Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Trends & the Future of Newark Central

Trends & the Future of Newark Central

16 December 2015

The following is a pair of posts by Thom Rainer, a leading church & denominational consultant with his roots in the Southern Baptist tradition, but who is very conversant with trends and practices across the congregationally governed Protestant side of church life. His observations and suggestions will not fit as well with a more hierarchical/bishop-led model of church, or in some ethnic traditions, but I think he consistently is on the mark for most of the generally Protestant communities out there.

Largely as an exercise for our own leadership at Newark Central, I'm going to insert some thoughts for where these trends are leaning against or opening up for us; feel free to translate into your own contexts.

Thom Rainer -- 16 Trends in American Churches in 2016 [in two posts]


I have been writing on trends in churches for two decades. I certainly don't have a perfect record with my predictions, but my overall record is pretty good.

My methodology is simple: I observe emerging issues in some churches and extrapolate them into major trends.

This year I take this approach with a higher level of confidence than previous years. I have seen most of the following issues grow month by month in 2015, so I don't have to be the brightest person in the world to project them as major trends in 2016.

Here are the first eight trends. I will conclude with the second group of eight trends in my next post.

1. Church security as the fastest growing ministry. Shootings in churches and sex abuse of children mandate this unfortunate trend. No church can afford to be without serious security measures, policies, and equipment. It will evolve into a major church ministry.

[Jeff – This is an area that has taken up increasing amounts of time and attention, with various entities like insurance carriers, local or state and certainly FEMA/federal agencies asking us to have plans and preparedness in place. To say the least, it's not my primary skill set, nor is it something we have ever had a history of managing, but it's moving from suggested to strongly encouraged, with "required" clearly on the horizon.]

2. Decrease in worship center size and capacity. The large worship gathering is not as popular as it has been. Through multiple services and multiple sites, churches will follow this preference with smaller capacity worship centers.

[Jeff – For Newark Central, this is good news. We're not too big, not too small. Twenty years ago, three out of any four consultants would have suggested we make the sanctuary bigger. Today the wisdom is "add services." Vineyard Grace Fellowship south of town is testing this question out for us, and we'll see how that goes. But our 350 seat worship center is in a sweet spot for our area, I think.]

3. Increase in successfully revitalized churches. More church leaders sense a call to lead revitalized churches. Because of this desire and intentionality, we will see more success stories of churches that have experienced significant revitalization.

[Jeff – And I think we're on the path to joining this list!]

4. Rapid growth of coaching ministries for pastors and church staff. The current trend is anecdotal, but it will soon be verified and obvious. Pastors and staff who have the humility to be led, and the willingness to invest resources in coaching are becoming the most effective church leaders.

[Jeff – Having done coaching for seven years, I can say there's a hunger for this kind of connection; middle judicatories are trying to adopt a form of this model, but it gets hung up in some awkward political complications on implementation. See #11 in the second set of trends Thom discusses….]

5. Increase in the numbers of churches in gentrified communities. Thousands of older urban communities are becoming revitalized. Churches are following the increased numbers of residents to these communities.

[Jeff – This is a big question for us: what's happening to the Mt. Vernon Rd. corridor? But there's good reason for us to take an active interest in city and county planning processes as a stakeholder. There are hints that interesting things may be happening between us and downtown…]

6. Increased emphasis on practical ministry training. Church leaders in America have seen a much needed two-decade renewal of training in classical disciplines and doctrine. That need remains, but more leaders are crying for training in leadership, relational skills, and other practical ministries.

[Jeff – That's part of the source of our "From Hurting to Healing" training, and more to come.]

7. Increasing emphasis on groups in churches. Church leaders are getting it. When church members are a part of some type of group, such as a small group or Sunday school class, they attend more faithfully, evangelize more frequently, and give more abundantly.

[Jeff – We're working on this one. Not incredibly effectively, but some. The challenge is that all the folks who want groups are in groups, and feel that we have enough groups. We don't, but starting them is the challenge.]

8. Fewer segregated churches. For most of American history, 11:00 am on Sunday was the most segregated hour of the week. That is changing. A church that is not racially and ethnically diverse will soon become the exception instead of the norm.

[Jeff – Let's say "baby steps," which is not nothing, but we need to have the heart and soul to continue growing in our community across socio-ethnic boundaries.]

[part two]


In my previous post, I shared trends 1 to 8. Today, I conclude with trends 9 to 16. Here is the introduction I wrote to the earlier post.


I have been writing on trends in churches for two decades. I certainly don't have a perfect record with my predictions, but my overall record is pretty good.


My methodology is simple. I observe emerging issues in some churches and extrapolate them into major trends.


This year I take this approach with a higher level of confidence than previous years. I have seen most of the following issues grow month by month in 2015, so I don't have to be the brightest person in the world to project them as major trends in 2016.


9. The rise of the mini-denomination church. This trend is an acceleration of the increased number of multi-site churches. As churches grow with four or more sites, they will take on some of the characteristics of a denomination.


[Jeff – Not our particular gift. Bless those who have it, and use it to spread the Gospel!]


10. Increased pastoral tenure. For a number of reasons, the tenure of a pastor at a given church will increase. More pastors will make it to the five-year mark where the most fruitful years of ministry typically begin.


[Jeff – I'm working on this one every year!  ;-)


11. Rise of alternative ministry placement organizations. Old and existing systems of how churches find prospective pastors and staff are falling apart. They are being replaced with effective and independent ministry search organizations.


[Jeff – I feel a part of this one, in that I get calls and e-mails/messages asking input and suggestions for churches seeking and clergy looking. The Search and Call process in the Disciples has never gotten much love, and today is not an era where it's going to feel more warm and fuzzy for participants.]


12. Increase in the number of Millennials who are Christians. I am projecting the number to increase from 15 percent of the generation to 18 percent of the generation. That is an increase of 2.3 million Millennials who will become believers in 2016.


[Jeff – We pray that this is so; we would pray that Newark Central might be a place where more Millennials would feel at home, although there's lots of evidence that birds of a millennium tend to flock together.]


13. Accelerated decline of 100,000 American congregations. Historically, American congregations have been tenacious and survived beyond most expectations. That reality is no longer true. Ineffective churches will decline rapidly as churchgoers are unwilling to be a part of congregations that are not making a difference.


[Jeff – I hope I've been both clear, and positive, in how I've tried to raise this issue with our leadership; this is going to impact our congregation, but not because I have much concern that we're one of the non-viable churches. It's how this will impact covenantal and collaborative ministries we've been accustomed to just "being a part of" that's going to suddenly put us in a position of deciding "where do we place our priorities and resources?" I think too many in congregational leadership have not been aware of how fast and hard the decline has been already, and the impact on congregations like ours of the next decade is hard, but not impossible to predict. Random surges of "we must do something!" will rock the lifeboats, and the question of keeping an even keel becomes important.]


14. Churches no longer viewed favorably by many governmental units. As a consequence, it will become increasingly difficult for churches to expand their physical facilities or to be able to hold functions in the community.


[Jeff – We have been fortunate in many respects on this score, thanks to personal contacts and commitments, but the reality over the next decade is exactly what Thom is talking about. We already have regulation and review that take up staff time far beyond what most members realize.]


15. More bivocational pastors and staff. This trend is increasingly becoming the result of choices by pastors and staff, rather than financial limitations of congregations.


[Jeff – I made this a conscious choice for myself in 2012 coming back into full-time pulpit ministry. You can see the comments in Thom's post on how controversial this subject is, for clergy, for congregations, for denominations. However you feel about it, it will become more common, and it's not entirely a bad thing.]


16. Dramatic changes in senior adult ministries. The baby boomers will not participate in the way most churches do senior adult ministry. They will force change, particularly from the entertainment model to an activist model.


[Jeff – I can't improve on Thom's last line there, and I believe Newark Central began embodying this trend with Mission Team & Salvation Army meal teams well before my involvement or influence. We see this, it's just finding skillful means of integrating Millennials with the Boomers in this work, so the efforts have smooth transitions. Time will also tell if Boomers are better at handing over authority to a new generation than the Greatest Generation folk tended to be (and what Boomers have complained about for twenty-plus years). It will soon be time to show how it's done . . .]


In many ways, I see 2016 as a pivotal year for thousands of congregations. Unfortunately, many church leaders and church members will elect not to change anything. Those congregations will be among the 100,000 rapidly declining churches.


But for other churches, new opportunities abound. For decades, churches could choose a path of modest to no change and do okay. That is not the case today. For those congregations that are eager and willing to face the culture in God's power and strength, they will likely see incredible opportunities for ministry and growth.


It is becoming that simple.


Change or die.


[Final notes from Jeff – I believe Newark Central has been remarkably accepting of changes and new models for ministry, far beyond most of our "peer group" in mainline Protestant circles, in Ohio, in the Midwest, and more generally. The sticky question is: will that be enough? Are we changing just enough that we "die last" or is there an adaptiveness and responsiveness to the Gospel's call today that will allow this congregation to survive and sustain ministry into a farther future? That's what we're working and praying over together right now, in these challenging times that are – let's always remember! – safely in God's hands.]

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