6 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2020

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6 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2020

Pastor Nieuwof breaks down the big shifts that will be needed to change the direction of the church in the coming years.

So what are the 2020 church trends you should watch in what is shaping up to be a very pivotal year?

In this post, I’ll share six new trends that really have my attention.

While it might seem like a lot of change and challenges ahead, you and I lead in an age of massive disruption.

Industries are being disrupted or obliterated in years, not decades, and once-dominant companies are falling fast (just ask Polaroid, Blockbuster or Compaq computers).

And leading in the church is even a little more complex than leading in the marketplace for numerous reasons. Here’s one of them: America is moving from a Christian to post-Christian culture faster than most people imagined, and will soon match the level of secularization found in places like Europe, Australia, Canada, and other Western nations.

The nones, or those claiming no religious affiliation, have now emerged as the largest religious demographic in the US—a larger group than evangelicals or Roman Catholics.

Leading people to Jesus in a world that’s moving away from Jesus is an increasingly difficult challenge…and increasingly larger opportunity.

There’s so much at stake.

Leading people to Jesus in a world that’s moving away from Jesus is an increasingly difficult challenge…and increasingly larger opportunity.CLICK TO TWEET

As a result, this year, I’ve written two posts on trends for 2020.

5 Disruptive Leadership Trends That Will Rule 2020 is my first trends post for 2020. In it, I focus on five different trends I see in the culture that all leaders in every field (business, church, not-for-profit) may want to track. You can read that here.

This post is on 6 trends specific to church leaders, and it’s the 2020 edition of a post I’ve done for the last four years:

5 Disruptive Church Trends for 2019

7 Disruptive Church Trends for 2018

6 Disruptive Church Trends for 2017

5 Disruptive Church Trends for 2016

I know, that’s a lot of disruption.

Disruption is hard because disruption is inconvenient. It’s far easier to keep doing what you’re doing hoping for better results. But just know this: being disrupted is far more painful than deciding to disrupt yourself.

With that in mind, here are 6 disruptive church trends that will rule 2020.

Being disrupted is far more painful than deciding to disrupt yourself.CLICK TO TWEET


It’s no secret that most churches are plateaued or declining, and that even models of church that were effective a decade ago—like attractional church—are struggling now.

I wrote about the growth of charismatic churches and the decline of the attractional church approach here, and about the hunger we have in our culture for the transcendent, not just the immanent. All of that is still true, if not intensifying.

So where is all of this going?

Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with Louie Giglio, founder of Passion, about this. Passion just saw 65,000 college students flood Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for three days. My interview with Louie releases this month on my Leadership Podcast (on January 14th, 2020, don’t miss it by subscribing here on Apple Podcasts or Spotify).

Louie and I discuss what events people still love to attend and what events people tend to skip.

The interview crystallized for me that what’s still growing are movements, moments and missions. Passion 2020 was a movement of students on a mission gathering for moment—65,000 of them in one place at one time.

Similarly, Louie points out in the interview, people seem to have no trouble pouring out onto the streets for political or social protests or gathering for critical moments.

Louie’s so right. Attendance at live events isn’t dying, but it is changing. A lot.

Attendance at live events isn’t dying, but it is changing. A lot.CLICK TO TWEET

The church, of course, at our authentic best, has all of these characteristics: a movement on a mission characterized by some very profound moments.

Too often, though, we ignore or simply miss those critical elements because so much of the current church model for Sunday morning has been based on content delivery.

But content alone no longer fills a room in an age where content fills the internet.

Content used to fill a room because content was scarce. You had to attend to hear a message. But podcasts, YouTube and social media have changed that dramatically and permanently from all we can tell. As a result, you no longer have to be in the room to listen.

So what does this mean?

People are hungering for an experience of God, not just information about God. That’s always been true, but that’s even truer now (for reasons I share here).

Content alone no longer fills a room in an age where content fills the internet. People are hungering for an experience of God, not just information about God.CLICK TO TWEET

Emphasizing moments and movements and mission are more critical than ever. People don’t just want to know what’s true, they want to know what’s real. And what’s real is deeper than just an idea—it’s an experience.

As a matter of confession, in the past, sometimes the services we crafted had too much hype or too much head knowledge and not enough encounter.

Hype is no longer resonating with a generation of people looking for hope.

Hype is no longer resonating with a generation of people looking for hope.CLICK TO TWEET

So, in 2020, focus on calling people back to the mission of the church, not just attending church. Call people to do the kinds of things people who are part of a movement do (how about start by loving your city and each other?) and shaping moments in the service that go beyond information and engage people’s senses and heart (for starters: prayer, music that’s more than just some songs to get people energized, maybe even communion).

All of this can spark moments of transformation. You can’t create powerful moments, but you can facilitate them.

Churches that do this—that have great content but think beyond great content—will likely gain momentum.

But churches that ignore an encounter with God and simply hope a decent message will fill a room will likely continue to be shocked by how it no longer does.

Churches that ignore an encounter with God and simply hope a decent message will fill a room will likely continue to be shocked by how it no longer does.CLICK TO TWEET


There’s data that also points to a trend I’m also sensing through first-hand observation: growing churches tend to be led by younger leaders.

Research by Petr Cincala and Renee Drum suggests that clergy age impacts congregations in these ways (thank you to FACT for the summary and to Ed Stetzer directing me to it):

Younger clergy (under 50 years) appear to be driving the largest share of church growth in the US.

Young pastors lead churches rated as healthier compared to older pastors.

Younger clergy lead congregations with more adults younger than 50, Young Adults, Youth and Children than older clergy

Aging pastors lead congregations with a greater percentage of older members

Younger clergy are oriented more to goals than older pastors who tend to be service and people-oriented

I’m certain you can find exceptions to this. Some 50+ leaders are doing a great job leading their growing churches into the future. And a 50+ leader on a new assignment sometimes brings higher energy and fresher perceptive than a 50+ leader who’s led in the same place for decades.

However, as the church decline statistics might suggest, younger leaders seem to be leading much of the growth.

Growing churches tend to be led by younger leaders.CLICK TO TWEET

So what’s going on? Well, it’s harder to keep innovating as you get older as a leader, in part because you’ve used a lot of your creative energy to craft what you’ve created (your creative energy has a shelf-life and cycle to it) and it’s easy to fall prey to sunk cost bias (I’ve built this whole thing this way…we simply have to keep it going).

As a result, the older you get, the less likely you are to innovate. And innovation drives growth and connection with emerging generations.

I’m not talking about innovations around mission—just methods. When the methods atrophy, the mission dies.

When the methods atrophy, the mission dies.CLICK TO TWEET

For a host of reasons, this trend shouldn’t be shocking.

First, innovation for the next generation naturally comes from the next generation.

Second, new churches, re-starts and leadership transitions often spark growth: momentum naturally comes from new and innovative approaches.

Third, the next generation inherently understands the generation they’re trying to reach better than previous generations.

So many leaders talk about reaching the next generation but never include the next generation.

So many leaders talk about reaching the next generation but never include the next generation. It’s going to take the leadership of the next generation to reach the next generation.CLICK TO TWEET

For the rest of the article on disruptive church trends from Pastor Carey Nieuwhof go here.

For more articles on church go here.

When a disruptive change happens, what is your immediate reaction? What is one action step you can take after prayerfully reading this article?

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