Churches like trends, often believing that if they ride the wave of the latest trend they can become bigger, better or more relevant.
In many cases this may be true but, as a Christian educator, I am more interested in the “trend after the trend.”
I am interested in the new ideas and insights that emerge after the prevailing trends have been tried and evaluated.
Often, the “trend after the trend” is more intentional and thoughtful, reflecting an understanding of faith formation at a deeper level.
The following examples show some of the “trends after the trends” that I see emerging in churches today.
- Technology is a current trend from which churches have definitely benefited.
Church life has become more efficient. Technology has made it easier for churches to gather and disseminate information as well as conduct conversations and meetings without having to come to the church building.
Many churches even offer online Bible study classes and self-directed discipleship modules.
For all the good of technology, the trend after the trend is a growing awareness that efficiency is not the heartbeat of congregational life, and communication via technology cannot take the place of face-to-face encounters, fellowship and human touch.
Mentor relationships for new members, fellowship groups and pastoral care training for deacons are examples of new trends that emphasize the importance of relationships for spiritual growth.
- For several years, a trend has been for churches to offer multiple worship services in order to appeal to various age groups, from traditional to contemporary to liturgical.
On any given Sunday, a church could offer as many as two or three worship services to appeal to the tastes of teenagers, young adults and senior adults.
However, there is an emerging sense that giving persons what they like may not be giving them what they need.
Providing a variety of worship services can keep folks happy, but it can also separate and segregate the congregation.
The trend after the trend is an awareness that for congregations to grow in spiritual vitality, they must find a common time to regularly worship and pray together.
Offering one worship service to meet the needs of a variety of people is hard work, but it is a reminder that it requires work to build community.
Community, relationships and growth don’t just happen; they require intentionality, commitment and some give-and-take by all.
- Age-graded programming has long been a trend in churches, which reflects the belief that people learn best with others of the same age and developmental needs.
However, today the church finds itself in a situation that it has never been in before.
On any given Sunday, there could be five or six generations of people attending church. Each of these generations brings with them very different perspectives about church, theology and worship.
Some churches are finding that intergenerational programming offers some added benefits that age-graded programming cannot provide.
Different generations can offer a wealth of knowledge and experience to one another.
Senior adults can help children understand the history and heritage of their church.
And young adults can help middle-aged adults understand how the church can best provide opportunities for their spiritual growth.
The growing trend of intergenerational encounters can happen during Sunday school, Wednesday nights or across the table while sharing a meal.
- Short-term intensive discipleship classes have been the trend for providing foundation into Christian theology and practice for those desiring to make a profession of faith and be baptized.
While such classes are efficient and focused, wiser minds have come to realize that everything one needs to know about becoming a Christian cannot be learned in four to six weeks.
Following Christ is an ongoing journey of growth and change. Therefore, new Christians can benefit from those persons who are farther down the road in their faith journey.
Mentor relationships that provide the opportunity for new Christians to be paired with more mature Christians for conversation, questions, support and guidance is another emerging trend.
These relationships can last for a year or longer and are particularly beneficial for children who often learn best by watching and imitating the behaviors of adults.
- A goal of developing lay leaders in the church has been a trend in congregational churches in recent years.
Helping lay persons to take a role and responsibility in the mission and ministry of the church is a necessary priority.
Many books have been written and workshops offered about what it means to be a good leader.
While such resources may be helpful, they often provide an outsider’s opinion about the characteristics of a good leader and how to develop those characteristics in a potential leader.
Fortunately, there is a growing awareness that leaders are not made from without; they are formed from within.
Thus, the trend after the trend now focuses on helping lay persons discover their spiritual gifts and then finding ways in which those gifts can be used to enrich the life of the congregation.
By discovering one’s spiritual gifts, the potential for leadership emerges from within and from those traits that are already a natural part of who God created them to be.
Karen Massey is the associate dean for master’s programs at the McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.
Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of articles on church trends. An article by Zach Dawes on church trends observed by four Baptist denominational leaders will appear tomorrow. Previous articles are available on “the Garden State,” missional engagement, Hispanic Baptists, technology in Christian education and social media.