by Eddie Pipkin
You may or may not have seen a recent article from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership identifying ministry trends for 2024. You will already be familiar with them in some form, since you are likely dealing with them in practical ways. The Lewis Center, after all, has a bird’s-eye view, surveying ministry from an expansive perch, and you have a ground-level perspective, thick in the day-to-day details as you are getting the work done. Some of the identified trends will be achingly familiar to you, some less so, and some may even be a surprise to you if you are uniquely insulated from certain cultural currents, but it’s worth focusing a bit on these trendy observations, especially from the standpoint of smaller and medium-sized congregations.
You can link to the Lewis Center Article, here: “7 Trends Impacting Church Leadership for 2024,” authored by Ann Michel, Doug Powe, and Jessica Anschutz.
Here is the summary of the seven trends that they identify:
- Mainline malaise.
- Stable finances.
- Small is beautiful.
- Expanding roles for lay leaders.
- The rise of a dechurched generation.
- Challenges to the Sunday School model of Christian education.
- The need for new models of faith formation.
I encourage you to read the entire article – it’s not very long – and for extra fun you can mentally highlight all the wonky, ministry management jargon, like “to conform to current realities.” (It’s a constant battle, the challenge to keep our pontifications professional yet creatively fresh.)
I have frequently addressed aspects of these trending topics in this space, sometimes from a philosophical vantage, sometimes with nuts-and-bolts suggestions. I’ll just offer a few thoughts on each.
Denominational struggles. The leadership of this blog is weighted towards the no-longer-so United Methodists, so this paragraph on the diminution of denominations was no news to you. In general, it reinforces the principle that denominational affiliations bear less importance to rising generations, so it makes much more sense to brand yourself according to your core values by which you want to be known in the community. The upside to denominational turmoil is that it has prompted much soul searching as to what the identity of local congregations will be going forward.
Stable finances. This is good news (and corroborated by reports I get from church buddies). One of the changes the pandemic accelerated was the adoption of electronic giving options, after years of churches dragging their feet on adopting this technology. If you still have gaps in providing multiple, instant options for giving, you are costing yourself a blessing, literally.
Small is beautiful. Churches get focused on big events and splashy productions and programs, but small interactions are where the action is. That’s a great example of what the principle that what is old is new again. And it’s a great example of what still appeals and has impact, even in a modern, technology-driven age. People are hungry for real relationships (as they have always been). Part of our core identity, our true relevance, should be providing meaningful opportunities for intimate interactions.
Expanding lay leader roles. I have always been an advocate for strong, visible lay leadership. It empowers gifted people. It promotes diversity of all kinds. It guards against burnout for key leaders. It makes growth and expansion of programming possible. It builds community and inspires others to get involved and reach their potential (because they can see themselves in that empowered lay leadership).
Rise of the dechurched. The people who have no church background are hungry for spiritual growth, practical expressions of loving their neighbors, and relational communities. None of that is dependent on churchy, church-nerd language or processes. All of that is consistent with the message of the Gospel. It’s an exciting time to think about the best of our heritage empowering renewed priorities and how we can be relevant to people’s needs.
Changing Sunday School models. Praise to those of you who have managed to maintain anything that looks like the traditional Sunday School model from a generation ago, and praise to those of you who are experimenting with entirely new formats for getting people together outside of worship on Sunday mornings. There is no richer territory for experimentation and no more controversial area to do so, colliding as it dramatically does with people’s expectations and predetermined judgments. Every potential solution to this conundrum should have a local flavor. It is a case of knowing your own identity and being true to it. Whether it’s intergenerational gatherings, affinity based hands-on activities, classic biblical instruction, or one big celebratory party, figure out what works uniquely for your community and lean into it with enthusiasm.
Spiritual formation options. There is no topic we have focused on more at Excellence in Ministry Coaching than rethinking discipleship. The main takeaway has always been that spiritual formation should be customizable. There is no one model, and the more opportunities we can give people to experience the model that works for them in a format and on a schedule that works for them, the more we will encourage their spiritual growth. (As always, it would be a win if more local congregations had any clearly identified path for long-term spiritual growth.)
I’m sure you have your own thoughts about these trends for 2024 and how they are impacting your ministry. I’d love to hear your observations. Which of these trends is confounding you? Which have you excited for the future? What trends do you think the good folks at the Lewis Center may be missing altogether?
We’ll see how they play out in the year ahead.