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Church Trends: 5 Things That May Change in 2016

Church trends are always changing. Remember flannel graphs, sound tracks, and bus ministry? 🙂 Richard Flory is the Director of Research at USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Here are the five church trends he’s watching this year when it comes to the Church and American Christianity:

1. The Emptying of Church Pews

Flory’s observation:
Beyond the general distrust of large-scale institutions and the disconnect between politics, culture and what people are looking for in church, this shift represents a failure on the part of most churches to provide a message and organizational structure that will both attract and retain church members. This will likely continue, but will churches adapt by figuring out what people want in church, or will they continue to stagnate and decline? On the other hand, what alternative forms, if any, of “church” might people be forming to replace the religious communities that they have left?
I think this is true. Many millennials don’t like what today’s American church has become; and they are experimenting with ways to make it their own. Sure… some are walking away from the Church; but still others (and these guys and gals are sharp as a tack) are looking to re-make the Church in to something that will resonate with their generation.
Many millennials don't like what today's American church has become...Click To Tweet A side note: While this will drive the ‘established’ church leaders crazy; this happens to some degree in EVERY generation and has for centuries. I’m not sure that very many people have EVER liked their grandmother’s church. Some generations change more than others, but it is change none the less.

2. Increased LGBT Acceptance Within Evangelicalism

Flory’s observation:
What bears watching is not only what will happen among those evangelical organizations that are trying to hold back the march of history, but what will happen internally to evangelicalism itself. Increasing numbers of evangelical believers are either supportive of LGBT rights or at least not staunchly against it, while institutions that are part the “evangelical industrial complex” (churches, schools, publishing houses, etc.), have the resources and desire to maintain their anti-LGBT stance.
The ‘march of history’ is already having an effect on the evangelical church. And things are changing. (Remember the World Vision flap?)
The 'march of history' is already having an effect on the evangelical church. And things are changing.Click To Tweet The reality is… more and more evangelical churches and institutions will move toward a welcoming theology (like Goshen, Eastern Mennonite, and Hope College) and First Baptist Greenville, Grace Church in Nashville, and Eastlake in Seattle.

3. The Francis Effect

Flory’s observation:
If Pope Francis’ fall 2015 tour is any indicator, he is having an enormous influence on the religious imagination of Catholics, other Christians, and even those of other (and no) faith. His (seemingly) more open and welcoming take on Catholicism, his embrace of anybody who approaches him, and his frankly fearless presentation of a much more friendly Catholicism, has many Catholics hoping for a “Francis effect” that will draw Catholic church dropouts back, or even attract new converts.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis is having a sizable impact on the Church, not only Catholic but evangelicals. Evangelicals such as Rick Warren and Luis Palau hold the Pope in high regard. Will this lead to any kind of resurgence in Catholicism in the United States? I’m doubtful.  But it will continue to repair damage from the sex scandals in the church over the past couple of decades; and that, in and of itself is not a bad thing for the Catholic Church (and for evangelicals as well).

4. The Localization of Church

Flory’s observation:
Smaller, local-oriented churches seem to be popping up all over the place, each with a general emphasis on being an active part of their local communities. Although these tend to mostly be evangelical churches, there are some more experimental Mainline Protestant congregations in the mix. They appeal to an increasing desire among many Christians to be in smaller, more intimate communities and to be an active member in the neighborhoods where they are located.
True… but I think it’s always been this way. The one trend Flory points out is that many megachurches are branching out into small venues and communities. I kind of see this as a swinging back of the pendulum… where regional ‘large’ churches may have been more appealing in the past… small, more local expressions that carry the same DNA and perks of larger churches are now becoming the trend. Again… not a bad thing.

5. Urban Ministry Goes Mainstream

Flory’s observation:
Over the last 15 years or so, there has been a resurgence of churches and other ministries being established in tough urban neighborhoods, while some never left. The Los Angeles Dream Center is a good example of the former, while the Union Rescue Mission is an example of the latter.
Flory points out that there are actually two trends happening simultaneously here.  One is the outreach into tough neighborhoods and under-resourced communities in the inner city. The other is the rising up of major city ‘up-scale’ churches (like Hillsong NYC and LA). You can read all of Flory’s thoughts over at ReligionDispatches.org.
Church trends… things are always changing! 🙂
Good or bad? When it comes right down to it, a more wide-reaching impact on our nations cities can’t be a bad thing, can it?
A more wide-reaching impact on our nations cities can't be a bad thing, can it?Click To Tweet OK… so what do YOU think of these church trends for 2016? Agree? Disagree? And what do you think we’ll look back a year from now and think, “Wow… that REALLY changed in 2016 in the Church?” I’d love to hear your short comments about church trends below… todd