Thom Rainer is probably one of the top experts in predicting what church will look like in coming generations. He has completed extensive research into both church life and general trends of life in America.
His work has qualified him to speak with some authority in regards to what Christian leaders should be looking forward to in the coming years.
Yet even as an “expert” he is cautious about predictions.
…much of this research provides us information and facts about today’s realities. It does not offer certitude for future trends.
The process is analogous to weather forecasting. We can see all the ingredients that will likely cause a specific outcome. But those factors can change, so we can never say that we are 100 percent certain.
1. Our nation will see the emergence of the largest generational mission field in over a century.
….born between 1980 and 2000…… estimates now are that only 15 percent are Christian. With a huge population of nearly 80 million, that means that nearly 70 million young people are not Christians.
2. The dominant attitude of this huge generation toward Christianity will be largely indifferent.
Only 13 percent of the Millennials rank any type of spiritual matter as important to their lives. They are not angry at churches and Christians. They simply ignore us because they do not deem us as meaningful or relevant.
See my post from Wednesday November 13 for some other thoughts on this same idea.
3. Senior adult ministries in churches will experience steep declines.
As the large Baby Boomer generation moves into their older years, they will resist any suggestion that they are senior adults, no matter how senior they may be. Unfortunately, many churches are slow to adapt to new realities. If they do senior adult ministry the way they’ve always done it, it will be headed for failure.
As one who is part of this demographic let me say this — I am not a “senior adult”. I am an adult who has plenty of experience and skills to share. Churches should be less fascinated with the cool and shiny “youth culture” and begin making missionaries of boomers who can reach those mentioned in point one of Rainer’s article.
4. The large Boomer generation will become more receptive to the gospel.
Our data is anecdotal for now, but we are seeing indications that the Boomers may actually become more interested in spiritual matters in general, and Christianity specifically. If so, this trend will be counter to other trends, where adults tend to become less receptive to the gospel as they age. The Baby Boomers have tried it all and found no joy. They may likely turn to the hope of the gospel.
Again — the veteran disciples should not be shuffled off to senior ministries of inaction and social events, but activated as missionaries with a vast pool of skill and experience.
5. Family will be a key value for both of the large generations.
For the Millennials, family is their most important value. Nearly 8 out of 10 Millennials ranked family as the important issue in their lives. They told us that they had healthy relationships with their parents who, for the most part, are Baby Boomers.
Some churches say they are family friendly, but few actually demonstrate that value. Churches that reach both of these generations will make significant changes to become the type of churches that foster healthy family relationships.
Once again we come back to some basic truths. Disciples need to be making disciples — regardless of their age. Rather than programming to age bracket we should be challenging each generation with the need for showing Christ in a relational discipleship setting.
Trend projecting is a meaningless exercise if it fails to engender action.
Ultimately each local church must determine where God is leading the congregation. In the case of the five trends noted here, the opportunities seem significant.
May the response of Christians and churches be nothing less than radical obedience.
And isn’t discipleship after all simply obedience to Christ’s commands?