As 2020 nears its close, churches are looking to the future and creating new plans. But the developments of the year have influenced both what a church service looks like and how churches are expected to speak into the culture.
In recent ChurchPulse Weekly episodes, host Carey Nieuwhof and guest Miles McPherson of The Rock Church in San Diego discuss the future of the Church, both in its changing modalities and in its pursuit of justice.
As Church Modes Pivot, So Should Staff Norms
As recent Barna research notes, congregational hopes and expectations for their church services are shifting. Younger churchgoers are more interested in hybrid services in the future than their older generations, who are more likely to prefer in-person services.
To serve the diverse needs of their congregations, many churches are offering a variety of service options, from on-demand to backyard services. McPherson shares that his team has focused on creating content in advance, as well as developing a digital platform for on-demand services.
However, these congregation-facing shifts have created a need for equal changes in operations behind the scenes. McPherson’s team has seen management difficulties due to their newly online system: “You almost have to micromanage… it’s hard to know how people are using their time.” Without working in the same office, leaders may have greater difficulty in assessing the needs and challenges of their staff.
McPherson’s staff have also regretted the lack of in-person time. “I think we miss our relationships, and we miss being in the room together and loving on each other,” says McPherson. For staff teams which are founded on close relationships, the pandemic challenges leaders to think of new ways to develop team culture.
Prepare for Uncertainty by Surrendering to God’s Will
2020 has been marked by more visible uncertainty than previous years, and it has prompted many younger Americans to reevaluate their understanding of faith. According to Barna’s research, 1 in 5 churched Generation Z (22%) and Millennials (20%) agree that they are rethinking or drifting from their faith practices.
However, McPherson sees a key opportunity even in this time of widespread confusion. He is careful to note that leaders will always lack knowledge—even if life seems predictable.
By acknowledging this, leaders can find a humility that leads to greater freedom. McPherson expresses that “I think I have more freedom there to step out and trust God… [He’s] been saying, just relax, just do this, be faithful with this.” Even as pastors and congregations know nothing, God has affirmed that he is “still on the throne.”
Racial Issues are Causing Necessary Discomfort
Nieuwhof and McPherson also discuss recent Barna research showing gaps between white and Black practicing Christians on racial reconciliation. According to a recent Barna study, white Christians tend to see racism as an isolated, individual issue while Black Christians are more likely to see it as an issue that’s built into our society and systems. Moreover, white practicing Christians are in fact less motivated than before to address racial justice.
To McPherson, this is unsurprising. Conversations about racial justice are uncomfortable and many white Christians may feel wary of joining them, especially following the summer of 2020, when these discussions may feel more “hostile” than before.
However, McPherson criticizes this fear of discomfort, saying that staying in a “comfortable bubble” makes effective ministry impossible. If a pastor stays away from difficult issues, “you [may] have a diverse congregation, but you’re not ministering to them.” Instead of remaining comfortable, he advises leaders to lean into the challenges and trust that God will be there.
For Racial Reconciliation, Focus on Relational Education, Not Media Spin
Despite white Christians’ decrease in motivation to address racial injustice, McPherson notes that many individuals are feeling newly motivated to act. “People are made in the image of God… they’re created to love. Once we have our eyes opened to how we haven’t done that, and how we can, people respond.”
To move forward, McPherson advises leaders to focus on relationships—even when they are uncomfortable. Media outlets can tend to provide “reasons and excuses” for not engaging with issues; without personal experience of racial discrimination, people may rely on narratives which reinforce their blind spots. “If you don’t experience it, you think people are making it up,” he warns.
To bridge this experiential gap, he suggests a biblical “third option” which begins with recognizing the fundamental similarity between all humans as made in God’s image. With this underlying relationship present, congregations can step more readily into uncomfortable discussions of difference and discrimination in the broken world.
Pastors may need to be patient, and McPherson also encourages them to stay persistent. While pursuing racial justice may take a long time, he emphasizes that leaders are still called to “continue to fight the good fight and love on people.”
About the Research
The research presented from Barna’s 2020 journal Six Questions About the Future of the Hybrid Church Experience was conducted online from September 1 to 15, 2020. In total, Barna surveyed 1,302 U.S. adults. The sample error for this study is ±2.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
2020 Survey Conducted in Partnership with Dynata
The research for Barna’s Race Today briefing surveyed 1,525 U.S. adults online between June 18 and July 6 2020 via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled African American, Asians and Hispanics to ensure larger sample sizes that allow for greater analysis among these smaller population segments. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education, and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 at a 95% confidence interval.
Due to low sample size when segmenting practicing Christians by race / ethnicity in the 2020 study, Barna instead chose to report on self-identified Christians—a nationally representative sample—throughout the briefing.
2019 Survey Conducted in Partnership with Racial Justice and Unity Center
The research for Beyond Diversity (an upcoming Barna study) surveyed 2,889 U.S. adults online between July 19 and August 5, 2019 via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled Practicing Christians, African American, Asians and Hispanics. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education, and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1. 9 at a 95% confidence interval.
U.S. adults are U.S. residents 18 and older.
Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.
Churched adults / churchgoers have attended a church service in the past six months.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020