Facts & Trends asked five religion researchers the cultural challenges that could affect pastors and congregations in 2018.
Fewer Americans will have room for God in their lives.
In 2007, about 15 percent of Americans identified as “nones” (atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular), according to Greg Smith, associate director of research at Pew Research Center. By 2017, that number had jumped to 26 percent.
God might inspire church members to do something new.
A Lifeway Research study of small churches found ministry outside of church can help a congregation become more effective at evangelism. “God will call someone to go out from your church sharing the gospel in a new place or in a new way,” says Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “How will you prepare, support, and replace them?”
The church will become more diverse.
Roughly 8 in 10 Americans (81 percent) identified as white and Christian in 1976, says Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute. Today, that number is 43 percent.
Regular church attendance means once or twice a month.
This means it’s harder for church members to build relationships with one another. “It’s doubtful anyone at church today, even highly involved volunteer leaders, could receive a perfect attendance pin for the year,” says Warren Bird, director of research for Leadership Network.
Congregations may look older than they really are.
Older members are the most likely to show up in church, says Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, while younger members, especially families with kids, will attend less often.