Having been through two excruciating years as a church leader, what can you expect in 2022?
As you can see by the sheer number of trends (the most I’ve ever covered in my annual trends series), 2022 is shaping up to be a pivotal year.
A new reality will emerge, and it will be different than we think.
The last few years have been (necessarily) characterized by a very narrow focus.
The questions church members and leaders have been preoccupied with the past couple of years include:
• Can we reopen, and if so how?
• Who’s coming and who’s not coming?
• Online or digital?
• Is hybrid the future?
• Masks or no masks?
• Vaccines or no vaccines?
• Democrat or Republican?
There will undoubtedly be some urgent issues that are impossible to predict, but two more significant shifts are happening.
First, some of the pressing matters that have characterized the last two years are now morphing into the culture as a whole. The hybrid-church model is emerging as a norm, as is leading in a polarized culture, and some of the battle lines drawn are emerging as semipermanent cultural fixtures.
Even without the emergence of another global crisis or virus variant (both of which are plausible), 2022 will be a year where the new “normalized” world will further emerge.
It won’t exactly be what we used to know as normal, nor will it be entirely stable, but the year will likely give us a chance to see where the dust is settling and to move on.
Many of the trends I’ve outlined in the last six years are still active. If you and your team want to do a deep dive, here are the links.
For the most part, many of the trends have emerged and are still relevant to what we’re all experiencing right now. Some accelerated dramatically.
Although last year didn’t exactly usher in the post-pandemic era, it’s more likely that 2022 will.
While no one can say exactly what the future holds, here are 12 trends I’m watching and would encourage you and your team to consider and process as well.
1. The Demise of the Old Model of Church.
Every church and every leader has a model of church. Even those who claim they don’t have a model have a model (their anti-model is the model).
A model is simply an approach—a strategy, a way of doing things.
The old model of church has been proving less effective year by year for decades across almost all denominations and traditions.
In 2021, Gallup shared that for the first time ever, church membership dropped below 50% nationally. Among millennials, only 36% identify with a church.
Similarly, a decade ago only 22% of millennials said they have no religious affiliation. Today that number is 31%. For Gen Z, 33% now say they have no religious affiliation.
At the same time, attendance keeps dropping across the board.
A survey by FACT of over 15,000 churches conducted just before COVID hit shows that between 2000 and 2020, median church service attendance dropped from 137 people to 65.
2022 should start to yield data on where things stand now, and as you already suspect, the new data is highly likely to show further decline. In other words, even if your church returns to 2019 attendance levels or exceeds them, the overall decline in church attendance will continue unabated.
So, what does this mean?
The current approach to church not only isn’t effective, it hasn’t been effective for decades. Yet leaders keep moving forward as though somehow things are going to turn around.
Optimism is one thing. Delusion is another.
Please hear what I’m saying: The death of an approach to church doesn’t equal the death of the church. Changing the approach is the best way to begin to see new growth.
Wise leaders will become students of what’s happening and seek to find a new approach that’s biblically faithful and culturally effective.
As Mark Sayers pointed out in his Rebuilders Podcast, the model of church is actually being rebuilt right now … as we speak. Maybe leaders aren’t doing it, but people are doing it.
Rightly or wrongly, they’re deciding how and when to engage with church, and they’re voting with their feet and wallets.
Adept leaders will figure out where culture is going, figure out how to meet people where they’re at, and then lead them to where they need to be.
What was is gone. What will be hasn’t yet emerged.
The key is to experiment.
• Stay faithful to biblical principles.
• Experiment with the practice.
• Study your people.
• Study the culture.
• Lead people where they need to go.
The task, in other words, is to devise a faithful approach to church that will reach and disciple the next generation.
In the future church, leaders who are willing to change their methods will amplify their mission. Leaders who don’t, won’t.
2. Growing Churches Will Innovate Beyond Weekend Services.
As leaders rethink the model of church, more church leaders will start rethinking the role of weekend services.
Don’t get me wrong. Weekend services are extremely important for a host of theological reasons (and a few practical ones, as well).
But for many churches, the weekend service has become either all the church does or the main focal point by which everything else revolves.
Focusing all your efforts on one hour on Sunday ignores the other 167 hours in a week.
Many churches function like restaurants that decide that if you want to eat, it can only happen in a one-hour window and only in this particular building, and if you miss it, you miss it.
Think about it. What future would there be for a restaurant whose mantra is:
• You can only eat food in our building.
• We’re only open one hour a week.
• We don’t do much in between.
Naturally, church is a lot more than one hour of performance or participation on Sunday morning (a little harsh, but that’s what it’s become in some cases).
A lot of the innovation that has to happen in the church needs to take place outside of Sunday and outside the building.
People don’t live in your church building. They live in the community, where they interact with non-Christians all day long, every day.
Churches that equip people where they live and work will start to grow.
And yes, that requires innovation.
3. The Vision for the Future Will Become Clearer.
Not all churches will find a new vision, but those who do will have a brighter future.
Ironically, as you know, the vision for the future has been there all along because the vision of the church doesn’t change that much. The core of the church’s vision is always evangelism and discipleship.
It’s just that with all the noise, panic, confusion and hardship of the past two years, it’s been exceedingly hard to focus on anything else.
In 2022, at least among a small group of church leaders, the vision for the future church will become louder than the lethargy of the present or the anger of the dissenters. And they’ll start growing. They will experiment.
Find a new approach that’s resonating, and begin to reach new people.
Some of them will be bold experimenters. And they’ll receive a lot of criticism for their experimentation as they create a new approach—a new model for church.
Many of the ideas you’ll see in the church in 2022 will be criticized and dismissed—until they’re not.
But that’s how innovation works. The leaders we criticize today will be the leaders who coach us tomorrow.