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The church building and religious-use facility industry is being dramatically and permanently altered by factors that began emerging at the dawn of the 21st century.
In 1989 popular author Ken Follett wrote a riveting best-selling novel “Pillars of the Earth” about the factors that influenced the building of cathedrals in the Middle Ages. Those factors influenced church construction and facility use for nearly a millennium. Here are three more factors that are dramatically shifting the way we build and utilize church facilities.
Factor 4: The Decline in Church Attendance
There are many pundits today who suggest the Church in America is dying but to paraphrase Mark Twain “the reports of the Church’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”
In the 1950’s when the dinosaurs still roamed the earth the majority of Americans went to church or at least said they did because it was a cultural value. Though there are many biblically-centered, vibrant and growing churches in America today, there has been a clear shift away from the value of church attendance. Biblical Christianity is growing in America, cultural Christianity is in decline. Most Americans declare themselves spiritual but not religious or church-going. Today less than 20% of Americans attend church regularly.
As a result church buildings once seen as an asset to a local community are increasingly being viewed more as a liability. In the eyes of non-church goers church buildings take money off the tax rolls, cause traffic problems and create noise issues. As a result there is an increasing community resistance to churches buying land and building facilities, especially large facilities. To win the hearts of the secular community church buildings will have to be multi-purpose facilities that not only serve the church family but also the broader local community.
Shift: The decline in church attendance is forcing churches to build community-centric, multi-purpose, environmentally-friendly facilities.
Factor 5: The Church Planting Resurgence
The church heroes of the baby-boom generation were the megachurch pastors. Today they are the church planters.
When I started thinking about multisiting in the early-1990’s I thought it would be sort of like church-planting, but different. So I went and bought all the church-planting books available, all three of them. Not only were there not many books about church planting, the few that were available were either written by researchers who had never started a church themselves or by individuals who were successful church planters in the 1950’s. Today there are about three books a month published about church planting from successful practitioners. Starting new churches is the new cool!
In the past local churches gave money to their denominations or networks and their denomination or network started churches. Today local churches still give money to their denominations and networks, but increasingly local churches are planting churches as well. Local pastors and churches are passionately embracing the responsibility of starting new congregations. Not a few of them are creating networks of reproducing churches through multisiting and church planting. Some of them are becoming movements that are driven by a local church instead of a national denominational headquarters.
These new church planters are less inclined towards building super-mega campuses, but will multisite and re-purpose existing buildings. When they do build facilities they will be smaller (under 1,500 seats) and multi-purpose with multiple venues that are community and environmentally friendly.
Shift: The church planting resurgence is retro-fitting existing commercial facilities and will build smaller church facilities with multiple venues.
Factor 6: The Church Merger Trend
Roughly 80 percent of the 350,000 Protestant churches in the United States have plateaued or are declining. Many of these churches have empty facilities in desperate need of a vibrant ministry. Among the 20 percent of the growing vibrant congregations across the United States, many are in desperate need of space. This reality is catalyzing a new kind of “mission-driven” merger that is recycling old church buildings. Already one out of three multisite campuses are the result of a church merger. I co-authored “Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work” with Warren Bird to help churches maximize this option.
In addition there is a pastor succession tidal wave coming because so many Protestant pastors are approaching retirement. The next ten years will see an annual mass exodus of senior pastors retiring or leaving their position to pursue other ministry options. Who will fill these pulpits? The multisite model will play an increasing role in this process. I predict that we will see more senior pastors coming from campus pastors and through church mergers in the next decade. I wrote about this in more detail in a recent blog post: Succession, Multisite & Mergers.
The merger and succession trends present an opportunity to re-cycle and redeem a huge inventory of existing church buildings to meet the expectations of church goers today. The church buildings of the twenty-first century will require more high-tech and intimate worship settings, high quality community gathering spaces, and cutting-edge children’s environments that are open, colorful and secure.
Shift: The church merger trend is redeeming and recycling existing church buildings for renewed use in the 21st century.
The pillars of the earth are shifting. Do you feel it? Church leaders, church architects and church building companies who can embrace these shifts will survive and thrive. Those who cannot will go the way of the dinosaur. Adapt or die. Really!
How are these trends affecting your church or church-building business?
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