faith to their community.
14. Churches will have more communicators on their staffs.
Of course, Dr. Rainer has no idea if all his predictions will come to pass. Nor do I. But I’m interested in the trend his prognostications illustrate: “church” is being rethought today.
There was a day when churches were defined primarily by their denominational alignments. Pastors were trained by their denomination’s seminaries, and employed within their denominational structures. Missions, both local and international, were the function of denominational entities as well.
That was then—this is now. Every denomination except Assemblies of God is in numeric decline. To cite one example, in 2013 Southern Baptists recorded their smallest number of baptisms in 64 years. At the same time, Christianity is exploding in growth around most of the world. According to David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia, more people are coming to Christ than ever before. More Muslims have become Christians in the last 15 years than in the previous 15 centuries. More than a million Cubans have come to Christ in the last 10 years. If current trends continue, Brazil will be one-half born-again Christian by 2025, and the People’s Republic of China will be the largest Christian nation on earth.
What is the common denominator in all spiritual awakening? Desperation. Have you prayed for a great moral and spiritual renewal in your heart and country today?