We are experiencing one of the quickest times of change the church has ever seen. Some are questioning if the church as we know it in America will remain intact over the next 20 years.
Cultural shifts, societal pressures, and technological changes have created what some would call a perfect storm for the organized church.
While some congregations are growing, many more are shrinking—creating a cumulative downturn for the American church. Our research shows that more than 60 million adults have not only walked away from their home congregations, they’ve left the organized church altogether. They’ve joined the massive group we call the Dones.
Our studies reveal that the exodus is not over. Another ten percent of current churchgoers say they are “almost done.” They’re planning right now to pack up and leave.
Those who do consider themselves regular churchgoers are attending less frequently. The idea of weekly church involvement is becoming a quaint memory for many.
Though many of the changes facing the church may be concerning, some may actually help to spur new thinking and possibilities for the future of the church. We looked for some implications at Group’s recent Future of the Church summit. We spotted a number of trends to watch—and plan for in the coming years. We noted several major trend lines:
- Changing demographics
- New staffing profiles
- Redefining discipleship
- Rethinking church
CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS. Recent headlines in national media have announced, “White Christian America Is Dying.” By 2024, white Christians will no longer make up the majority of voters. And by 2050, America will have no majority race. We’ll all be in a minority group. Already today 43 percent of Millennials are non-white—the highest of any generation.
The shifts are being driven by immigration and birth rates. Latinos accounted for 54 percent of America’s population growth between 2000 and 2014. About a third of the U.S. Catholic population is Hispanic, but that’s declining. About 55 percent of Hispanics are Catholic, 22 percent are Protestant, and 18 percent are unaffiliated.
Now the fastest growing sector is Asian, which accounts for the biggest source of new immigrants currently. About 42 percent of Asian Americans identify as Christian.
These growing populations provide new opportunities for the church. Some congregations are providing services in other languages, while offering youth and children’s programming in English. Some are sharing their facilities with other ethnic congregations. Some struggling white congregations are finding new vitality by merging with minority congregations.
Rapidly changing demographics will certainly affect the American church. In upcoming Holy Soup articles, we’ll look at the other major Future of the Church trends.