13 Issues for Churches in 2013

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Thom Rainer examines 13 key issues leaders must watch this year to lead effectively.

As the new year unfolds, it is always a healthy exercise to look ahead to key opportunities and key challenges. Certainly such an effort is in order for congregations in North America. I plan to look at 13 of those issues in this blog.

This extrapolation is not an exercise in keen foresight or extraordinary mental acumen. I am simply looking at current issues that seem to be gaining momentum.

These issues will present themselves unevenly to different churches. But I foresee tens of thousands of American congregations will be impacted by each of them.

I am grateful to Sam Rainer for his recent post, “Looking Ahead to 2013: What Should the Church Expect.” Many of his seminal ideas are captured in these articles. Though I list the issues in numerical order, I am not attempting to assign any degree of importance of one over another.

1. The impact of the “nones.” 

The 2012 study by Pew Research rightfully garnered much attention. The percentage of the adult U. S. population that claims no religious affiliation increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012. That is an amazing 33 percent increase in that one category in a relatively short period.

One implication for local congregation is the decrease of marginal church attendees, often called “CEO” (Christmas Easter Only) Christians. There is no longer much societal pressure to attend church. Those on the margins are thus falling off completely.

There will continue to be a financial impact since these infrequent attendees typically provided some level of giving to their churches.

2. Migration back to small groups. 

For three decades, the key emphasis in American church life has been the corporate worship experience.

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Though that emphasis is not going away, there is an increasing emphasis on moving people to small groups of all kinds: Sunday schools, home groups, life groups, etc. There is an increasing awareness that those who are in groups have a higher level of commitment in almost all areas of church life.

As the Sunday school movement swept the nation for a half-century through the 1970s, a similar groups movement is already underway and should gain even more momentum.

3. Accelerated closing of churches. 

The institutional church stubbornly resists formal closing. Even if only six or seven people attend each week, those few fight for the survival of their church.

Those who were attending these very small churches are either moving to the “nones” category, or they are moving to larger churches. The primary stalwarts to keep the doors open are members of the builder generation, those born before 1946. As that generation decreases at an increasing rate, more churches will close.

Any guess to the number of closings in 2013 is speculation on my part. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the numbers reach the 8,000 to 10,000 level.

Thom Rainer Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.

More from Thom Rainer or visit Thom at http://www.thomrainer.com

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  • NaNTHuel

    13 Issues for The CHurCH is a Bakers Dozen for family and self examination. Why is The Number 13 its tendency Of Superstition… 13 Stars, 13 Arrows, 13 Olive Branches, 13. 13 is actually a Family Number… in the countings Of Jacob. His 13 children. Is There the 14th Visitor to the Family.., Jacob, are there Brothers? Yes, Twins and Other Gemini Of The Family.
    How Do We count The Benevolence Of A family.. Many Of Days these family members also Had Their problems, even THe feeding Of THeir flocks.How Do You count The Benevolence Of 2013 Anno Domini ? Is My Covenant in Yours Hearts and Minds, and Have You received understanding, wisdom, and so Much Of THe More?? May your Lifes Be The Christ Centred for Your Unseen Guest and If You Do Not Know The Christ personally, May His Spirit Be always with us to Pour in THe Oil and The Wine. For therein is Wisen Counsel, and no oppression, Therein is Your Teacher, with no Guile found in Him.
    If upon That You Have The Benevolence Of These Family Virtues? Be sure, The family need You, Your guest in 2014 May Have need Of You.

    • ReaderJack

      What… in the world are you talking about? Do YOU know what you’re saying?

    • ServantHeart2012

      Other than the number 13, how does this missive relate in the least to the issues stated in Thom’s blog?

    • kevin

      naNTHuel… the readers of twins… #15 with the wind blowing. Jesus on the mainline with the more ground around the back floods. My lives in rounding the curve in Mosus and David with Peter’s knee bowing. thanks

  • Dennis Holland

    The church is following philosophies, today, rather than theology. It is showing up in seminaries. Some years ago, when I was in the “learning” stages of life, I thought “your” material was very good, being Bible based. This is now more, philosophical opinion

  • Yvon Prehn

    As always great challenges, insights, much food for thought and blogging inspiration from Thom.–thank you!

  • Ryan

    We live in a very fast paced society now and work all kinds of different hours so ‘church as usual’ Sunday between 9 and noon is not working for more and more people. Church needs to become a more 24/7 thing which means going more and more online to reach people and not just putting material out but a place to commuicate back and forth in forums and such.

  • Steven Leapley

    Thom, and all….. I feel that this article is pretty spot on. I am sure I would find things to add to the list, however, I would like to take a moment on #12, organizational mistrust. I see this in many churches, as well as I take this to heart as well, as I am one of those who has lost trust. It is ironic, at best, that I have given the fact that I am a pretty forgiving person. You bring up a good point and one that seems to be debated on many of these blogs that business and church are different and need to be kept different, yet many articles talk about the similarities of both. I tend to sway more the similarities because most lay people view church this way. Organizational mistrust (which leads to #13) is becoming more noticeable for many reasons, Your Number (I forget now) of “homosexuality not being a sin” is one of those reasons. two quick thoughts on this.
    1. More people are becoming contemporary in thinking and this this is why we see this…it is (in my opinion) due to the legalistic thinking that many of us carry..which leads to my second thought
    2. As Christians we (should) know the bible and know what sin is…. Yet most churches will not hesitate to stand up against the ‘bad gay man’ yet turn the other way when infidelity threatens a marriage..we tell the one spouse you deserve better and this is why God allowed Moses to degree divorce. What we should be doing is living a biblical lifestyle and as we demonstrate consistency in living our faith…THEN we carry an effective ministry against worldly sins…. I could go into all the verses that talk about satan being in charge of this world…blah blah blah…the bottom line (for me) is that organizational mistrust stems from leaders piousness in the pulpit.

    remember….these are just my thoughts…. :-)

  • freespeechfan

    Many of us left Christianity behind long ago because we no longer needed or wanted the basic premise that we were born sinners and needed redemption. We are able to find meaning and purpose, and morality, without religion, without all the superstition. You must know that as more and more people take critical thinking classes, they will wake up to reason. Once the Bible is scrutinized thoroughly in the daylight, with all the historical background of earlier virgin birth and resurrection stories, you know you’ve been handed a bill of goods.

  • JoyceD

    People leaving traditional churches, might be interested in Unitarian Universalist congregations as we use many sources, not just the Bible, and “reason” and personal experience are sources, too. We don’t have a creed, but we have 7 principles, one of which is “the search for truth and meaning”. Our association president wrote an article about how science is embrace and how religion fits with science In an article in the New Atlantis called “Science and the Search for Meaning”.

  • Robert Tucker

    Many have just figured out it’s just another mythology.

  • Lawrence Ferrier

    Micah 4:1-2, 5… 1 In the final part of the days, The mountain of the house of Jehovah

    Will become firmly established above the top of the mountains,

    And it will be raised up above the hills,

    And to it peoples will stream.

    2 And many nations will go and say:

    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah

    And to the house of the God of Jacob.

    He will instruct us about his ways,

    And we will walk in his paths.”

    For law will go out of Zion,

    And the word of Jehovah out of Jerusalem.

    5 For all the peoples will walk, each in the name of its god,

    But we will walk in the name of Jehovah our God forever and ever.