Five Indicators Your Church Isn’t Prepared for the Future

by Carey Nieuwhof

It’s a tough question to answer: so, is your church ready for the future?

A lot of the time, I’m afraid the answer is no.

This year especially, culture is changing so rapidly that’s it’s hard for anyone to keep up.

The non-negotiable spiritual truths are unchanging. The spiritual disciplines must be practiced and powerful in the lives of your members. God has a church-growth model in the Book of Acts. It begins with the Holy Spirit and filled with disciple makers! 

Ask people what’s changing faster, the culture or the church, and pretty much everyone will tell you the culture is changing much more quickly. Hands down more rapidly.

The gap between how quick your church changes and how quickly culture changes is called irrelevance.

So how would you know if your church is ready for the future?

Here are 5 signs it’s not.

1. You Don’t Understand The Culture

Listen, this one’s hard.

Culture is changing rapidly. But in addition to that, it’s also fragmenting, fast. We see fractures in our cultures and systems every day. How do you prevent isolation and promote community.

Knowing the culture is changing and understanding how it’s changing are two different things.

There are two primary reasons it’s becoming difficult to truly understand the culture:

First, the pace of cultural change continually speeds up. The internet has both increased connectivity and speed. As a result, we know about trends faster and they tend to change faster.

Second, tastes and preferences are far more fragmented than they used to be. For example, since music has switched to on-demand streaming, there’s not much a common playlist anymore.

Don’t believe me? Check out the top 40 songs on iTunes or Spotify and I guarantee you most church people wouldn’t know the majority of artists, let alone like them. Matchbox 20 and Celine Dion aren’t exactly lighting up the charts much these days.

The point? If you don’t understand the culture, you lose the ability to speak into it.

You don’t have to agree with what’s happening to speak into it, but you do need to understand it.

If you don’t understand the culture, you lose the ability to speak into it.

2. You’re Not Taking The Internet Seriously Enough

We have also seen this rapid progression to online church ministry this year. Pretty much everyone slips seamlessly between a digital and analog life these days.

Think about it. You’re reading this online. We’ve probably never met personally. And, about 80% of you are reading this on your phone.

Here’s what will happen next. You’re going to put your phone back in your pocket or purse when you’re done and likely talk to a real person who’s next to you or who just interrupted your reading.

We all slip unthinkingly between the digital and non-digital.

So why does this matter?

Well, it matters because that’s how the world behaves too. And everyone who you want to reach but isn’t in your church is online.

Church leaders, everyone who you want to reach but isn’t in your church is online.

Despite knowing that everyone we want to reach is online, most churches staff, allocate resources and strategize about 99% of their time, energy and money for ministry within their physical buildings.

Want to really stretch your thinking? Start thinking of your church as a digital organization with a physical presence, not a physical organization with a digital presence. Let that bend your mind for a while.

Remember, everyone you’re trying to reach is online. Why aren’t you taking that more seriously?

What if you thought of your church as a digital organization with a physical presence?

3. You Think Small Changes Are Good Enough

Change can be hard in the church. (For example, here are 7 signs your church will never change).

So when it comes to change, most leaders settle. Any change is better than no change, right?

Well, that’s true.

But just know this: small changes never solve big problems.

Small changes never solve big problems.

And when the vast majority of churches aren’t accomplishing the potential of their mission…that’s a big problem.

Small changes won’t move you into a substantially better future. If the problem is big, the change needs to be big too. Small changes never solve big problems.

This is true for stuck and declining churches, but it’s also true for larger and successful churches.

One of the biggest challenges for larger or even growing churches is, as Jim Collins puts it, the hubris born of success.

Don’t focus just on what God has done through you or is doing through you. Pray about what he might do through you yet. Does your current success give you a sense of satisfaction? Let the mission drive you to further action.

If you don’t, you’ll settle for small changes that will inevitably lead you into future decline.

Does your success give you a sense of satisfaction? Let the mission drive you to further action.

4. No One In Your City Even Knows You’re There

A growing problem for many churches is not persecution, it’s indifference.

Most leaders tend to overestimate how well their church is known, loved and respected in their community.

But the next time you drive by a church you know nothing about, ask yourself if you’d notice if it was gone. Most of us have no idea what goes on inside.

That’s how most people who live in your community probably feel about your church.

How can you change that?

Jeff Henderson of Gwinnett Church has pioneered something that’s spread to thousands of churches—the #FOR initiative—in which churches demonstrate to their communities that God is for them and the church is for them. Rather than waiting for people to love us, the #FOR initiative shows the city that we love them. I interview Jeff Henderson about the #FOR initiative on my leadership podcast. You can listen for free here.

A growing problem for many churches is not persecution, it’s indifference.

5. You’re Not That Passionate About The Mission

You know what’s missing in so many churches and so many leaders?


The church has the best mission in the world. There’s none better, and it has the potential to transform the entire planet.

But so many church leaders have lost their passion. So have many churches.

It’s easy to get distracted by challenges that take you off mission. Or to have life and leadership suck the juice out of you.

Leaders, your church will never be more passionate about the mission than you are.

And congregations, your passion for the world should be so white hot that people can’t help but wonder what’s going on.

Reignite Your Passion

You may read a post like this and think “I don’t really have the time to make the changes we need to make at our church. I’m already overwhelmed with trying to keep with everything that’s going on in our current situation, despite the fact that I know it’s not working as well as it should be.”

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by life and leadership, you’re not alone.

What if it could be different?

What if you could have the time to fix what’s broken, re-engineer the future AND have more time with your family? Used by permission.

You may also like

Update Required Flash plugin