Ten [unexpected] Trends to Surface in 2020

Sam Rainer

January 8, 2011

I returned last night from a two-week  mission trip in the Amazon jungle, ministering among the Wai Wai people. Once I collect my thoughts (and recover from jet lag) I will blog about short-term mission trip lessons for the established church. In the meantime, I am posting a portion of an article I recently wrote for Church Executive.

I once served under a leader who said he didn’t have a vision beyond the next 12 months. His point was that everything changes rapidly, and no one knows the future. So why plan beyond what you do not know for certain? In looking far into the future, he believed leaders wasted too much time on fruitless thinking in which attainable goals are never achieved.

He had a point. Much time, brain energy, printed paper and blogosphere megabytes have been wasted on fruitless plans for an uncertain future. Despite the downsides of wasted time and premature predictions, I believe the best leaders risk being wrong for the sake of a better understanding of where we might end up; that’s part of what makes a leader.

Leaders move followers toward something — goals off in the distance and in the future. Allow me to risk being doubly wrong — sharing with you not only 10 church trends for the next 10 years, but ones that may be unexpected to some. I believe these trends are critical for leaders to know as they lead their churches to advance God’s kingdom in the coming decade.

The heterogeneous church explodes. Perhaps the most important, this first trend involves not only pragmatic issues, but theological issues as well. As the younger generation ages, they will not be represented by the homogeneous unit principal that was championed in the early years of the church growth movement. Basically, this principal states that people desire to worship and serve in church with similar people, and the best way to reach people is with others who are similar.

Boomers began to change this thinking. Many sought diversity — they intentionally championed it. For many Millennials, diversity (or heterogeneity) is normal. In the future, homogeneous units will still form — there’s a reason why people attend Star Trek conventions (though it is lost on me). People with common interests, characteristics, life stages and languages will still gravitate towards each other. The difference with the younger generation is that these divides will not be as distinct, specifically in ethnic terms. The United States will be minority white by 2042 — preschools much sooner, by 2021. The Millennial generation will gravitate towards heterogeneous churches because they represent what is normal in their generation.

The diverse church will explode in growth over the next 10 years. And instead of looking at this trend through the lens of pragmatic church growth practices, I believe it needs to be viewed as a picture of the Gospel. What man segregates, the Gospel unifies. Get on board with this trend not because it will grow your church, but rather because it was God’s plan for his church from the beginning.

Boomer ministries boom. Boomers will be a different type of senior. In fact, don’t call Boomers “seniors.” They are not part of their parents’ generation — they aren’t seniors. How senior adult ministry was done with the previous generation will not be as favorable with the Boomer generation. There is just as large a generation gap between the Boomers and the Greatest Generation as there is between Boomers and their children. Boomers don’t get on buses and visit places with their friends. If you’re wondering why your “senior” ministry keeps getting smaller and older, and no “fresh faces” are joining, it’s because Boomers don’t want to be lumped in with their parents.

You can read the entire article containing the remaining eight trends here. And feel free to comment about your thoughts or prognostications below.

6 comments on “Ten [unexpected] Trends to Surface in 2020”

  1. Jeff Walters says:

    I very much appreciate your post, but I must take issue with one part. In your comments on heterogeneous churches, I think that you are misinterpreting the fading of racism in younger generations of Americans (fading, not disappearance) as a decline in the importance of the Homogeneous Unit Principle — a valid missiological principle. The former is true (praise God), but the latter is not.

    Donald McGavran argued that people prefer to become Christians without crossing racial, caste, or language barriers. Later, as he considered homogeneous units beyond his field of India, McGavran contended that the HUP was an “elastic concept” dependent upon the context in which it was used. A HU in North America would look very different than one in other parts of the world. While it may be true that some since McGavran have misinterpreted the HUP as exclusive — we should not allow this race or this ethnic group to worship with this one — McGavran’s life and ministry demonstrated quite the opposite.

    I would argue that the HUP is still valid today but that, for many of today’s American young people, the ideal of multi-ethnicity has become in integral part of their culture. That’s a good thing. It has become a cultural feature of their homogeneous unit along with language, age, etc.

  2. Sam Rainer says:

    Great points, Jeff. And you’re correct about McGavran’s life and ministry. My point was more general–that our practice of the HUP in churches often carries over to race. I assume most believers would agree with the concept of a multi-ethnic church. They just don’t evangelistically (and passionately) pursue it.

    1. Jeff Walters says:

      It’s a difficult issue (for me, at least). You raise the important question about the difference between believers (who should see others as God sees them but often don’t because of our sinfulness) and the world (who do not have the redeemed viewpoint). The difficulty is how to remove barriers in evangelism and church planting while discipling people beyond their prejudice. I, like you, look forward to the day when, to paraphrase Dr. King, the color of our children’s skin will not be a barrier.

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