When you started your life in the ministry, you likely had a sound understanding of the way things worked. Alas, churches have changed over the last decade. A failure to recognize this truth can lead to low attendance, lost members of the flock and even the unfortunate necessity of shuttering the doors to your house of worship.
America already loses between 6,000 and 10,000 churches yearly, so it’s disheartening to see one of God’s temples needlessly fail. It's a fact that what worked 10 years ago may not necessarily work today. The world is changing around us, so it’s essential that we discard some of the old ways of thinking. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to mean changing who you are as a church.
1. The ‘All Are Welcome’ Sign
We’ve all seen the welcoming notices posted on outdoor marquees or hanging signs. ‘All Are Welcome’ is the message, and at one point, this was warm and inviting enough to bring in curious passersby. Unfortunately, this reality has changed over the years.
The fact is that people have become less social. Nearly 90 percent of Millennials have even admitted to missing out on real life interactions because they were playing on their phones. It’s not just smartphones, though, that are at fault for less sociability.
People just find it hard to interact with strangers today. To many individuals, walking into an unknown church feels much the same as coming to a wedding uninvited. This means your outreach should put a larger focus on social media and getting current members to invite others.
2. Expecting an Automatic Return
There’s never been a guarantee that a first-time attendee would return – although the possibility seemed far more likely in the past. What could be counted on, however, was that young adults would instinctively return to church once they started a family.
This is one of the most drastic ways church has changed over the years. From the ‘30s to the ‘70s, American attendance was at 70 percent or higher. This number had dropped to 50 percent by 2018. There was also a 12-point decrease in attendance among married individuals between 1998 and 2018.
An expectation of automatic return once worked in the church, but this is no longer the case. We need to increase our outreach and work to keep young members active in the congregation to combat this.
3. Expecting People to Feel God’s Presence
People once came to church to feel the presence of God, and for most, this simple fact hasn’t changed. Before the world became so modernized, however, simply sitting in the pew made everyone feel as if they were among a holy presence.
Unfortunately, 49 percent of church attendees say they no longer always feel the presence of God when they’re in church. Nearly one in ten ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ feel his presence. Since this is the reason most people choose to go to church, it paints a bleak picture for the future.
We can no longer expect everyone to feel God’s love just because they’re in a pew. We have to work hard to show them that the Lord is present.
4. Staff Prioritization on Worship Leaders
Just ten years ago, what worked in church was a prioritization on worship leaders. While this position is certainly still important, houses of God that have kept up with trends now put more focus on their children’s ministry.
This isn’t a huge surprise. Millennials were projected to outpace Baby Boomers as the country’s largest age demographic in 2019. This means the largest subset of the population is having kids, and they're seeking out churches that are fun, educational, sanitary and safe for their children.
Adapting to this unavoidable change in church priorities is essential.
5. Passing the Offering Plate
Recent church online giving statistics show that the number of tithing churchgoers decreased by 21 percentage points between the Great Depression and now. This is a daunting statistic, but sticking to the way church used to work could be having a direct causal link.
It turns out that 80 percent of the most active congregants prefer to tithe electronically. This makes digital giving software an essential tool for places of worship that want continuous growth in the modern world. What works in churches has changed, but people are still willing to give.
6. Relying on Past Learning
We’ve all had preachers who completed seminary and were set to do God’s work for life. The foundation of biblical learning remains the same long after this process, and this used to be enough for an effective career serving the Lord.
In a world that’s constantly changing, though, church leaders have had to begin focusing on continuous learning. Simply knowing the Word of God isn’t enough anymore. You should strive to attend conferences, sign up for courses, stay current on new readings and even consider starting a podcast.
Although this isn’t the way the church worked in the past, constantly growing your knowledge base – regarding the Bible and current trends – should be your goal.
7. Specious Leadership
Nearly 90 percent of people say they find authenticity from brands very important. One out of every five people have actually unfollowed brands on social media for what they saw as inauthentic behavior. These statistics no doubt carry over into houses of worship.
There was once a point when congregants just assumed their preacher was handpicked by God. This assumption often meant they trusted their leader's authenticity without question. This is no longer the case. Churchgoers know their pastor isn’t perfect, and they become disheartened when you try to convince them otherwise.
There obviously shouldn’t be huge unaddressed character issues, but don’t be afraid to let people see the real you.
8. Expectation of Active Members
We need only look back at old photographs, videos or even television shows to see that congregants used to be much more active. Counting on this expectation worked in church, and the bulk of members could be depended upon to show up and take part.
Unfortunately, people simply aren’t as willing to devote their time anymore. It’s estimated that 20 percent of a congregation does 80 percent of the work. Sadly, the rest do very little. Try to overcome this by listening to members about what motivates them, learning patterns of involvement and identifying the most popular activities you have.
Churches have changed when it comes to involvement, but this is a problem that can be overcome.
9. Simply Being a Great Church
Back when church attendance was high, simply being great at what you do was enough to attract congregants. Unfortunately, attendance has faltered. This means doing your job better than other churches won’t always cut it.
Even with so many houses of worship closing every year, people still have plenty of options to choose from. Simply claiming that you’re great won’t work, but showing the community that you’re different will. Folks need to know what’s special about your church.
If you can pull this off, it’s hard to envision how any emerging trend could hinder your growth.
10. Expecting a Prepackaged Community
One of the most worrisome trends in churches is the growing loss of community. Houses of worship were once a place where everyone felt immediately connected to their fellow congregants. The decrease in sociability may explain this, but one in four attendees say they don’t typically feel a sense of community.
Regardless of the reason behind this change, it’s undoubtedly a concerning one. Work hard to connect your congregation and get everyone engaged in activities. This is your flock, and if even one among them feels disconnected, it hurts all of our souls – even if we don't realize it.
What Once Worked in a Church is Changing. Are you?
There’s no denying that people’s mindset has changed over the years. The community is simply more prone to notice inauthentic leadership, dated expectations and an unwillingness to learn. While this has sadly led to reduced attendance, we don’t have to accept it as a foregone conclusion. By understanding what now works in a church, we can begin to guide the flock back to the Father.
If you’re looking for an easy way to help your congregation give back, get started with NewFire Giving today and modernize the way your church operates.