By Thom S. Rainer
I have been writing about church trends for 30 years. I do this work because I care about church leaders and want to see them lead their churches to greater health.
Watching trends and thinking about how one might respond is essential to effective leadership. Based on some patterns I observed the past year, here are three important trends for 2017.
Trend #1. Longer pastoral tenure. I believe we’ll see the pastor’s average tenure in a local church increase over the next several years, which is good for churches.
This trend is being led by millennial pastors. These younger pastors do not desire to climb the ladder to larger churches.
More than anything, they are community-centric. They want to stay and make a long-term difference in their communities. Many of these younger pastors are going into churches with the goal of staying a while.
My youngest son, Jess, told me recently he’d like to stay in his current church at least until his youngest child graduates from high school. That would mean staying for about two decades.
Imagine what might take place if pastors stayed at churches 10 or more years.
Trend #2. Renewed emphasis on practical ministries. Churches in the U.S. have seen a much needed renewal of theological training in classical disciplines and doctrine.
That need remains, but more leaders are seeking training in leadership, relational skills, and other practical ministries. Leaders want to know the how along with the what. They are looking for practical solutions built on biblical truths.
Many local churches are beginning to address this need through ministry residency programs and internships, as well as partnerships with seminaries and Bible colleges.
For example, Family Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, led by pastor Jimmy Scroggins, has developed a two-year church planting residency program to train leaders for their church planting strategy in South Florida.
They’ve partnered with two seminaries so residents can receive credit hours for the program.
Family Church also provides internships for students interested in ministry. Interns serve side-by-side with the church’s leadership to gain practical ministry experience.
Programs like this ministry combine classical theological training with practical application in local church ministry.
Trend #3. The shift toward continual learning. We’ve seen convincing anecdotal evidence that the pastors and church staff who have seen the greatest fruit in their churches are ones who are intentional and strategic about their continual learning.
These churches are seeing the fruits of evangelism, greater assimilation and discipleship, and less conflict.
There is strong evidence of a correlation between healthy churches and staff who continue to develop as leaders.
Some go the path of more formal education, but more are receiving coaching through intentional continual learning programs like the ministry we developed called Church Answers.
The availability of not only the Internet, but also live streaming, has opened the doors to all kinds of opportunities to learn.
An ancillary trend to this one is the increase in number of mentors and coaches for pastors and staff.
I delve deeper into the continual learning trend in my 50 State Virtual Tour addressing the five seismic shifts taking place in the church today. You can register for an upcoming webcast at ThomRainer.com/virtualtour.
By no means are these all the trends I see for the New Year. I’ve developed a list of 10 major trends for churches in 2017 at ThomRainer.com. These trends will have an effect on pastoral ministry for years to come.
How will they impact you and your church?
THOM S. RAINER (@ThomRainer) is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.