The Future of Church in America

What will the “church” in America look like in the next 10 years? 20? 30?

That’s a question I’m spending a lot of time contemplating. Are we “doing church” in the most effective way? What is the right balance between accepting the status quo and redesigning how people experience “church” from the ground up?

One pastor recently lamented to me that the quality of programming in American churches has never been higher, but its influence in society has never been lower.

Why is that? And what needs to change for the American church to reach and serve the lost, to grow instead of shrink and to regain the influence it once had in American society and culture?

Common Noted Barriers to American Church Effectiveness

  • Success – Success is often measured by people in seats, square feet under management and budget size (How should church organizational success be measured?)
  • Facilities – Facilities require massive amounts of financial investment, but are unutilized most of the week. (How should church facilities be stewarded?)
  • Membership – Many church membership criteria contain many extra-biblical requirements. (How can membership criteria best serve current and prospective members while remaining true to biblical intent within American culture?)
  • Passive Experience – The core service, the “Sunday service,” operates as a performance in which attendees are passively involved (in fact, most programming involves a single person speaking and everyone else listening). (How can churches create a more active experience for co-involvement?)
  • Anonymity – The way Sunday services are designed prevent or delay authentic/organic connection for new attendees. (How can new attendees “plug in” and experience authentic connection quickly?)
  • Siloes – Local churches tend to operate in siloes, rather than complementary expressions of God’s global Kingdom on earth (and often compete with each other for influence, funding and members). (How can local churches behave as teammates instead of competitors?)
  • Calling – An emphasize on church volunteer service at the expense of discovery and pursuit of personal calling. (How can churches prioritize and activate personal calling, even if it results in members directing contributions outside of church purview?)
  • Time Commitment – In a society overwhelmed by over-commitment, churches often encourage (and require) participation in activities that consume many hours (and multiple days) each week, which competes with work commitments (also overwhelming), family time, recreation and involvement in non-church related ministry opportunities, often resulting in neglect and burnout. (How much time should church members be expected to spend in church-sanctioned activities on a regular basis?)
  • Talent Management – Talent of church members goes woefully underutilized. (How can churches identify and facilitate use of member talent inventory beyond staffing church volunteer positions?)
  • “Great Man Theory” – Leadership is often concentrated in one senior pastor, who serves as lead preacher and chief executive (roles which require very different skillsets), which contributes to lack of transparency and accountability. (How should church entities be governed?)
  • Men in Church – Many men leave their local church due to not being allowed to lead (or to exercise their natural instinct to provide, protect and problem-solve on behalf of their community) – and are criticized for it. (How can churches attract, engage, equip and empower men to lead?)
  • Business Community – Church leaders and business leaders often compete for influence rather than collaborate. (How can church and business leader share gifting, problem-solving responsibility, influence and leadership in a collaborative manner?)
  • Community Flourishing – Many churches lack a relationship with local municipality and serve community with different goals. (How can churches help local governments solve community problems together?)
  • Real-World Experience – Many clergy and church staff lack professional experiences in areas in which they exert spiritual influence. (How can influence be delegated to true subject matter experts for benefit of members?)
  • Dissent – Offers by members to improve are often rebuffed as dissent or criticism. (How can churches adopt a continuous improvement culture?)
  • Lack of Relevance – Younger generation has been leaving church due to lack of relevance or connection to real life. (How can churches engage, equip and empower the next generation to grow in their Christian faith?)

To help, I’ve begun to explore and outline three alternatives to traditional mega church models in America that combine the values of decentralized equipping and empowering leadership development.

  • The Lean Church Model – Lean staff & budget & ministries, emphasize on equipping, empowering and decentralization. (e.g. “you take initiative to solve that problem – how can the church use it’s influence and resources to help?”) Modeled beautifully by Christ Church in Nashville (in 80s & 90s), as told in Let the River Run by Dan Scott.
  • The Community Center Model – Church space is designed an operates more like a multi-use community center (vs. a country club). Multiple tenants lease income which covers overhead so church funding can be used for ministry. Space is open 7 days a week. Well attended space via tenant services produces extra community exposure and new guests. Outlined in this Church Campus Concept Overview.
  • The House Church Network Model – Inverted model with “small groups” taking the main focus vs. typical church services in semi-formal and supported model. Case example: KC Underground and described in The Starfish and the Spirit by Ford, Wegner and Hirsch.

Nathan Magnuson is the founder of the corporate training company Leadership-in-a-Box® and the Christian Young Professionals in Dallas. Contact Nathan at