Predictions for the Future

About a month ago,  I ran across an article written by Jim Denison ( on Thom Rainer’s "Fourteen predictions for American Churches for 2014." Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and known to many in the Central Texas Conference as the co-author of Simple Church.  Here’s the list: 1. Larger churches will acquire smaller churches in increasing numbers. 2. Denominational structures will become smaller as their churches decline. 3. Many of our new members will come from other churches. 4. We will see more megachurches. 5. Worship styles will become more unified. 6. High-expectation churches, where members are asked to make significant contributions to the work of the congregation, will become more numerous. 7. It will become more difficult for churches to build and acquire land. 8. More large churches will function as mini-denominations, with multiple locations and their own missions programs and literature. 9. Worship centers will be smaller, as people seek greater intimacy in church life. 10. Small groups will become more significant. 11. Pastors will stay at their churches longer. 12. Local churches will increase their role in training ministers. 13. Church members will find new ways to take their faith to their community. 14. Churches will have more communicators on their staffs. It makes for fascinating reading and interesting speculation.  Much of the list (but not all) is on target from my point of view (whether or not I/we/you like it).  We are getting both bigger and smaller.  There is an increase in part-time appointments filled by Lay Supply.  (Currently we have two open!)  Larger churches are engaging with smaller churches in creative new forms of ministry (which I believe to be a work of the Holy Spirit). The trend to high-expectation churches has been going on since before I went to seminary (well over ½ century!).  (And no, I didn’t graduate from seminary 50 plus years ago.  I got my degree from Perkins in 1976, 38 years ago.)  Lyle Schaller noted over 30 years ago the characteristic for larger churches to become like mini-denominations.  The United Methodist Church is built as a predominantly small church denomination yet the economic engine of the UMC is indisputably the larger (1000+ in worship) churches. One of the myths about large churches is that they have lower expectations and commitment levels than small churches.  Usually it is just the opposite!  The evidence I have seen strongly suggests that Rainer is on target with point number 6.  This clashes with a Methodist tendency to be a low commitment church.  It worth noting that we were originally a high commitment movement for Christ! I disagree with Rainer’s point number 5 – “Worship styles will become more unified.”  I think just the opposite is happening.  Point number 10 ought to thrill Methodists.  We will built on the foundation of small groups – the class meeting. Increasingly we are seeing clergy training move from the seminary to the mega church and para-church organizations.  (#12)  This will increase for a host of reasons not the least of which is because seminaries (across denominational lines) are typically late adaptors.  There will be exceptions (United Theological and Asbury Theological come to mind) but this move to church based ministerial training is a good move; a move of the Holy Spirit in my opinion.  It is trend away from professionalism & career advancement towards passion driven Christ-centred ministry committed to transformational impact in communities. (See #13)  In fairness most seminaries support such a move.  Yet despite their best intentions they are often captive to the professional academic academy. One of the most exciting and encouraging of the predictions is already coming true.  We are seeing an increasing number of churches finding new ways to take their faith to their community.  This is a current reality I am constantly encountering as I travel across the Central Texas Conference and the wider UMC.  Experimentation is the order of the day.  While it is risky, it is also a sign of the winds of the Holy Spirit blowing in our midst! What about you?  Where (and more importantly why) do you agree or disagree with Rainer's list?