Home Pastors Articles for Pastors Two Major, Under-the-Radar Changes in American Churches

Two Major, Under-the-Radar Changes in American Churches

I never would have predicted these changes would take place so rapidly. Indeed, I am surprised to be writing about them today as major changes. Still, they are a growing reality.

These two major changes have a similar theme: decentralization. The first is a decentralization of facilities. The second is a decentralization of leadership. Let’s look at each of these major shifts.

Decentralization of facilities

Just 10 years ago, you could count on 99 percent of churches having a singular address. All of the church’s buildings were at one location, which is where most small groups and Sunday school classes met. Though it was biblically errant to say so, many people referred to that one location as “the church.”

Today, an ever-growing number of churches have multiple locations. Among megachurches—those congregations with an average worship attendance of 2,000 or more—the move to the multisite model of operations has been dramatic. Just 10 years ago, 27 percent of megachurches were multisite. Today that number is 62 percent! Such a massive change is breathtaking in scope and influence.

However, the multisite model is not limited to large churches. An increasing number of medium-sized and small churches are moving in this direction as well.

Further decentralization of facilities is evident in where small groups meet. A decade ago, the most common sites were classrooms at the singular address. Now home groups and other off-site meetings are becoming the norm.

Decentralization of leadership

Though many churches have had a plurality of leadership for years, the trend toward decentralization of leadership has become more common.

For example, in multi-staff churches 10 years ago, the pastor was either known as “pastor” or “senior pastor.” Since the leader who was a senior pastor was often perceived to be at the top of an organizational chart, “senior” referred to the person at the pinnacle of a hierarchal system.

But today the label “lead pastor” has become normative in a plurality of churches. While it may not seem that big a deal, the use of “lead pastor” symbolizes this move toward decentralization.

In most cases, the title refers to a person who is a leader among equals. If that sounds like an oxymoron, it was intended to be that way. The lead pastor is on a team of peers, but one person is deemed to be the “greater equal” on the team.