I have never been considered a trendsetter. I might be a trend follower, but I’m normally not the first person to emerge out of my closet with the latest fashion piece. For me, that’s a bit too risky. And the older I get, the riskier it becomes. I tend to stick to classic pieces that will last for a few years and occasionally throw in something that might be found on the “must-have” list of the season.
Fashion trends come and go, but ministry trends tend to stay longer than one season. They can impact a generation and they tend to be gradual steps toward a particular cultural shift influenced by internal and external factors. Some ministry trends are more universal, meaning they affect churches of all sizes and geographical locations, but some are more unique or specific—they’re seen in some churches but not others. And, let’s be honest: some of your ministries are like a scene from a time travel movie. You haven’t changed in thirty years and don’t plan on it. You are still competing over elaborate table centerpieces and are loyal to a Bible author or study plan that has been tried and tested. Some of you even have a VHS player hanging around your church closet.
No matter where you land on this spectrum, it’s the beginning of a new year, which means it’s time to take a look at ministry trends that are infiltrating your community and your church. These are generalizations, but they are trends that have been making the rounds among blogs and research for the past several months. A wise leader doesn’t look at trends and declare the sky is falling, but she will take time to consider how to move forward with her plans for future ministry. Some of you may disagree with my findings, and that’s totally fine. I don’t claim to be an expert or a prophet, but I am an observer and a reader who is thinking about how we best minister to women in our culture.
If the Lord has continued to allow you and me to lead during this specific point in time, then it is a good thing to consider the forecast and trends that are coming.
So, without further ado, here are my top ministry trends for the coming year.
First, there are four “Greats.” I didn’t coin some of the following terms, but they are emerging trends that culturalists are coining as “great”—the Great Resignation, the Great Migration, the Great Leveling, and the Great Transfer of Wealth. They are affecting our culture at large, but they will also impact our churches and the way we minister to women. Let’s consider each one.
The Great Resignation has emerged as a term during our worldwide pandemic. After months, and now years, of dealing with COVID, there are ministry leaders who are ready to leave—for good. They aren’t going to other churches. They are leaving the ministry. Period. And it’s not just male pastors. Carey Nieuwhof explained, “Barna Group polled pastors twice in 2021. In January, 29% of pastors said they had seriously thought about leaving ministry in the last year. In October, that number jumped to 38%. Dig a little deeper, and almost half of all pastors under 45 are thinking of quitting ministry. Women also have a higher incidence of thinking about quitting than male pastors.” In short, leaders are exhausted and burned out. And the trend affects more than leaders. You see staff shortages in the service industry, and you see it in the number of people coming back to church. It seems lots of people have “resigned,” and we aren’t quite sure who is coming back. Churches are still not experiencing pre-pandemic attendance numbers, even though the pandemic might not be the real reason they aren’t coming back.
How can ministry leaders respond? First, give women a reason to return. Were they disconnected from ministry two years ago but kept coming out of habit? Are you asking people to step up to leadership and take responsibilities within your ministry? Are you giving them a reason to show up? More importantly, is this a spiritual issue that is revealing a shallow faith and a lack of desire to grow spiritually? These are tough questions leaders need to ask themselves, and it will take much prayer and intentionality to encourage their return. Ask yourself, What are people going back to? Crowds have returned to sporting events and concerts, so consider developing some small focus groups and ask the hard questions of those in your church. Find out some of the underlying issues that may have been revealed during the pandemic and seek the Lord for His plans.
The Great Migration is most likely seen in larger communities, but it is a trend I’ve personally seen in my work and community. People are moving. Real estate is hard to come by and there seem to be masses of people who are uprooting their lives and searching for change. Again, the pandemic has affected the way we work, but the politics of the pandemic have caused families to make decisions on where they want to raise families. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in the past year who have moved from California to Tennessee. And it’s not just in my state. With the rise in remote work, people are choosing to live in places that are closer to extended families, more favorable climates, and cities with less taxes and/or cost of living.
As ministry leaders, consider the new people moving to your community. Is there a plan or intentionality to welcome them into your church? Do you look around on Sunday morning and introduce yourself to someone you don’t know? When you are shopping or running errands, are you listening to those around you for clues that they might be new to your area? Look for ways to extend your outreach ministry and be a friend to someone who is looking for relationships.
The Great Leveling is a trend that you probably haven’t considered, but it’s all around you. Influenced by Generation Z (born between 1995-2009), this generation has leveled the playing field in the way we have access to others, no matter where they live or their station in life. Did you grow up joining a fan club of a famous musician or writing a letter to someone who was deemed famous? Today, you can easily send a message to anyone through social media. Tag someone famous, and you might get a reply.
And what about work? By reducing meetings to online Zoom calls, you’ve just leveled the ability to see everyone on the call as being on the same level. A manager might lead the call, but it’s a visual picture of everyone on the same page. There’s something that also levels the playing field when you are getting a glimpse into everyone’s personal lives when Zoom calls are from home. Unless your boss has a stellar virtual background, you probably feel a lot more comfortable sharing your thoughts when their pets enter the screen or a family member makes a surprise appearance in the background.
As ministry leaders, there are some good things about this trend. The Great Leveling gives us more transparency and authenticity. It helps us see the human side of leadership, and I think it can connect us better to younger generations. Also, as a leader who meets a lot of other women across the country, I enjoy being able to connect with people through direct messages on my social media or engaging with others I may never meet face-to-face. For all of the challenges social media gives us, we have an opportunity to be a light in a dark world. We also have the opportunity to remain humble in our leadership and accessible.
The Great Wealth Transfer is the final “great” cultural trend that could impact your church and ministry. The population of wealthy young people is growing, and one report says, “By 2030, millennials will hold five times as much wealth as they have today, and are expected to inherit over $68 trillion from their predecessors in the Great Transfer of Wealth.” The wealth that was held by Baby Boomers will soon be in the hands of their children and grandchildren. And this could be an interesting trend for ministry leaders.
Consider who is giving to your church. Are there compelling reasons to give? Does the younger generation in your church see the missional impact of their financial gifts? Offer ways for direct ministry impact through charitable giving, but also see the opportunity to educate this generation on the importance of systemic stewardship that will sustain the ministry in your local church.
Second, let’s talk about Gen Z a little more. I’ve already mentioned the impact of this younger generation, but they have some unique strengths and weaknesses that ministry leaders need to understand. Here are the top three trends according to Kara Powell, researcher and author from The Fuller Institute. In a recent podcast with Carey Nieuwhof, she identified three specific adjectives that describe Gen Z.
First, this generation is anxious. Mental illness, and specifically the issues of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, are much higher than ever. The pandemic hasn’t helped, showing anxiety levels that have tripled and depression has quadrupled in this generation. Consider how you are having these conversations in your workplace and at church. Allow young people to discuss how they are coping with these struggles and offer hope through biblical counseling and scripture.
The second adjective is adaptable. Powell describes this generation as creative, talented, and resilient. I can attest to this, as I see younger people I work with as some of the most creative thinkers I’ve been around. They are problem solvers and because life and culture is continually changing, they adapt and are constantly learning. Unlike the funny commercials that show younger people becoming their parents, I see a generation of younger people who quickly learn new technology, embrace challenges, and have hope. As ministry leaders, let’s embrace their adaptability, and learn from them.
The third adjective is diverse. Powell says, “If you look at the US census data, in 2020, 50% of those under 18 are young people of color. So, 50% are white and 50% are young people of color. This generation is one that’s used to being around diverse folks and wants to pursue racial justice and racial reconciliation.” Look around your work and church. Are you pursuing racial diversity? If not, are you intentionally seeking ways to include more people of color? Churches that neglect this trend will quickly find themselves out-of-touch with the younger generation and can easily slide into decline in the next 10 years.
Among my friends, there is a lot of discussion about the trend of younger people deconstructing their faith. In other words, there is a faith crisis among Gen Z from those who grew up in the church. Many are disillusioned by what they were taught, and they are struggling with the issues of suffering, the infallibility of Scripture, and the reality of Hell. There is nothing wrong with asking questions when it comes to faith issues, but as ministry leaders, can we direct them to look for answers in the right places? Consider resources on apologetics and Gospel-centered studies that can help someone not stray from their faith, but grow stronger in their faith.
Finally, people will become more picky about social media. Facebook will continue to be a strong presence for Gen X and Boomers, but Instagram and Tik Tok will be the choice of the future. Even so, I am seeing a trend of younger people choosing not to share as much on social media. They are choosy about what they want others to see and I see a lot less posts than what I saw a year ago. While many women are choosing to use Instagram Stories because they disappear after 24 hours, I’m seeing a lot less personal posts. A lot has been said about the negative impacts of social media, so let’s encourage those under our leadership to be careful of what they post and how they can represent Christ online. Can we encourage more kindness on social media? Can we encourage people to find community in “real life” and not by viewing others through the filters that take away the blemishes?
Of course, there are many more trends that could be addressed for ministry leaders, including how we move forward with variants of COVID, the importance of teaching women how to care for their souls, and how we continue to disciple others. Above all, let’s consider the next year in light of God’s goodness and grace. Let’s look first to Him and not the opinions of others, including this blog. We can be in tune with the trends that are happening, but we can rest in God’s sovereignty and that He is working in the hearts of people.
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church. You can hear Kelly at Lifeway’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.
1. Carey Nieuwhof, “What Nobody’s Talking About in the Great Resignation,” CareyNieuwhof.com, https://careynieuwhof.com/what-nobodys-talking-about-in-the-great-resignation/?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=SocialSnap.
2. Kathleen Elkins, “There are 618,000 millennial millionaires in the US—and 44% of them live in 1 state,” CNBC: Make It, Oct. 17, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/17/heres-where-the-millennial-millionaires-live-around-the-us.html.