6 Culture-Changing Trends You Can't Afford to Ignore

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Chuck Warnock offers a list of dramatic cultural changes impacting the church today.

Despite the adoption of coffee bars, PowerPoint presentations, and full-stage lighting, churches are seldom on the cutting edge when it comes to addressing demographic trends. Here are six dramatic trends that are not being addressed adequately by local churches, church networks, or denominations.

If we continue to ignore these trends for another decade, churches will continue to see an erosion of members, attendance, and relevance in a rapidly changing American culture.

Gleaned from “Six Disruptive Demographic Trends: What Census 2010 Will Reveal” published by The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, these trends will impact churches as well as the U.S. economy.

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1. The South has several new faces.

“…between 2000 and 2008, the South was the preferred destination for movers in nearly all of the major demographic groups, including blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, and the foreign born.”

While the Northeast and Midwest grew by 6.5 and 9.4 percent respectively, the South attracted over half (51.4%) of the 24.8 million increase in the United States population. The West garnered about one-third of the total U.S. growth but was a net exporter of 2 out of the 4 groups mentioned.

Of course, the South isn’t called the Bible belt for nothing, but established churches in the South tend to be single race churches, white and black, with few examples of churches designed to address the issue of the South’s growing multiculturalism. Mark de Ymaz in Arkansas is doing it, and Soong-Chan Rah writes about it, but at the local church ministry level, few are addressing this multicultural growth trend.

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Chuck Warnock Chuck Warnock pastors Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, VA and writes the popular Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, a blog especially for pastors of churches with up to 300 in attendance. Chuck is a contributing editor for Outreach magazine writing their “Small Church, Big Idea” column, writes prolifically for Leadership Journal and Christianity Today, and is a frequent conference speaker on the subject of church leadership. He is currently working on his D.Min. at Fuller Seminary.

More from Chuck Warnock or visit Chuck at http://chuckwarnockblog.wordpress.com/

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  • Kdbrich

    Pretty good points to make.  I kind of get the idea reading it that the author thinks there are certain demographics out there and we need to specialize to reach them, or change our “programming” to suit them.    I wonder if perhaps we ought to preach the Gospel–and it will reach every culture.   We need to teach our people to welcome in anyone that walks in the door–whether they have the same skin color or not…be they young or old.    

  • http://www.jonstallings.com/ Jon Stallings

    I tend to agree with Kdbirch. Jesus said he would build the church. Yes the church needs to make drastic changes, but I do not think always chasing the culture of the world is the best use of our efforts.

  • Morchaplain

    Yes preach the Gospel but be ready there is a tidal wave of change that if we don’t go out and meet and manage will drown the church because many of her programs and methods have become outdated.

    • Kdbrich

      So change.   Nobody is saying we need to stick with only music that was written before 1900, or something like that.   But we are saying that trying to be a certain “kind of church” to reach a certain “kind of people” is really just cutting off the rest of the population.     Preach to everyone–welcome everyone in.  Go out into the neighborhoods and bring in everyone.    Teach your people to love them and welcome them.    Be aware that there might be some people that don’t look like you that come in….but don’t necessarily program to them only—or you will alienate and drive out the sheep you already have.     

    • http://hopeforlifeonline.com/ mkdb

      Perhaps we need less programs, fewer “new methods,” less pragmatism, and more of 2 Timothy 3:15-4:5…

  • http://www.facebook.com/sroam Stan Roam

    Good article! Just wanted to share some thought as well. It is funny as I read this article. I do not go to our multicultural church and look at the people based on race (I guess some churches do this). I come to worship the Lord, preach the word, and love the people. I think as a result of that people do not see race in our church either. Some of congregation are as I (although I am a Heinz 57 at this point) white, others are Hispanic, Asian, and Indian (both kinds-American and Asian)). WE ALL LOVE EACH OTHER!!! RACE IS NOT AN ISSUE!!! Oh, and can I say, the potlucks are awesome as well!!! My opinion is that what is important is that the Gospel is preached, love is given and felt, and lives will be changed. I think we place too much attention on the color of ones skin, age, single parent, teen, broken home, and how we are going to adapt to their way of life instead of just following the gospel-love our neighbors as our selves. If you are in a church that does not love and accept others-THEN YOU ARE NOT A CHURCH!!!! Thank you, Lord, that we are blind except to Your blood that covers our sins!!!!

  • Chuck123

    I agree 100% with Kdbrich. Jesus came to bring down walls that separate us. This world cannot bare anymore “wall builders” or those who support the existence of many of today’s “walls”. Either we as a body agree to bring down the walls that separate us into different races and cultures or we let our churches, congregations, youth, etc. pay for it.

    • ServantHeart2012

      I agree as well.  After all, it is much easier to make a point (read “build a wall”) than it is to make a difference.  

    • http://hopeforlifeonline.com/ mkdb

      “Jesus came to bring down walls that separate us.” I agree and disagree, depending on what you mean. What do we do with Jesus saying, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”? Should we seek unity? Yes, of course. The rub, however, is… what, specifically, are we going to unify over? The truth? God’s Word? Love? Well, do we, first, agree what the true, biblical way of love is? We will never, sadly, agree (because the nature of our hearts, our enemies and false teachers). Getting rid of walls is great, in theory. I am NOT saying we should not seek to get rid of “wall builders,” I think we should, but how do we define who or what a wall builder is? Scripture tells us that a wall builder is a person who ushers in false teachings (Rom 16:17-18; Ti 3:10; Jude 17-19). Ironically, however, and tragically, those who point out the false teachings and false teachers–as commanded by God, as supremely important and loving–are the ones who get blamed for being a “wall builder.” As a result, few dare speak out against false teachings, which, ironically, leads to more walls, division, deception, and destruction….

      • Josh0895988

        Yep. I agree with that “mkdb”, And those who decide to get back to The Cross, and the Word of God in It’s Beautiful simplicity, and mystery. Because if these “walled churches” want  to stay up (have folks coming on sundays putting money in the plates for the bills of a building and staff), they will have to follow the new laws being passed and wrote-up as we speak, that make the bible a book of hate-speech. I would rather walk alone on the Narrow Path, then following and walking with a beautiful community of people on the wide/broad path leading to distruction. America is not what she used to be, and she is headed in the ways of Sodom, not Ninevah!…..

        • http://hopeforlifeonline.com/ mkdb

          “I would rather walk alone on the Narrow Path…” Amen brother. You know, however, you are in danger of being called a “wall builder” ;)

          • Josh0895988

            lol… ;) Yep! They called Jesus Much worse!… I am glad when people label me now. I used to argue with those who labeled me as an extremist because I followed the bible as commanded. Anymore, It usually means I am on the correct path. Wall builder… yep! to keep wolves away!

  • The price is high

    The article provides some great thought topics and should change our Mission/Vision. Our current system of “worship time” being Rock music lead by Rock bands followed by a message from a “rock pastor” is an insult to God and attenders. The church was not started to become like mankind, but for mankind to become like God. Don’t we get enough earth news. The Bible is almost ignored except a few verses quoted by the speaker and expanded into something that changes very few people. We have to move ahead and preach/teach the Whole Bible. Shock your congregation, preach a Bible book cover to cover such as the Book of Acts,,,,,  change lives by teaching over and over through different Bible Books how our daily walk can be with Christ. . I did not even get to prayer:  I will bet you a cup of coffee there is not one USA church in  10,000 that spends more than half the time in prayer that is devoted to “worship music”.  I will catch it from some of you, but hit me with your best shot. 

    • PBK

      Unfortunately whether you think it is an insult or not, the churches you are describing (rock band led worship and the rock star pastor) are seeing massive growth and multiplication.  On the other hand, (and you can check the statistics with the Barna Group) Churches who ignore culture and preach expositionally through entire books of the bible in a way that does not engage culture are nearly all declining (over 90% of them).  Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking, this is accurate.  

      I am not saying that I am happy that it is happening, I am just relaying accurate information regarding the state of the church today.  I am a Pastor (on staff with other Pastors) with well over a decade of experience, so I am not an arm chair quarterback/bystander in the ministry game.  

      I can tell you from experience that when our church was under another Sr. Pastor and was much more traditional – in bible exposition (book by book, cover to cover) as well as in worship music (traditional hymns), there were less than 30 people in attendance each Sunday and generally speaking no one under 50 who visited usually ever came back (including young families).  

      New leadership took over, embracing culture – always teaching from entire passages of scripture, (not necessarily whole books, but entire passages) however the sermons are in culturally relevant topical series, and we now have modern worship, modern atmosphere, etc.  The church is now just under 750 people. We have had to double the size of our building, and our youth ministry is 3 times the size of what the entire church used to be.  This is all in less than 5 years.  I am not at all saying that we have the perfect “recipe” all I am saying is that it works.   

      My point is that we have to be careful that we don’t get all bent out of shape because some churches do ministry in ways that we don’t always agree with.  The message never changes – the method of delivery however almost always does. 

      • http://hopeforlifeonline.com/ mkdb

        Who is bent out of shape? Perhaps people are deeply concerned, not about churches doing ministry in differing ways, but could it be they are concerned about serious compromises and subtle, yet alluring, false teachings? Could it be, PBK, that you are niave in this? I say that because that is what Brian McClaren thinks…and I quote from him: It has been fashionable among the innovative pastors I know to say, “We’re not changing the message; we’re only changing the medium.” This claim is probably less than honest … in the new church we must realize how medium and message are intertwined. When we change the medium, the message that’s received is changed, however subtly, as well. We might as well get beyond our naïveté or denial about this.

        Maybe this is not you, but countless others are seduced by “fine-sounding arguments” (Col 2:4) that scolds or shames others to “get with the times” or “that old way doesn’t work” or “engage the culture” or … Is there some truth to these arguments? Of course; but Satan’s lies to Eve also had plenty of truth and benefits “good for food,” “pleasing to the eye,” “desirable for gaining wisdom”…

        • Eagle36

          In reading through this thread of comments, you seem to be the one most “bent out of shape” here so let me ask a question or two (or more) to get some perspective on all of this. 

          In the past 2000 years, has the church remained relatively the same or has it changed in many ways? 

          In church history, has there ever been any other time that music was adapted from the culture to reach the people of the culture? 

          In a church where a pastor preaches multiple times every Sunday but the music style may be different in the worship services, how is his message (which is the same in every service) received differently?  And technically, wouldn’t it be received differently by different people for the mere fact that each of us is dealing with different issues or situations in our lives and we may be at different levels spiritually?

          Let’s say that all the pastor did was read a large portion of Scripture in each service – how would that be received differently based on the style of worship in each service? 

          Why is it that we always think that the new wineskin is wrong and we persecute those who actually have the guts to use the new wineskin to reach people for Christ?  (Eventually that wineskin becomes old and a new one appears anyway.) 

          Could it be that people are deceived by Satan no matter what “medium” they use or like?  Could it be that Satan loves to see Christians arguing over these things because it keeps our eyes on us and our preferences when if we just surrendered to where God was leading us and depended on the Holy Spirit to guide us, we wouldn’t really be concerned about how the Gospel was being presented by others, we would just celebrate that lives were being changed no matter what “medium” was being used.

          • http://hopeforlifeonline.com/ mkdb

            Eagle36, HEY! You cheated! You said one or two questions!  My point was about the fallacy (for many, but not all) that “we’re just changing the method, not the message.” That sounds great, but if/when we become pragmatists (doing “whatever works”) then we often compromise principles and truth. Not every church or ministry, of course, but with human hearts this is very likely. With the new emerging church (and even the church growth movement) it has become chic to “engage the culture” by becoming like them. But, if it isn’t obvious, God warned: “The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God.
            You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you
            must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you.
            Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God.  Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.” (Lev 18:1-5) On the other end we are instructed how to impact the culture around us: “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me,
            so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take
            possession of it.
            Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding
            to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely
            this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?
            And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and
            laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut 4:5-8) If we taught and lived according to His precise truth then many people WILL HATE us, but it will also draw many to Him. 

        • PBK

          I too am concerned about compromise and false teachings. I believe that all church leaders should be attentive to this matter.  However, the point I am trying to make is that at least in our case, cultural relevance, modern worship music and atmosphere helps us to communicate to a much broader cross section of our local mission field than ever before. 

          Let me give you an example:  5 years ago (my sermon notes are all dated) I preached a message on a Sunday morning from Romans 10:1-13. With the exception of one older gentleman shouting AMEN a couple times, there was no response. Of course I received the obligatory “good sermon Pastor” from a few folks afterward but that was it. This was actually how most Sundays went at that time to be completely honest.

          I preached the exact same message last month on March 18th.  The exact same exegesis of the passage was done, the same hermeneutic was applied in preparation, and I even used the same sermon notes.  The difference was that 37 people received Christ that day, and of those 37, I baptized 22 of them last week.  In addition, in the last several weeks 28 of those same 37 people have signed up for and are currently attending small groups.  (yes we track metrics – including small group participation, salvations, baptisms, Sunday attendance, etc).

          The ONLY differences? Contemporary worship with what you would likely consider a rock band, excellent lighting and sound, free coffee, no ferns, and a couple short video clips were used – one to intro the sermon and one was used to illustrate one of the main preaching points about halfway through the sermon.

          In other words, the Word preached was not changed, nothing was watered down, the message was exactly the same, but with completely different results. 

          I agree with you that people being seduced by fine sounding arguments is a problem today, and I am not a fan of people showing up to get their “ears tickled”.  But I challenge our congregation constantly to go home and check the scriptures as the Bereans did (Acts 17) to see if what they are being taught is true.

          • http://hopeforlifeonline.com/ mkdb

            PBK, I appreciate the anecdote, and your points. I am blessed that many seem to be blessed. I am especially blessed that you encourage discernment (it seems few pastors do). I am not trying to discount what you wrote, in fact, what I want to say is very positive… You said “The Word preached was not changed…” I don’t doubt you, but could it be that YOU changed? Could it be that you greatly improved, or your heart grew? I love to look back on every 5 years or so in ministry to measure growth. When it comes to me, I some times feel a little embarrassed where I was 5 years ago. I say this as a compliment PBK. Also, perhaps your audience matured, or seeds where planted, or maybe God’s timing is different than our, or… I am in no way trying to undermine the other factors your mention, but I just you to think about these factors as well. God’s blessings to you, PBK, and to your church and ministry and family.

    • debra

       No “shots” from me. I agree with you 100%. And I gave up going to church for that reason. I cannot even find a church in my area, just bad “religion shows”.

      • http://hopeforlifeonline.com/ mkdb

        Debra, I am so sorry to hear about your experiences with churches. I can definitely relate. I would encourage you, however, to persevere…

      • BargHumer

        There are now very many Christians who just stay at home. I have known several personally, and have added 9 more to the “list” just recently. It is not just one issue of course, but in a religious entertainment environment there is a tangible spiritual drought. What spiritual thoughts that remain are drowned out by the activity, the music, performance, acting, dancing etc.

        There is no easy solution. The clock is not going to go backwards, nor should it, but the modern church has lost sight of the road Pilgrim traveled on, and I think most of them never went through the wicket gate in the first place.

        Nevertheless, God is not mocked by all this. We all must persevere in faith and hope, with joy and thankfulness, and lots of love. The witness of the true christian is the best testimony against the usually well meaning but blind guides.

        We are not alone!

        • Josh0895988

          Amen. I am sick of “playing church” on Sunday’s! In fact I won’t. That is exactly what we have in our small town. I desire more than any other desire to have a gathering to gather with, that love God, and have a healthy Fear of a Holy Righteous God. People can label me as they please. Most think I take the bible to literal. But I will not take my family nor sow time in a half-hearted, no sin taught to repent of, nothing but a feel-good service… No sir, No mam! I will stand before Jesus approved because I did not get a puffy head with some denomonation, and sought You Father in all sincerity, and proclaimed Christ to those in my path, and fellowshiped for a period with brothers via phone internet, and pen-pals. I will not compromise. And I have a much clearer conscience by living before God than lukewarm pastors, leading a lukewarm flock…. And someday I will find a few to gather with, but there is garbage and cotton-candy sermons coming from majority of pulpits. I have first hand experiance. I am neither angry nor bitter or critical. Just discerning, and coming back to my 1st love. Durring which time, I find nothing but an hour of gathering on a certain day, “That’s it!” THAT”S IT!” No no no…. I will allow The Holy Spirit to lead me even if I go alone for a season which is what I am in. A season of gaining more love, communion with God, and spotting wolves quite quickly!….

      • Josh0895988

        Amen Debra. Continue to seek fellowship via internet, phone, letters… Until we are able to join in groups of The Church from place to place. Stay in God’s Word and Prayer. And seek His will. He will continue to use those who have a fear of Him, and don’t play every Sunday! I have a strong desire and faith, we will gather with those who love Jesus as their first love soon!… Until then, be fruitful in God’s Word and what we can do in Christ by faith…

  • Al

    Most of the six trends mentioned in the article is the result of compromise on the part of christians and society.  Chuck Warnock advocates more compromise when it is clear that God is not a compromiser. 

    • Denzel Washington

       How is interracial dating, biblical compromise?

  • Caleb

    I only read the headers and 1 sentence below each replying “duh” to myself before skimming to the next. If you have to read this you probably don’t get it.

  • Mark_Markham

    This is good information and I appreciate the author sharing it.  I did not get the impression that the author was telling us to compromise the Word or how we should do church.  Only that we should be aware of current trends in society.  Not all of it applies to every church at this time but demographics are changing around us or God may call us to another area where this information will apply.  Most Pastors are well educated but I doubt any of us could verbalize these facts and statistics in as precise manner as the author did.  I can use some of this information today but other parts make me appreciate what other Pastors and churches are facing in their area.  And if I get called to that area I will be more prepared.  There is an alarming large number of churches closing their doors and it is not because of bad preaching but rather not attracting the community that lived around them. 

  • BargHumer

    Trends have come and gone during the whole church age, and obviously before it too. There will always be change and people will always adapt to it in some way. However, the Bible itself doesn’t change. The gospel message is timeless, and the Biblical principles Christians follow are also timeless. As the culture moves this way ant that, there is an increasing strain and then relief. Right now there seems to be an increasing strain but it doesn’t mean that the gospel changes, or must change, or that christian values must change, unless of course they were wrong in the first place.

  • Roderickcoffee

    It is always good to have the latest information on any given subject, and I appreciated the article. I think the emphasis is on awareness not methodology. A relevant “Word” is always’s the priority, and must Never be compromised,however we mus bear in mind I Chronicals 12:31 we must know our times!!

  • TJ

    The trends related to culture shifts in this article are a pointed reminder that God is in control and moving the church in the south and everywhere to embrace His commandment to ‘make disciples of all nations (ethos, peoples), and the great commission to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. Read Ephesians and see what the mystery of Christ was…the Gentiles and Jews were brought together as one  in Christ. The mult-ethnic church is not a cultural thing to do. It is the biblical and theological correct thing to do.  If a church leader demands to stay homogenous in an area where there is diversity, then they are ignorant about God’s grace, why He came  and His plan for the new heavens and new earth.  If you disagree, read Ephesians again.

    • Bobby

      Read the prayer of Jesus for unity in John 17 as well…when we are unified, ie. black, white, hispanic, walking together, working together, and worshipping God together as one, it will point people to God.

  • Josh0895988

    from what I read of your comment. I would say, I agree 100%!…..

  • BargHumer

    These questions are very important and very difficult to deal with, yet they are central to the life of the modern church. It is encouraging to see honest comments from those in full time ministry, and encouragements of growth, but the issues seem to get confused and thus never get resolved. In a multimedia age, the church is not the centre of the community anymore and we don’t need the clock on the tower to tell us the time. Many people in a congregation are almost as informed as the pastors, and the young people are used to a fast moving media filled world.

    Sitting in a boring environment listening to someone droning on with his sermon is hard to volunteer for on a regular basis. Singing ancient hymns that no one understands makes the whole event quite strained. It wasn’t always so.

    Modern music has much to offer, and is such an encouragement. Listening to christian centred music can be uplifting in a way that secular music usually can’t, even though the secular songs and music are so good.

    Yet, when it comes to worshiping God, it is clear that it is the music and words that are moving people today rather than any word from God. The worship is in many respects a false worship because it masquerades as God worship but really isn’t. Luther wrote about this because he knew the danger and power of music. It is said that you can make anyone do anything if you can get them to listen to particular kinds of music.

    The New Testament has precious little to say about music in the church. The coming together and singing christian songs was there, but it was never entertainment. Today’s churches have substituted real worship for religious entertainment, and this makes it easier to keep the concentration and audience participation. This kind of Christianity is much more acceptable today than the old wooden cross that Tozer referred to, where Christians come together at the foot of the cross in humility and desire to hear from God with his still small voice.

    It is no good being stuck in the past, and it is no better just being “modern”. At the heart of the Bible, commandment number 1 – no other gods! No other worship, and no worship that takes away from worship of the true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    Increasing the number of converts, baptisms and attendance is no measure of success unless those numbers reflect a true humbling before the Lord, a heart of repentance, a new joy in the Lord, a desire to understand the plan of salvation and to preach this gospel of good news. Wherever two or three meet together in the Lords name, He is there too, even in a barren desert without food or water, but he will not share his glory with another, nor accept idolatory.

    • Josh0895988

      Very’ well said, and in complete biblical doctrine of The Good News. Many of these “churches” are full because it is a free coffee social, and concert, with an uplifting message. Now! I am not blanketing all gatherings as with this observation! Rather praising God for a Brother’s perspective that we overlook so much of the time! It is almost a Mania in some places, which cause both saved and unsaved to seek the blessing’s of God’s good feeling’s (which in proper order are most rewarding), but when they don’t get that fix of emotional punch in their hearts on Sundays, they have (most I say) no grounding or rooting to allow them to consider both” The Kindness and Severity of Our Father!… Hence many times, holy and righteous living is thrown out the back door, so we have people who will be involved. But at what expence to the souls who are involved, is it? May God’s “Chosen shepherds” lead The Flock God has placed in man’s care, so The Great Shepherd will find faith, not rocky-soil beliver’s when He returns! Command!= “Don’t many of us desire to be teacher’s of God’s Word” The judgment is more upright, and stricter than others….. (James 3:1) …. Let the Bride unite in diversity of culture, age, color, but never in a comprimising way. I am not passing judgement upon the article, rather thanking the brother/sister above for a well spoken voice of reason, in a Valley of “everything is accepted”…. We shoud desire to be “all things to all men” yet not comprimise the obvious stature of our God~ being seperated from the World and it’s ways while walking in complete Godly Love by The Holy Spirit’s Leading!….. God I love You!… I also love all my brothers and sisters!.. And I also love all lost souls! Because of what You have done for me! Apart from You, I can/we can do Nothing of lasting fruit!

  • http://www.ithakaleadership.co.uk/culture-change/ Culture Change

    I agree that these trends cannot be ignored however i believe that if proper planning has been done for cultural change in the organization that we can make this process a lesson for us and a very easy to understand.


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