What church will be like in 50 years

  • Church of the futureOnly God knows the future. But if current trends in Christianity continue, we can expect great change in the church by 2062. I predict the church will become both larger and smaller; less centralized and more efficient at meeting people’s needs. Doctrinal differences will continue to shrink, and emphasis on mission will continue to grow. Here are my predictions of what we can expect the church landscape to look like fifty years from now:

    The midsize congregation will disappear.

    The church-on-the-corner that’s been the bedrock of American Christianity since colonial days will cease to exist by 2062. These churches of 50 to 500 souls will become too expensive to staff and their aging buildings too difficult to maintain. These so-called “family churches” are already losing members to megachurches that offer superior preaching, music and programming. Pastors are shunning their pulpits, preferring to plant new congregations. In their place we will see:

    An explosion of satellite campuses and microchurches.

    Megachurches will accelerate the establishment of satellite campuses. Some of these will have a physical building holding hundreds of worshippers, and some will be microchurches of less than 50 people. These churches will have little or no staff. Microchurches will be led by a layperson (or couple) and will meet in private homes or in rented spaces. These will not be “house churches” as we know them now, because they will be affiliates of…

    A small number of cutting edge megachurches led by amazingly talented communicators.

    I predict that about 200 megachurches will come to dominate American Christianity by 2062.

    In the same way WalMart took over the mom-and-pop store, a handful of megachurches will absorb thousands of other congregations – including other megachurches. They’ll do it by planting satellite campuses in thousands of cities and towns in America, delivering their teaching and music via video. Just as there are Baptist churches in nearly every city in America today, in 2062 there will be satellite and microchurch affiliates in every city and town.

    It’s already happening

    In case you hadn’t noticed, most megachurches have stopped building ever-larger buildings. Instead, these king-sized congregations are going multi-site – beaming their teaching (and sometimes their music as well) into satellite campuses. By 2062, 80% of U.S. churchgoers will receive teaching from a pastor who’s not in the room with them.

    The seeds of this innovation were sown in the early 1990s, when churches began adding cameras and screens to their sanctuaries. Projecting a magnified image of the pastor on the screen allowed worshippers to feel closer to him — even in a big room. Worshippers became comfortable seeing their minister on a screen.

    Very quickly, churches like Saddleback began routing that video image to other buildings on their campus. Thus, Saddleback was able to offer multiple musical formats (traditional hymns, hard rock, country-and-western, Polynesian, etc.) but each venue featured the same sermon, piped in by video live from the main sanctuary.

    Without realizing it, Saddleback had proven that believers would accept a sermon delivered by a pastor who wasn’t in the room.

    Once churchgoers began to accept preacher-on-the-screen, the door opened to satellite campuses. Typically a megachurch rents or renovates a space in another part of the city and beams its pastor’s teaching into that venue. Satellites allow one pastor to teach in many locations. He can reach more people, relieve congestion at the main campus and shorten the drive for many attendees.

    But why stop at the city limit? Some megachurches are planting satellite campuses in other cities and states. This trend will continue and accelerate.

    By 2062 denominations as we know them will be gone – replaced by about 200 “mother churches” with tens or even hundreds of thousands of members worshipping in satellite and microchurches in thousands of cities across the globe.

    No denominations? You heard me. Since 1517, churches have branded themselves around denomination. But the old brands have died before – and they’re dying again. In 2062, churches will brand themselves around their teaching pastors (see I Cor. 1:12):

    • 1600s brands: Calvinist, Puritan, Anabaptist, Quaker, etc.
    • 1800s brands: Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Church of God, etc.
    • 2000s brands: Joel Osteen, Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, etc.

    By 2062, America will have about 200 well-known preachers. These men will be the new brands. They’ll all possess three key gifts: 1) God’s spirit, 2) amazing communication skills, and 3) ambition. These men will establish satellite campuses and microchurches in every city and town in America. Their messages will be so compelling and so widely distributed they will make mediocre preaching obsolete. That quality gap will drive many churches-on-the-corner out of business.

    These changes may sound horrifying to you, but in 50 years they will be the norm. And they will bring many advantages:

    1. Consistency. In 2062 when a couple is transferred from Kansas City to Milwaukee they won’t have to leave their church behind. They’ll simply find Pastor Joe Smith’s satellite congregation in Milwaukee. The people around them will be different, but everything else will be the familiar. Same thing when you’re traveling – you can meet in “your church” and hear “your pastor” whether you’re in Seattle or Savannah. It’s the McDonalds-ization of church – consistent quality wherever you go.
    2. Efficiency. One great communicator will be able to reach many more people. Imagine if Charles Spurgeon or D. L. Moody could have preached in 1000 cities at a time. Pastors will be able to expand their reach and establish new congregations at a fraction of the cost of building brick-and-mortar locations.
    3. More money for mission. Churches currently spend an obscene amount on their buildings. Satellite and microchurches are cheap – which will free up funds for mission and service to others.
    4. Specialization. Today’s preachers face the impossible task of teaching new, growing and mature believers with one sermon. But in 2062 some preachers will specialize. I can even see the day when entire congregations are targeted groups of believers based on maturity or calling.

    So, what will these innovations mean for the church and its men?

    1. We’ll need a lot fewer preachers. Future Christians will place the emphasis on sermon quality, rather than having the minister in the room.
    2. Even as the demand for preachers plummets, the need for “campus pastors” is going to explode. These men will function more as chaplains; caring for people’s needs, organizing small groups and keeping their flocks healthy. They’ll answer people’s questions and point them to Jesus. These men are described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. Seminaries should begin preparing overseers, not just preachers.
    3. Small group ministry will become even more important than it is today, as the worship service itself become more impersonal.
    4. Microchurches and satellite campuses will have to cooperate if they want to offer expensive programs like youth and children’s ministries in various cities.
    Overall I believe the shift away from denominations and churches-on-the-corner will be good for men, for a number of reasons:
    1. Men will have more opportunities to get involved. Each small church will need an overseer, and most of these will be men (or couples).
    2. Churches will be less “preacher driven.” Since the local body lacks a paid professional leader, laymen will have to step up and take responsibility, much as they did in the early church (as the Mormons do today).
    3. Satellite campuses often use rented space, which need set up and tear down. Men have traditionally spearheaded these efforts.
    4. There will be less discontent with the quality of the preaching. For men, sermon quality is paramount.
    5. Men will get more personal attention from their campus pastor or group leader. And since he doesn’t have to prepare a weekly sermon, he’ll have more time to disciple his men.

    So what do you think of these predictions? I’d welcome your comments below.

     

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    October 25th, 2012 | David Murrow | 59 Comments |

About The Author

David Murrow

David Murrow is the director of Church for Men, an organization that helps congregations reach more men and boys. In his day job, David works as a television producer and writer. He's the author of four books. He lives in Alaska with his wife, three children, three grandchildren and a dachshund named Pepper.

  • Anonymous

    Very good points, Jason. And I would add that we’ll see all-women home fellowships grow. In the past 5 years, women have now dropped out of the church almost as much as the men (Barna). And singles drop out more than marrieds (U Virginia, Johns Hopkins). Yet these unaffiliateds] women continue to believe in God and pray and desire community. As pastors lose their focus on Jesus and instead focus on preaching the 11th commandment: “You must be married,” we’re going to see the unmarried walk away. They already are.

  • J. Dean

    I would counter, however, that not all of the innovations you described above have been beneficial for the church. Just because something is faddish or trendy doesn’t mean it’s good.

    You mentioned rock bands in the sanctuary. I’ve seen a lot of these rock bands ( and thank you for aptly naming them as such instead of calling them worship bands, by the way) in churches, and the results more often than not are shallow lyrics (jokingly called “seven-eleven” songs: seven words sung eleven times) accompanied by light shows and rhythms that move people emotionally and confuse the Holy Spirit with their own pumped up emotions.

    I’ve seen the slackness in dress to church as well. Now, mind you, I don’t think a person needs to be in a three piece suit or, in the case of women, a full dress with nylons and heels every Sunday. But I’ve also seen people come in looking scuzzy and (for lack of a better way of putting it) sleazy, using the line that “God accepts me the way I am” as an excuse for a lack of hygiene or exposure of too much skin. I’ve seen females in my old Nazarene “mega-church” showing off far too much during church. I’ve seen men come in dressed down to the point where I question whether or not they even took the time to comb their hair before coming in. As people coming together to worship God and hear His Word, I would think that a little more respect is due to the Sovereign of the universe.

    As for the denominational crossover, I question that as well. There is a reason why we have doctrine, and while there are certainly issues with which we can gloss over (for example, how often a church may practice communion), there are also far too many things which cannot be swept under the rug. Let me give you a few examples:

    -Calvinists say that salvation is a monergistic work of God; Arminians believe it is synergistic. Which one do you side with? And what happens when your congregation is divided on the matter?

    -When communion comes, which doctrinal variant do you promote? Do you promote Zwingl’s belief that the bread and wine are merely symbolic? Do you go to Calvin’s take, which is that they convey a real grace? Do you follow Luther, who said that the sacraments of the Eucharist contain a real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ? Or do you “swim the Tiber” and hold to Rome’s more extreme view of transubstantiation? Do you claim ignorance as to whether or not any of these views have validity, or immerse yourself in the postmodern lie that all of them are true?

    -How about baptism? Do you embrace padeo- or credobaptism? Do you take a view of baptism that’s symbolic, or one that conveys real grace?

    -What about something like the charismatic gifts? What happens when you have a continuationist pastor with a cessationist congregation (or vice versa)? What happens when people start claiming to have spiritual gifts, yet the other half claims that these are nothing more than personal euphoric experiences? What happens when you have somebody come in and teach that speaking in tongues is required for evidence of salvation (and this IS taught in charismatic/pentecostal circles)?

    But hey, let’s not stop there: how about the Trinity? What do you do if somebody comes in and starts teaching Arianism? Or how about Sabellianism? How about if you have a Oneness Pentecostal decide to teach a class on his beliefs? Or what about differences concerning limited vs. universal atonement? Or losing salvation? Or a host of other subjects?

    I realize that in this modern age of unity superseding all other matters, denominations sound backward and stagnant, and there is some truth to the extent that the church needs to see unity. But the solution is not to take doctrinal differences like the ones I described above and sweep them under the rug; SOMEBODY is right or wrong about doctrinal differences, and it is because of these doctrinal differences that we have denominations. To dismiss the differences so capriciously is to further biblical and doctrinal illiteracy. Denominations will not simply “go away.”

    Again, I repeat, what is new and trendy is not necessarily good. That the church is looking to copy the world in its style should at the very least give us pause as to whether or not we are becoming too much like the wicked society in which we live (Romans 12:2, I John 2:15).

  • http://www.churchformen.com David Murrow

    Thanks for your lengthy reply. I’m not saying these trends are positive either. Yet they’re real. They’re growing. We can stand in front of the oncoming train and be run over by it, or we can climb aboard, asking God how these things can be used for his glory.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.porterfield.391 Jim Porterfield

    There are a couple of points I would like to add to this discussion:

    1) David indicates that sermon preparation “is a burden” from which this scenario would free pastors. I’m a preacher’s kid (Dad’s in his 60th year of preaching) and a Worship Pastor and have served in numerous churches under God-called, Spirit-gifted pastors. These men feel like they’ve been imprisoned if they are not allowed to preach. To them it is not a burden – it may be a lot of work, but it is a high calling and a privilege to them. It is the purpose for which God created them. The mega-church scenario would deprive them of fulfilling their God given call.

    2) The active, local church statistically tends to have a “halo” effect on the community in which it stands – crime is lowered compared to areas without an active church, housing values increased, felt standard of living improved, etc. This halo effect only extends a few blocks around the church, but it is real. Unfortunately, the halo does not grow significantly with the size of the church. Whereas a “churched” person may seek out the appropriate counselor at the mega-church across town in his or her time of need, the un-churched will not. But I can testify from experience that they will come in to the church in their neighborhood in that time of need – and therein is one of the greatest evangelical, world-changing opportunities of the church. In his sixty years of ministry, dad has performed over 2,000 weddings and >5,000 funerals of people who were not on the big churches’ radars – oh yeah, and, until the last couple of years, preached virtually every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and led Bible study on Wednesday night. Several other of the pastors I’ve worked with have done the same thing. So he’s not alone.

    3) Changing the style of music in a local church or switching from paper to digital information distribution over a 50 year period does not change the structure or dynamic of the church. The mega-church nightmare David presents does – there is no comparison of effect. While the local church and the house church are both scriptural models, the mega-church is not. As described by David and as currently practiced, the mega-church model is absolutely no different than the denominational model (also un-scriptural). It is also an authoritarian model with no autonomy in the local body. It is hard for me to conceive a less scriptural model than the non-local, multi-campus mega-church.

    4) Mega-churches suck leadership and fiscal resources out of local churches at an alarming rate and hasten their demise. Mega-churches have a very valid ministry and purpose and I enjoy listening to many of their preachers. But Satan has not been able in 2000 years to provide a more effective way of killing the local church. It would be nice if the mega-churches would wake up to the damage they are doing and find a way to minister in the dynamic way they do while partnering with local churches to further God’s kingdom, not just expand their own brand.

    5) The more effective a preacher is in WINNING people to the Lord and creating DISCIPLES, the more vehemently Satan will attack him. It is crucial that members of mega-churches pray dilligenlty to protect their pastors. Recent history tells us that a change of leadership, which eventually must happen in every church, can be disastrous for mega-churches. I, for one, believe the Mega-church world David describes is a recipe for disaster.

    6) Be careful about long term predictions – Our inner-city church in southwest Dallas was declared a “dying church” in 1975. While the church is now just barely surviving, during the interim period that “dying church” gave over $2,470,000.00 to missions locally and around the world and baptized 772 people, an average of 20 people per year. It is still one of the leading churches in the state in per capita baptisms. But the financial resource limitations the church now faces may end that ministry in the next year. Many of the members have left the church to join local mega-churches. (And no, the mega-churches they’ve joined don’t come close in per capita baptisms) We’ve approached some of these churches to whom our members have gone to seek assistance – the only way they’ll consider helping is if our pastor quits preaching, we beam in their pastor’s preaching, and we change our name to become one of their campuses. Real kingdom building attitude – don’t you think. And yes, I know I’m a bit upset about it.

    But the worst thing of all: Let’s say there are eventually only about 200 churches – tens of thousands of local churches join the thousands that are already gone. The seminaries are gone because they will be deemed irrelevant and overkill – why pay for a seminary for only 200 preachers? – so new preachers are not being trained. Now Satan only has to find a way to kill, incapacitate, or cause debilitating conflict in 200 churches. How long do you think it will take him?

  • Jamiel Cotman

    Love this comment!

    Very informative.

    You: It has been proven that when religious movements do grow, they always grow along family and relational networks. But real new-convert growth only happens along relational and interpersonal lines for the most part.

    Me: Do they? I didn’t get that from Rodney Stark. What he seemed to do is take an objective view of how Christianity developed to what we know it as today, simultaneously shattering a few myths. I didn’t see a clear position on whether or not it was relationships or charisma. But if it did slip by me, and is in fact true, that is no indicator that it will continue to develop this way. With the rise of technology, the face of
    “relationship networks” has drastically changed. If a pastor could have
    communicated through Skype, Twitter, and Email hundreds of years ago he would
    have.

    You: What you seem unaware of it is a
    white-man’s Church driven by the values of white western men.

    Me: True. But I wouldn’t say those values won’t
    in fact be widely accepted. I’m an African American and the “white man’s”
    values work fine for me. [The only exceptions would be regarding cultural and
    ethnic preferences]. I see that as indicative of the remaining worlds’ desire to
    adopt the same.

    You: Meanwhile the Hispanic, Black, immigrant, and third world Churches will continue to grow through robust face-to-face interaction.

    Me: The mega church I attend grows rapidly. Our neighboring mega churches as well have several mega church sites. These clusters of ministries are each 95% African American. To reiterate my point, we use technology to augment face-to-face interaction, not eliminate it entirely, as
    you seem to suggest.

    I think Western culture can lead the future development of our faith. It’s not fair to compare it to a past Christianity during which it was absent.

  • PastorToddMurphy

    Bold and honest Stephen. Thanks so much for your input. I am working on a writing project. Would love to grab a phone call with you some time and hear a little more from your first hand experience if you are open to it. info@sjchurch.org

  • Norm Donnan

    You could very well be right,and if it makes it a place people want to be and come under the gospel and teaching of Christ,it would be awesome.

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  • Ozarks Sentinel

    I completely disagree with much of this article. Sure the small churches are struggling and will end up closing for lack of funds, but the mega churches? Seriously? They are losing people in droves! The mega churches are not what any one really wants and their “superior teaching” is often fluff for the masses. Want to know what the church will look like in 50 years? I believe it will look much more like the early Christian church than those of today. Home churches are on the rise and mega churches are failing quickly. Christians need and want fellowship, something the family church and the mega churches fail at terribly. It’s a service a handshake and that’s it for a week. That is not what Christ wanted.

    We may live in a “wired world” that wants “instant communication” but that is not what Christianity is all about. Those who truly seek him, are not going to find much satisfaction with a so-called shepherd who isn’t even in the same room as they are. If this article is your vision of the church, you may want to reconsider exactly what your idea of the church is – the Body of Christ is a personal communication and that requires fellowship, not a computer screen and a video conference sermon.