So, first of all, I want to make it ABUNDANTLY clear that, while I love facts and stats, this is all anecdotal. All of the major points in this article are my passive assumptions based on trends I’ve noticed, friends I’ve talked to, or books and articles I’ve read over the last few years (of which there are too many to list. Contact me if you would like some resources). That said, the points aren’t baseless. None of us know the future, and trends can change any direction at any time.

Second of all, this article is not speaking about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of these potential changes. By that, I not only mean the truthfulness of their manifestation, but I also mean the moral, ethical, and biblical implications of the possible changes. In other words, even if I’m right, I’m not talking about if the changes themselves please God. Maybe some do please Him, and maybe some don’t. I’m sure, like many things in life, it is WAY more complex than that. When I say Christianity in this article, I’m speaking with regard to Christianity at large, not just the CofC (of which I am a part). With the above in mind, the following are my “top eight” for the future of American Christianity.

Jesse’s Top Eight Changes in American Christianity in the Next 30 Years

  1. Christianity will grow worldwide, but percentages will decrease in America.

The trajectory of Christianity has increased in places like Africa and Asia for the last several years. However, there is a massive decrease in those who consider themselves Christians in the States. Many people still consider themselves agnostic, with a tendency towards general spirituality. Many consider themselves Jesus followers, but not Christians in the traditional (institutionalized) sense. Many consider themselves agnostic with a tendency towards Christian beliefs and values. But fewer and fewer consider themselves Christian. The good news is that hard atheism is not NEARLY as “healthy” as it once was (mostly because hard atheism has a hard time dealing with the problem of good, objective/subjective reasoning, cause and effect, objective morality, and altruism). My prediction is that this trend will continue. Our institutionalized churches will hurt, but the number of those who claim Christianity in the States will be similar to what it is now because of immigration. That’s especially true with the Hispanic community, which generally trends strongly in the Christian direction. In 30 years, the Hispanic community will make up close to 50% of our population.

2. Churches that average less than 250 will die or merge, and larger churches will be rare.

The average church in America has 75 members on a normal Sunday. With 60% of our young people leaving and never coming back, and with the “Silent Generation” passing away in the next 30 years, I don’t see the average attendance getting better. Now, there could be a revival, church plants, and so on. But if the trends continue, I don’t see small and medium-size churches lasting until 2052 in any kind of institutionalized sense. Churches with more than 250 will remain, but they will cut many of their staffing expenses. Also, I think larger churches will be rare outside of bigger cities. Foreign missions will need to learn how to innovate and support themselves. America will have to focus its resources on America. The States will be the new mission field.

3. Larger churches will focus on Christian community and house churches.

The shift from the stage to the neighbor is coming. Very few churches, even larger churches, will have pews facing stages. We will worship when we gather (we worship 24/7), but the focus of the gathering will be communion and edification in Christ. Also, Sundays will be a day of work. Those who still choose to commit in the post-Chrisitan American churches will gather, worship, encourage, partake in the love feast, and then exit the building to serve all people, especially those of the household of faith. The focus will be on community and family. We will see more tables and fewer pews. Furthermore, larger churches will facilitate autonomous house churches. By that, I mean that much of the membership in larger churches will be house churches that choose to join with other house churches to do the work of the Lord under one “umbrella church.” There will be an online presence at larger churches and at house churches, but those will be geared towards potential converts, not embedded Christians. There will be as many Christians meeting in homes as there are meeting in buildings. This, inevitably, will make gathering data on the demographics much more difficult for researchers.

4. Institutionalized legalism in the church will be the fringe, but legalism isn’t going anywhere.

Legalism is the tale as old as time. And modern “wokeism” and “cancel culture” is just the same song; different verse. Legalism will always have a presence in our churches, but I think that it will be the fringe in whatever churches are left from our institutionalized facilities. That doesn’t mean that I think there will never be disagreements, or passionate arguments, or even disfellowship. I’m just saying that it will be rare that the reason for any of that is because of a lack of ecumenicalism. If anything, it could be that we are at times too ecumenical but choose to err on the side of grace. Again, I’m not saying if that is God’s will or not. I’m just saying that I see the trend coming. That said, we will still see a lot of legalism in two places. First, many of our home churches will be more left-leaning than our “2052 progressives” are even comfortable with. But many of our house churches will be those who think that what is left of the institutionalized church is too liberal. Not all of those will be legalistic, but many will be. Second, outside of America, the Christians that we abandoned in foreign countries will likely be where we are now when it comes to theology. Much of that has to do with their resources. I hope that, with tools like the internet in most places, they move forward quickly and find unity. Many of those churches are legalistic and will continue to be legalistic. We are to blame.

5. Consumer Christianity will shrink tremendously.

I wrote an article a while back that talked about consumer Christianity (I will link it at the bottom of the page somewhere). Consumer Christianity is when we treat the “organism” that we call the body of Christ like a business “organization.” We are there to be served, not serve. We are there to throw money at the work, not time and passion. We are there for our needs, not the needs of others. And If things ever feel too complicated, we can just leave. Don’t like the music? Leave! Don’t like a decision that was made? Leave! Did someone hurt or offend you? Leave! Don’t like a teaching someone has? Leave! Who cares, right? Yeah, that’s not going to last. There are appropriate times to leave (abuse, etc.), but we are quick to go find something “better” in our business culture. We will no longer shop for churches like we are shopping for a country club. Gosh, I could go on about this, but I’ll save it for later. You will be forced to treat your church family as a real family. You will work out the pain. You will compromise or at least be civil about disagreements. You will not insist on your own way. At least, that will be the general rule and not just the exception. We are human, but we will do better than we do now. When there are fewer churches, Christians will either stop being Christians, or they will learn to love one another despite (or even because of) their differences. Now, you might say, “I don’t need the church to be a Christian.” You are only half right. Salvation is in the body of Christ, and the church is His body. The universal body is spiritual, but He expects us to plug into a local body of some kind for growth, encouragement, love, and service. Our mindset about these things will change. At least it will change for the Christians who are left.

6. There will be less political division in the church.

I know somebody just spat out their coffee on this one (if they haven’t already)! “Okay, Jesse. Enough with your fantasies. This will never happen this side of Heaven!” I could be wrong! I’ve admitted that from the beginning. However, I think it’s very possible that the church will have less political division. Now, if you live in an area that is mostly on one side or the other, you might not even know that there’s a problem. You might assume that virtually every Christian (or “true Christian”) thinks and votes like you. But if you live in a larger city and in an area that is relatively split down the middle, you know what I’m talking about. Or, if you live in an area that almost exclusively votes the opposite way from you, you know what I’m talking about. I personally do not think politics or public policy should be brought up from the pulpit. The only exception for me is if the issue is also a social justice or moral issue, but even then, there are ways of “leading the horse to water and letting him do the drinking.” Teach the principle and leave it up to the member to apply the principle in their life. I think that politics will be less of an issue in the church for a few reasons. First, conducted a large survey (I’ll link it at the end) that showed that even now, in 2022, people do not want to talk about politics in their sermons and classes. They sure don’t want to be told who to vote for. Second, there is going to be a breaking point, and I think we are soon to see the ugliest part of it. And after that, a season of peace. Third, I won’t talk about this as much as I want to, but we are going to be shocked at how technology will change EVERYTHING in the next 30 years. I’ll just leave it there for now. But I do think I’m right here (for whatever that’s worth).

7. There will be fewer full-time ministers.

This one is going to sting for some. Okay, first, I am a minister on sabbatical. I took a break to go back to school, and frankly, just to chill out mentally for a minute. I don’t know if I will choose to go back into ministry or not. I have a secular graduate degree but little secular experience. Plus, whether I like it or not, I have a “fire in my bones.” I was never a lazy minister. I worked my tail off because I knew the price wasn’t cheap. I’m not just talking about the price of Gospel or the price of the ministries. I’m talking about people who worked hard to pay me to have the privilege to serve them, the community, and the Lord full-time. I worked harder than any minister I know, to the point where I used all that I had in me without going crazy. There are a lot of ministers who are in it for the money, but most ministers barely get an “average” salary for their work, location, education, and experience. Honestly, most ministers don’t do it full-time. Most ministers are in it for the right reasons, and they work hard. So I’m sympathetic. That said, I don’t think full-time ministry jobs will be widely available in 30 years. Churches will primarily be house churches and the ones that aren’t will be run primarily by volunteers, shepherds, or part-time staff. It will be rare to find a full-time position. It is rare now! I advise any minister to get secular experience and/or education for when that time comes. You can always work for the Lord, but it might not always be a full-time occupation. Look into chaplaincy, teaching, or even management. Fewer churches can hire full-time now, and fewer people are interested in that work anyways. There will almost certainly be fewer full-time ministers in the future. A possible solution will be accepting that women should be able to work in full-time ministry before the church gets to the point where it closes doors. That might buffer many of the negative issues I’ve talked about in this article (not to mention, it’s the right thing to do). We will see if that happens. It would have to happen soon.

8. Religious traditionalists and progressives will get along (sort of).

First, let’s define terms. I don’t like calling a legalist a “traditionalist” because you can be traditional and not be legalistic. I don’t like calling “progressives” liberal because, usually, progressives aren’t liberal. The “progressive” views himself as a person who is becoming more like Jesus through the Spirit, seeing Scripture as authoritative but contextual, and trying to understand Jesus’ true meaning on a deeper level. A traditionalist loves Jesus, His meaning, and His word too, but the emphasis is different than that of the progressive. So a traditionalist and a progressive aren’t as far apart as they think they are. They have the same foundation, but they use a different hermeneutic (interpretation). Traditionalists are conservative in that they conserve tradition, and they conserve the text (or at least they think they do). I love that! No problem here! But I will not let legalists hijack the words traditional and conservative. And I will not let liberals hijack the word progressive. Liberal usually means one is loose with the text to the point of picking and choosing. It isn’t about context; it is only about what feels right. A progressive cares about what feels right too, maybe more than a traditionalist, but he does not forfeit context and principles. So when I say “traditionalist,” I don’t mean legalists. I mean conservatives. There’s a difference. And when I say progressive, I don’t mean liberal. There’s a difference. Now, someone else might define these terms differently, and I admit that I don’t like using categories. However, it is often a necessary evil to have a meaningful conversation. We just have to make sure we define terms. With that noted, I believe that, in 30 years, traditionalists and progressives will tolerate one another and be more of a family than we see now. That doesn’t mean that I think “anything goes” or that there won’t be passionate conversations. But I do think that we will find common ground in the American institutionalized churches. If for no other reason than necessity. It will be ugly here soon. I do not look forward to it! But I think, similar to my view on politics, we will have a season of relative peace in the church. At least more than we have had in a while.

CONCLUSION: Again, trends can change in an instant. And, while a lot of this anecdotal evidence is (passively) influenced by trends, a lot of it is nothing more than my opinion. I’d love to hear yours if you can share it in a thoughtful and kind way. Much of this is perhaps “too” optimistic. But maybe not? I sure hope not. But fair warning, if you think I have anything worth saying on these matters, I think it will be uglier before it gets pretty. But make Christ your polar star. Make God’s love your royal law. And feed the sheep. – Jesse

ALSO SEE: Consumer Christianity, Church Transparency Survey Results