Thom Rainer wrote an article expressing what he believes are twelve potentially powerful movements that will affect congregations. Here, I will express my response to these movements and how the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) might successfully address them.
Massive growth of co-vocational ministry. It is predicted many church staff will move from full-time employment with a church to a co-vocational model. This may force church organizations, like SDA conferences, to find ways to include a mass number of seminary graduates, who have not and likely will never be absorbed in full-time employment, in some model of affiliation with the denomination. There was an attempt in the early 1980s to do this through what was called “Infiltration.” That model dissolved. And the “Volunteer Pastor” model seems to have replaced it. But the volunteer pastor model has some glaring weaknesses as currently implemented. One of those weaknesses is the inability of the volunteer to be compensated for their professional work or be on a path to full employment if they lead the church to grow to the point the church can qualify for a full-time pastor.
Another weakness of the volunteer pastor program is that it only addresses the leadership needs of current congregations. New growth through disciple-making is not considered. Neither is the gift of teaching others to become disciple-makers considered valuable enough to the mission of the church to open opportunities, with compensation, for people with a track record to work in a specialized ministry the church desperately needs.
There are other weaknesses of the program. But my purpose is not to be critical here. My purpose is to open the imagination of leaders to access all of the gifts God has placed in the church to advance His mission more effectively and efficiently. There are so many called, seminary-trained but unemployed people who could be deployed in co-vocational ministry in a manner that helps them fulfill their calling and the church to advance its God-given mission.
Baby boomers will be greater in number than children in the majority of churches. As the church struggles to determine how to grow, the participation of seniors must be considered. Baby boomers will be around for a while due to advances in healthcare. How can they best contribute their time, talent, treasure, and wisdom without being “in the way.” One of the tragedies I notice in the denomination is senior leaders staying in leadership too long, thus eliminating the contributions younger, experienced, and more energetic leaders could bring while still accessing the wisdom the more senior leaders could share as mentors. If this trend does not change, the church may stumble and continue to decline.
The lack of children in the church indicates the church is graying and will eventually become unsustainable. Churches will close. And the opportunity to disciple certain geographic areas may disappear for lack of a presence of people to do the work. This could force the denomination to begin to think of church growth as people-to-people disciple-making rather than thinking of church planting as the only way to fulfill the Great Commission. Perhaps this is a good thing. But the church must confront it and, led by God, resolve it.
The micro-church movement begins in about 5,000 North American churches. It is predicted approximately 5,000 churches in North American with 50 congregants or less will develop a model of multi-site campuses to survive. It remains to be seen what this model will look like. But there is little doubt after this global pandemic that small churches will suffer a decline in attending congregants as well as a decline in financial support. Perhaps now is the time to develop a modern model of house churches and multi-campus congregations that are formally plugged into denominational plans utilizing the gifts of unemployed seminary-trained leaders as well as the spiritually strong, who have the burden to make disciples.
It is my conviction the world does not need more churches. This is not a statement against church planting as a growth strategy. It is simply an observation that churches need more members to become disciples and disciple-makers to advance the Great Commission. And those churches that already exist can expand their influence by developing multiple sites to minister to the people.
Digital church strategies will complement in-person strategies. The global pandemic has affected the patterns of member participation in worship services. By necessity, churches have begun to implement digital strategies. Those churches that abandon their digital strategies will suffer decline when churches begin to open their doors again because the behavior of some members has permanently changed. And there is a great harvest field of people already participating in the digital community the church could reach if it chose to be intentional about it.
There must be both a digital and in-person strategy to address the needs of congregants going forward. Those churches that ignore this reality may not survive. Going back to only an in-church ministry will doom that ministry to obsolescence.
Our next installment will address four more trends.
Watch the webinar: Attract New People to Grow Your Ministry at https://youtu.be/mDyfarmzUss