Seven church trends in 2024: The stable church is no more

Jan. 18, 2024

By Rev. Rick King

Many of you know I follow cultural trends that are having an impact on American religion. I find it valuable to seek out others’ perspectives on cultural trends and leadership, and one person I follow closely is Canadian pastor, blogger, podcaster, and trainer Carey Nieuwhof. As a Canadian, he’s part of a nation that’s about 10 years ahead of the US in becoming a post-Christian society. This series of columns is on church trends in 2024 that find particular resonance with our church as we engage the cultural forces at work and seek transformation in response.

Since November, our church’s Executive Board has been engaged in what I call a Future Search—a process of group discernment. This involved a look at the recent past and what we’ve learned from its events and activities; a snapshot of our present reality, the threats and opportunities within the church and the culture surrounding it; and at its meeting this past Tuesday night, developing future scenarios to present to all of you, beginning at the annual meeting on Sunday, Jan. 28.

The reason we did this is plain to anybody who attended last Sunday’s budget preview. As recently as 2019-20, Falcon Heights Church was able to maintain membership and financial stability, neither growing appreciably nor declining. This is true of a lot of churches.

After surviving the pandemic pretty well in 2020-21, we began to see the inexorable effects of cultural trends away from religious affiliation, the decline of civic institutions, economic stressors, political polarization, and the like. And they’ve had a big impact on the environment in which “stable” churches operate.

The bottom line for us, which we took away from Sunday’s budget meeting, is that we have to do something different; business as usual is no longer enough. Carey Nieuwhof puts it bluntly: “Being part of a stable church gave people the false security that they had time to make any changes they wanted. That’s now all but gone.”

He quotes survey data showing that 54 percent of churches are in moderate to significant decline, and 33 percent of churches reporting “some growth” or “significant growth.” Interestingly, he notes that much of that growth is simply people leaving declining churches and joining vital ones—ones with a compelling mission that are doing things differently.

I think our leaders have embraced the future conversation earlier than some churches, not waiting until the signs of decline become undeniable before beginning to act. But we can’t waste any time.

Please make plans NOW to attend and participate in our congregation’s annual meeting at the end of this month. We need YOU to be a part of this stage of our group discernment process. The future is not far off; it’s NOW.