Declining Attendance and 7 Preaching Shifts That Are Happening Right Now

Declining Attendance And 7 Preaching Shifts That Are Happening Right Now

Every week you host services at your church hoping to reach more people, which is admirable and appropriate.

The problem is that the culture is changing and never bothered to ask your permission.

In many ways, preachers are using a method that’s been around for centuries…if not millennia…which on the one hand is wonderful. The challenge is that culture is changing so rapidly, fewer and fewer people are hearing the message every year. At least that’s the case in many, if not most, churches.

If you think that the cultural change is over, fasten your seat belts. It’s not showing any sign of decelerating any time soon.

Here are seven things that are changing right now.

Wise leaders will see the change and respond. As we’ve said before, leaders who see the future can seize the future.

1. People Aren’t Automatically Coming to the Message Anymore

It’s almost singularly true that throughout human history to date, the only way to get the message was for people to assemble to hear it.

Just think about Jesus’ day: The crowds assembled to hear him. And in every century since then, that’s how it worked.

But technology has changed things so much that our culture doesn’t operate that way any more.

In the past, people brought themselves to the message. Today, you bring the message to people.

Think about how profoundly things have changed in the last decade. Amazon and other online options means you can get anything delivered to you overnight…and you rarely if ever have to leave the house. The shift in how humans (here in the West) behave is profound.

In addition, people are far more mobile. This idea that you’ll be in one community every weekend to visit a set church at a set time is growing increasingly archaic by the day. People just don’t behave that way anymore. (See 7 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2018 for more on this.)

And whether you think they should behave that way is irrelevant, especially if you want to be effective.

I think it’s very possible to see in-person attendance growth AND online attendance growth (we’re seeing both where I serve at Connexus). The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. But to do that, you have to take both in-person ministry and online outreach seriously.

Preachers, everyone you want to reach is online. So act like it.

Surprisingly, few churches invest anything more than pennies on the dollar on their online presence. And very few preachers take online seriously because they’re not even sure it counts.

In 2018, a preacher asking if online counts is like a taxi driver asking if Uber counts.

2. Easy Answers Are History

Decades ago, the local preacher was essentially the source for everything about the scriptures, Christianity and faith. Sure, an avid Christian might read a few books, listen to other talks or attend a conference.

But information was scarce and cost money.

That meant that what a preacher said carried a lot of weight, and people by default accepted it.

Sure, often faith crumbled when a teenager went to college and was exposed to new information, but not every kid went to college.

For too long, preachers got away with easy answers.

Fast forward today, and it could hardly be more different.

Just assume everyone hearing your message, especially non-Christians investigating faith, know as much or more about a subject as you do. And even though they may not, they can easily Google anything you say. And they will.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of misinformation and bad information online. But that doesn’t stop people from researching.

Add to that the reality that we live in an age of strong opinions weakly formed, and the easy assumption that what you say as a preacher will carry to the day is gone.

Which means a little more homework on your part. Not only should you do a little research into the text (which is so important), you should do a little more research into the culture.

The future belongs to preachers who exegete the culture as well as they exegete the text.

It’s the only way you can understand what your audience is thinking.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.

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