of the Church


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OCTOBER 22-24, 2014
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Be a Catalyst for Changing the Future of the Church in Your Community

2013 Findings

5 Forces That Will Reform the Church

The American church is entering a time of unprecedented upheaval. In 20 years, what we call the church will look very different from today.

Thinkers at this year’s national Future of the Church summit, sponsored by Group Publishing, envisioned a new–and quite hopeful–picture for the church of tomorrow. This group of church leaders, authors, media writers, academics and students grappled with a flurry of present trends to frame their futuristic perspectives.

They reviewed the American population’s declining participation in church activities. Less than 20 percent of the population attends a church service in a typical week. Four out of five churches say they’re stuck or in decline. Practically every American denomination is losing members year after year. Younger generations are fleeing the church in record numbers.

After hearing from experts, practitioners, the churched and the unchurched, the old and the young, the summit participants were asked to choose likely scenarios for several church crossroads directions. Here’s where they landed.


An upward trend. Though things are likely to get worse before they get better, the church will grow again in America. It’s not likely to mimic the spiritual evaporation that Europe has seen. Rather, the trends may begin to look more like those found in China, where the church is flourishing organically despite the lack of a faith-friendly government.

Denominational dissipation. As the culture’s suspicion of institutions deepens, the cachet of a congregation’s affiliation to a denomination will continue to fade. The value–and cost–may become very difficult to justify. Denominations may be overshadowed by networks of like-minded congregations–not based on rules but on shared resources.

Values over personalities. Summit participants acknowledged that celebrity pastors–national and local–will continue to draw crowds on the strength of their personalities. But ultimately the churches of the future will be known more for their values than their human purveyors.

Outward focus. The majority of today’s churches direct almost all their attention, programs, personnel, facilities and budget toward the insiders, the members. But the thriving churches of tomorrow will balance their ministry with a deliberate focus toward those on the outside, many of whom will never become Sunday pew sitters.

Millennial reshape. After hearing data and personal accounts about the unique traits of the Millennial generation, summit participants concluded these young people (ages 18-29) are game-changers for the church. Unlike previous generations, Millennials will not succumb to the church’s longstanding traditions and ways of defining and doing church. They will not merely return to church-as-we-know-it once they start having children, as other generations have done. They will significantly reshape the church’s practices and attitudes according to their values.

What are some of these values? Gordon College president Michael Lindsay told participants that Millennials are uniquely driven to start new things. They’re drawn to authenticity, and they’re repulsed by anything that seems slick. “It’s about being vulnerable,” he said.

Gordon College student David Hicks said, “We don’t want adults who are trying to be edgy.” He told how he was turned off when his former church’s praise band used musical tactics to manipulate people into a false crescendo of worship. “I became cynical.” After leaving the church entirely, he now attends a more traditional church. “There are no ‘cool’ churches. I’m hungry for transcendence,” he said.

Barna Group vice president Roxy Wieman, herself a Millennial, also spoke about the hunger for transcendence–and community. But current church communities seem inauthentic, in part because Millennials have not had a hand in developing them.

Several speakers mentioned the Millennials’ innate desire to be involved, to participate. They’re not interested in being passive consumers or spectators at church. Leadership Journal managing editor Drew Dyck said Millennials “want to be heard from day one.”

Social entrepreneur Justin Mayo said Millennials want to reach out to and accept those the church often rejects. “You’re never going to reach someone you choose to isolate,” he said. “How do we create dialogue? Not by criticizing them at the front door. Do we even have the kind of relationship that allows us to say a hard thing to someone?”

David Hicks said, “We’re willing to go where they (people outside the church) are. We’re not asking them to come to our thing and clean themselves up first. We’re willing to enter their world and be ourselves.”

A glimpse into the future of the church.

Speaker Bios

Tom SchultzThom Schultz
is the president and founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. He’s the author of many books including Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore and The 1 Thing, and he’s the director of the documentary film When God Left the Building. Thom is the founder of Group Cares, a non-profit organization that provides mission trips for thousands of volunteers each year. Thom’s blog, HolySoup.com, challenges the status quo.

Joani SchultzJoani Schultz
is Group’s Chief Creative Officer. She oversees the creation of Group’s resources, training, and services for children’s ministry, youth ministry, adult ministry, and church leadership. She’s the author of numerous books including Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, and The 1 Thing. She leads the teams that create Group’s Bible curriculum, vacation Bible school programs, books, magazines, conferences, music, and trainings.


Lifetree Cafe
Experience a different kind of church
When God Left The Building
Documentary coming Spring 2014
Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore
New book release by Thom and Joani Schultz


Doug Pollock - Author/Speaker/Reflective Practitioner

It's been said that our future reality is often dictated by our present thinking. If so, I can't think of a more hopeful place to talk and think about a preferred picture of the church’s future than Group's Future of the Church Summit. It's a "shot of espresso" guaranteed to stimulate wholesome thinking about the bride of Christ.
Doug Pollock

Justin Mayo - Founder and President, Redeye Ministries

Too often people have viewed "the church," "synagogue," and "religion" in a very narrow and negative mindset.
This gathering of individuals looks beyond traditional stereotypes and into the reality of what is and the
possibilities of what could be.
Justin Mayo

Lynda Fickling - Director of Servant Ministry/Spiritual Director
St. Luke United Methodist Church, Highlands Ranch, CO

To be included with the level of leadership that was in the room was truly a blessing. Thom and Joani opened the space so that we felt comfortable in sharing our true thoughts and feelings regarding the future of the church. We didn't all agree. We didn't all see the church in the same way, BUT we were able to come to agree on many common areas that we could address and support together. I look forward to continued active listening and returning back to my ministry even more excited than I am right now about the future of the church.
Lynda Fickling

Barbara Huisman - Cana Ministries

Being at the Summit last year affirmed that church is conversation that leads to action—centered on the good news of life lived out in the world. I was able to return refreshed and challenged to continue to journey, knowing that we are all on the road less traveled! Can't wait to see what happens this year!
Barbara Huisman
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