For years now, both Christian leaders and the National Media have agreed on one thing. They both have concluded that Millennials are ambivalent and skeptical about God, Jesus, and the Church. Very public pastoral failures combined with watchdogs reporting on them has only added to that ambivalent impression.
And then there is the Covid effect. Pastors became discouraged. It seemed like every week there was another friend or staff member exiting our churches. The American Church was divided in ways I have not seen in my lifetime.
The book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath encourages readers to seek out the bright spots, which are places where things are working well.
At Intentional Churches® we have discovered an incredibly bright spot in the American Church!
Our view of the state of the local church in America is different from the polling services and thought leaders who tend to have a grim outlook for the local church. Over 600 churches are on a journey installing ChurchOS®, and our view comes from the trenches of leadership across churches of every shape, size and make.
Here is a bit of a timeline of what we have observed about the bright spots in the American Church right now:
- While weekend attendance may have decreased in 2021, new families started showing up at many churches. Upon inspection of kids’ check in data, we discovered that almost every church was setting a record of new families – even pre-Covid!
- This trend continued in 2022, and there was even a spike in attendance from October to Christmas.
- In the spring and Easter of 2023, there was a significant increase in weekend attendance and baptisms, regardless of the church’s location. Some churches are now outpacing pre-Covid attendance. (My home church Canyon Ridge in Vegas has baptized over 300 already this year!)
- BONUS! Most of this new growth are unchurched or dechurched people. If the bulk of your church strategies have been designed with priority and lens for those Christians already with you, you MUST consider new approaches immediately. (I plan to talk more about ways to do this within the coming posts.)
In addition to these trends across hundreds of churches we work with, there are some significant, powerful cultural landmarks as well. Here are a few we noticed:
- According to a 2022 survey of US adults by Barna, 44% are more open to God than before the pandemic and 74% want to grow more spiritually.
- The revival in February at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky attended by tens of thousands of people, mostly Gen Z, from hundreds of institutions.
- When Damar Hamlin almost died on an NFL field, the world watched in awe as these great American warriors wept and prayed together – on live TV!
- Dan Orlovosky, an ESPN personality and former NFL Quarterback, taught people to pray on live TV! Here is part of his prayer:
“Maybe this is not the right thing to do but it’s just on my heart that I want to pray for Damar Hamlin right now,” Orlovsky said. “I’m gonna do it out loud, I’m gonna close my eyes, I’m gonna bow my head and I’m just gonna pray for him.”
These are just a few examples, but they are significant and do show us there are indeed bright spots that provide hope. Therefore, instead of focusing on the negative, we should ask ourselves, “Have we seen bright spots of spiritual awakening in our community?” If you see it, then start asking, “How will we steward this moment in history and how must we think differently about designing strategy in our church if this is true?”
In our next post, we will discuss what you and your team can do to contribute to this movement.
For now, let’s focus on the bright spots. We guarantee that they are there. You just have to notice.