- A few months ago we sounded the alarm that there won’t be much left of the established church in the U.S. by 2030…a why we can’t stay “here.”
- We offered a snapshot of what an emerging, vibrant church might look like in 2030…a picture of “there.”
- We did our best to invite you as a leader to gather some other leaders around you. Learn and listen together. And begin to plant the seeds of a different future.
…and then we took a break for Christmas and the New Year!
- Some agreed.
- Some did not.
- Some said, “Show me more.”
- Some said, “It’s not that bad.”
- Some said, “True, but can we wait to do anything until after I die or I retire?”
Totally fine to disagree. Right?
Totally fine to live in denial. For a while. Right?
What’s difficult to imagine is the radical shift from the church as the center of culture and community to being so rapidly pushed to the cultural margins.
So…Let’s take the next few weeks and make sense of getting from “here” to “there.”
Let’s start with some requested “show me more.”
(It would appear that the very large churches and the very small churches are most likely to rise above some of the harsh trends.) The rest of us? It might be time to begin investing in a different future that we believe fundamentally hinges on rediscovering relational discipleship.
- In the 1950’s (the high point for U.S. churches)
- 95% of the population self-identified as Christian
- 63% of Americans were members of a church body
- 50% of the population was in church on Sunday
- (“Percentage of Christians in U.S. Drifting Down” Gallup, 2015)
- Today “practicing Christians” make up 25% of the U.S. population
- (“A Snapshot of Faith Practice Across Age Groups” Barna 2019)
- “Practicing Christian” is defined as attending a worship service at least once a month and indicating “my faith is very important.” (Not a high bar!)
- 80% of churches in the U.S. worship less than 100. Most are plateaued or declining slowly or rapidly. (Exponential)
- 96% of the millennial generation will not be in a Christian worship service this weekend. (Ranier)
- “By 2030, a large portion of an older generation with high religious commitment will give way to a critical mass with little or moderate religious commitment.” (Bredholt)
- 35% of millennials believe that attending church can result in more harm than good. (Barna Group) (Millennials make up the largest adult generation: 74.3 million and the most diverse with 43% nonwhite.)
- 59% of millennials raised in the church have dropped out. (Barna Group)
- The church is in rapid decline in virtually every major U.S. population center.
“Most people in most churches are asleep and don’t recognize the crisis facing the U.S. church.”An 80+ congregational leader
Add to this in my own denomination:
- There are nearly 4 pastors ages 55-65 for every one pastor ages 25-35.
- In 1982, my own seminary graduated about 150 pastoral candidates. 40 years later it will graduate 39 candidates. (Remember the 96% number above?)
- One LCMS district recently announced two-thirds of its churches cannot afford a full time pastor.
So… some evidence. Some thoughts. For you and your congregational leaders.
I’d simply propose that we’re much closer to a 2030 reality—and the need to start today investing in an emerging vibrant church—than the 1950’s past!
- A missionary God is inviting us into something more? …while we try to sustain and survive. And consolidate and cut.
- We’re looking at a vast unreached mission field? …and the need to become simple, ordinary missionaries … and not resurrect a 15-year-old church program that used to work.
- God wants to use you to say: There’s hope. There’s a future. It’s different. Join me in risking and venturing forward?
- And, what if it really is 2030 urgent?
So, my thought?
- You need to share this with the leadership group in your congregation.
- Discuss it at your next meeting.
- Celebrate some good things that are happening in your congregation.
- Reassure them that we need to continue doing much of what we’ve been doing…while we commit ourselves to beginning to become pioneers toward an emerging vibrant church on its way to 2030.
- Invite them to sign for up for the next few weeks of this blog as we go a bit deeper.
Rev. Dr. Jock Ficken