Over the next 15 years both older and younger Millennials will be taking more and more of a lead in churches, while facing rapidly shifting global trends. If all the things we're seeing hold true, here are 5 predictions for what the church might look like then.
1. It will be smaller
Over the coming decades more people will be living in cities than ever. Around the world, larger churches in these dense urban areas are building up, not out like American counterparts. With the focus though on neighborhoods and unique communities that come with city living, the church in 15 years could very well take on the form of a parish; smaller faith communities focused singularly on a small, geographic area. This shift to smaller would also fit the Millennial draw to intimate and relational environments.
2. It will be attractionally missional
Discussion around church growth models today often revolves around whether the church is attractional or missional – is it evangelistically-focused with a dominant emphasis on drawing the community in for a Sunday experience, or is it more outwardly focused on community transformation and social good? The church in 15 years may be expected to be both: theologically deep and discipleship-focused gatherings, where strong personal growth pushes people to serve and transform, and spurs 1:1 evangelism. Especially led by Millennials, churches with this DNA are going to attract engagement by being deep and missional. Church identity will be inside-out rather than outside-in.
3. It will be funded differently
Thanks to a recession and overall wariness of institutions, Millennials think about money differently. The carte blanche and ready giving of previous generations to the church will probably not be the norm of the future. Millennials make poor donors, but great investors, and will be more inclined to give to projects and initiatives they can see making real-time differences in their local community. This will come into even sharper relief if the urban, parish model takes hold. Innovative funding mechanisms through social media, like crowd-funding, could become par for the course. Churches that do this well will create brand loyalty, from which Millennials are more likely to also support basic staff and facility needs (should that stay the same).
4. It will be holistic
Millennials are not good at pigeon-holing their lives. Generations past had better ways of separating work, life, and play, but a technology-driven world has removed those boundaries for the generations coming up. This will be in play in how they perceive the church as well – the church in 15 years will be expected to fill a role in the professional, not just spiritual lives, of its members. Whether that’s mentorship, seed-funding for a small-business start-up, micro-loans, training and professional development, etc., the church will need to provide holistic value.
5. It will be local
This one isn’t about Millennials – it’s about the generation after them, Generation Z. Preliminary research points to Generation Z being more plodding, consistent, and less optimistic than Millennials. Growing up in the wake of 9/11 and constant surveillance, Generation Z will also be less global and more local, choosing to stay closer to home and be creative and entrepreneurial there. Along with urbanization, this could signal a church culture in 15 years that is ever more focused on city transformation and urban development than global missions overseas. In densely diverse cities, evangelism and missions could take an intercultural approach, versus the geographical one that has fueled much of church activity the last few hundred years.
What do you think the church will look like in 15 years? Comment or tweet me @zachyentzer.