Church culture evolves constantly, influencing the way people participate in, attend, and run individual congregations around the country. As a new year begins, it’s important to understand emerging trends in order to be fully informed and make conscious, intentional decisions going forward in 2016.
Regardless of whether or not these trends are actively present in your individual church now, their presence indicates the attitudes, passions and preferences of Christians in the U.S. as a whole. Three trends church leaders should be aware of and assess in 2016 include: shifts in church sizes and models, the emerging role of the Campus Pastor, and the polarization of religious opinions surrounding social issues during an election year.
Shift in Church Sizes and Models
Now more than ever, the church landscape is ever-changing, shifting into various shapes and sizes. Though megachurches continue to thrive, many have begun the transition into a multi-site model, allowing for smaller worship gatherings. Facilities are being downsized in favor of more intimate services, despite total church size. This can also create a sort of mini-denomination, with a church taking on its own denomination-like qualities. 
Medium-sized churches also continue to grow. Smaller churches are merging with others, particularly if they are becoming less relevant and impactful. Medium-sized churches are becoming a more popular option for many.
“Our team has noticed a significant growth in the number of mid-size churches present in the culture in recent years,” said Jeff Jernigan, Senior Vice President of FaithSearch Partners. “The combining of smaller churches and downsizing of megachurches are creating a substantial mid-range that requires a unique approach to leadership and management of ministries.”
Whether leadership realizes it or not, church size has a significant impact on how best to operate. A large church is not simply a bigger version of a smaller church. Leadership structures and procedures that work for a smaller church likely will not work as effectively for a large one, and vice versa. There are different priorities, staff roles, relationships between members, and ministries — just to name a few. As a result, leaders must take into account what model works best for their particular congregation. Each size church has strengths and weaknesses. A larger church may have more developed ministries and programs, but more difficulty developing strong relationships within the congregation, and between pastors and members. There is no ideal size church, but considering your church’s current and potential future state, and the specific type of management it would require, will enable your congregation to thrive.
The Emerging Role of the Campus Pastor
The trend towards multi-site congregations also introduces the role of the Campus Pastor, a crucial element to success for this model. A Campus Pastor’s primary role is to be the DNA-carrier of the original congregation, ensuring that the new location is simply another expression of the church and not an entirely different body. The campus has the same mission and values as the original location, and the Campus Pastor should perpetuate the carrying-over of those tenets. The Campus Pastor also leads the team and volunteers at the new location to extend the reach of the sending campus.
Good Campus Pastors get to know their community of church members. They form relationships. Most Campus Pastors do not serve in a regular teaching role, so they have more time to commit to investing in people as well as the vision and strategy for the site. While a campus should contain the same core DNA as the original site, its expression of those core values may look different depending on the community it serves. A Campus Pastor’s role may include everything from heading up serving initiatives and personally welcoming new visitors to meeting with leaders from other campuses and developing policies and procedures.
This role is becoming ever more important in the shifting of church models and should be considered when planning for 2016. Perhaps your church could benefit from a Campus Pastor. Perhaps your Campus Pastor is not reaching his or her full potential or is stretched too thin. Or maybe simply being aware of and understanding the model will lead to the discovery of a new strategy to utilize. Campus Pastors are the future of ministry for many churches, it is wise to be familiar with this growing position.
Polarization of Religious Opinion Around Social Issues in an Election Year
Every four years, the air gets a little more politically charged as the Presidential election approaches. Though churches may generally try to avoid considering politics as an influence on their teaching or congregations, it must be kept in mind. Topics like abortion, homosexuality, and racism will be top-of-mind for many as they wade through the debates and news cycles on their own. The prevalence of social media and outrage culture online only adds fuel to the flames.
Religious opinions can therefore be even more polarizing than usual during an election year, so it is wise to be sensitive to these subjects, tread with grace and encourage unity in the body of Christ. The core values of the church remain the same regardless of political climate, so adhering to its mission and proclaiming Christ is of the utmost importance.