A “paradigm shift” is a significant change in the paradigm of any discipline or group. This shift is dramatic alters the landscape that was previously thought to be the standard. It’s that “aha!” moment when one or an entire society sees things in such a new light that the old ways of thinking are set aside and a new model is adopted. Each paradigm shift causes people to discard a previous standard in favor of this new model.
For example, scientists used to believe that the world was flat. This belief was based on the fact that they could only see for a limited distance. Once they began to explore further and further out they concluded that the world is not flat after all, that it is actually round. This discovery had profound ramifications on the scientific community and everyone else.
Another example is the industrial revolution. Prior to the industrial revolution cars, boats, cabinets, tables, and everything else were built by skilled craftsman one at a time. The industrial revolution changed this. Factories were built and laborers assembled components one at a time reducing labor costs, improving quality, and dramatically increasing productivity. There has also been a paradigm shift in technology. Electricity, personal computers, the Internet, access to information, the Cloud, and Smart Phones have all contributed to this shift.
Paradigm shifts and the church:
Churches used to measure success by the size of their building, budget, and weekend attendance, but that paradigm is shifting. Now churches are measured by relational connectedness, community impact, global outreach, and effective discipleship. Now it’s all about transformation and that is much harder to measure, but far more informative, than merely counting how many butts are sitting in the seats.
This new paradigm reveals that people are hungry for authenticity and involvement not just watching a weekend production. This is true regardless of the size of the church. People want to join others who are passionate about their faith and really believe in what they are doing. They are tired of the same tirade week after week with little interaction or involvement. In my opinion, this new paradigm will have a profound impact on how churches worship, practice generosity, support global ministries, and even teach the Word of God. And it’s going to look different everywhere since every church is different.
Churches must embrace emerging paradigm shifts or they will become culturally irrelevant and eventually cease to exist. Churches that are too focused on their facilities or on the number of people who fill them risk missing the monumental shift towards connectedness and effectiveness. I have seen many larger churches connect very well with the community and at the same time many smaller churches that don’t. The size of the church doesn’t really matter either as long as it’s effective. Leaders need to grapple with these new realities and live with the tension that accompanies with them. It’s a topic worth discussing with your leadership team.
In my opinion there are ten paradigm shifts taking place within the church right now that every leader needs to know about.
1. The number of multisite churches will continue to grow. In the 90’s there were only a handful of churches using video to deal with overcrowding. Larger churches launched these smaller “satellite” campuses to enable the church to continue to grow without building a larger facility. Just over a decade later there are more than 8,000 multisite churches who intentionally launch new campuses to reach more people for Christ. Nobody launches “satellite” campuses to deal with overcrowding; everybody launches multisite campuses to reach more people for Christ.
2. Multisite campuses will thrive in small communities. Currently most multisite campuses exist in urban and suburban areas. All that is changing as technology is leveraged to reach out into rural areas. Rural areas are now open to embracing this technology and using it to reach more people for Christ.
3. Churches will decentralize. They will become more dependent on specialized volunteers and less paid staff. Just like the industrial revolution changed how things were built, the volunteer revolution changes how the church gets things done. Today people don’t want to sit back and pay a professional staff member to minister, they expect the paid staff member to equip and mobilize and army of volunteers to do ministry.
4. Finances will be the “elephant in the room.” Baby boomers and Gen X’ers gave to the church in order to support its work. Millenialists and the upcoming digital generation give very little. They like to be involved in doing ministry but don’t really get the biblical concept of tithing or embrace it. As this issue continues to grow, more information and ideas dealing with how to tackle it will surface.
5. Some denominations will die. Some will die because they refused to stay relevant, others will die because they forsake the gospel and teach a watered down versions of the truth. In my opinion, some denominations should because it will be less confusing to people who seek to know the Gospel. As these denominations die Spirit led churches will continue to grow like crazy as people crave relief from relativism and complacency. Larger churches will take the place of denominations when it comes to serving and equipping smaller churches.
6. Mega churches will try to feel small. The day of the big box church is coming to an end. Many big box churches will continue to survive and many will thrive, but by and large most large churches will try to feel smaller and smaller by using more multisites, pushing small groups, and localizing ministry. Some will be wildly successful, others will age out and virtually disappear in 20 years.
7. Zoning laws will be a problem. Churches will find it harder and harder to find a place to call home because communities will refuse to allow churches to use public buildings. Zoning laws will prohibit churches from moving into new communities or finding a home in old ones. The good news is that God always provides a way even if it isn’t apparent yet.
8. Effectiveness and impact are the new standards of measurement. Old measurements of attendance and finances will become secondary to effectiveness and impact. Churches will NEED to know their mission and have a clear path to fulfill it. They will also have to develop ways of measuring their effectiveness and communicate it to the congregation.
9. Relationships will drive ministry, programs will not. It used to be that if a church had a large AWANA program it would drive attendance. Today people still like large programs but they are attracted to the relationships that are built at them. Everyone wants to be connected with others who desire to grow in their faith. Leaders need to do life together and serve together and this in and of itself is attractive to those who attend because they see it as an authentic ministry not just another program they need to volunteer for.
10. The number of self-proclaimed Christians will shrink. The vast majority of Americans used to claim to be Christians but in reality they never were in the first place. That will change as more and more people claim to be atheists, agnostics, and “nones” (people with no religious affiliation whatsoever). People will continue to come to Christ and the church will face persecution, but it will grow even though the number of self-proclaimed nominal Christians will shrink.
1. List past paradigm shifts the church has been involved with.
3. What paradigm shifts in the church are taking place now?
4. What paradigm shifts have you embraced within your ministry?
5. Can you think of a paradigm shift your church is failing to make?
6. How would you answer the question, “Tell me about the impact your church is having on your community?”
7. Define your “discipleship growth model” for individuals?
8. What ministry, program, or mindset will have to change at your church in the next 5 years?
9. How can you collect relevant information about your community in order to meet the needs?