When futurist Leonard Sweet introduced the "well curve" – one of the top five trends as far as where the culture is heading – one church leader consultant decided to do some research on how that applies on the local church level.
Looking at society at large, the inverted bell curve – in which the population gravitates toward the ends or extremes – is evident, Chad Hall indicated in a column featured in Christianity Today magazine.
As a few instances illustrated by the well curve, Hall noted how television screens are simultaneously getting both larger (60" plasma!) and tinier (watch the latest episode of 24 on your iPod!); stores are getting larger (Wal-Mart) and smaller (specialty boutique stores); people are eating more healthful food (organic) and more fast food (McDonald's).
More significantly, Hall, also co-author of Coaching for Christian Leaders: A Practical Guide pointed to the decline of the middle such as the middle-class, mid-sized companies and the status for anything considered average.
Extremes in church trends
Some noted church trends Hall described on the well curve include how the church is moving theologically liberal and conservative; the disappearance of the moderate; how churchgoers increasingly prefer megachurches and microchurches, but not mid-sized congregations; and how the church is both growing and losing prominence within the larger society.
Within the life of the local congregation, Hall asks: "How can pastors and other church leaders deal effectively with the well curve involvement of their church members?"
Church involvement in a well curve means few people are moderately involved, which church leaders could usually expect, and members are either highly involved or barely involved.
Hall noted four trends that are adapting to the well curve.
"Churches are rethinking membership in seismic ways," he stated.
While some churches consider anyone on the mailing list as a member or heighten the bar of what it takes to join the church, Hall said church leaders embracing the well curve "allow for a sense of belonging at both ends of the spectrum."
"This often results in leadership strategies that make membership available at two polarities: membership that is quick and available to practically anyone, and a level of membership that signifies considerable choice and high expectation," he said.
Noting there are fewer "average givers" these days, the church leader consultant said church budgets must be adjusted.
"The two [non-contradictory] messages being sent to the congregation are 'don't feel pressured to give' and 'give even more,'" said Hall. "[Church leaders] increase overall giving by giving appropriate attention to the ends of the giving continuum."
Hall drew attention to North Point Church near Atlanta as an example of a church in the well curve.
North Point focuses on moving people from large scale worship experiences to small group participation. Less attention is given to the middle – North Point's one-time meeting that helps people consider and get started in a small group.
"Contrast this with typical Sunday school, a big middle strategy aimed at getting everyone to attend classes that avoid anonymity while rarely delivering intimacy," said Hall.
When it comes to running the church and all of its ministries, Hall found that some churches are shifting church staffing that emphasizes more volunteer and part-time personnel overseeing armies of workers.
"Gone are the days of Mrs. Sally teaching the fourth graders 50 weeks each year for two decades. The newer paradigm is for two-thirds of the church to be involved as short-term or rotating workers, while a significant number of high capacity volunteers or part-time staffers bring continuity and oversight."
And there is a shrinking role for the moderately involved volunteer, Hall added.
In closing, the consultant asked church leaders what well curves they've noticed in their own congregation.
"And if the well curve trend continues or even increases, how will you respond?" he posed.