The beginning of a new year inevitably brings a plethora of predictions, resolutions, and trends. I see no need to alter that course in this article. My assignment is simple; but my conclusions are debatable. I am providing twelve trends for 2012 in the healthiest churches we have observed.
A few caveats are necessary. First, the trends are for healthy churches. They are not inclusive of all 400,000 American churches, much less the millions of churches around the world. Second, the trends are based on both detailed empirical research and anecdotal observations. In other words, I can point to some outstanding research projects for my conclusions in some cases. In other cases, I am simply expressing what I hope is an informed opinion. Third, the trends are not ranked in order of any priority.
Today I will share with you the first six of the trends.
1. The churches have a high view of Scripture. A number of research projects over the past four decades point to this trend. Healthy churches have leaders and members who believe the totality of the Bible, often expressed as a view called inerrancy.
2. A large number of church members read the Bible daily. The simplicity of this trend often surprises church leaders. But we can no longer assume that all of the congregants read their Bibles every day. That is a practice that must be encouraged and monitored. In our research on spiritual health of Christian, we found that the highest correlative factor in practicing other healthy spiritual discipline was reading the Bible every day.
3. The churches have a priority and focus on the nations. This priority is manifest in short-term mission trips, in care and adoption of the orphaned, in giving to mission causes, and in the number of congregants who commit their lives to reaching the nations with the gospel.
4. The churches have a missional community presence. The leadership and members do not look at their community as a pool for prospects. Rather, they love their community. They serve their community. The live in their community. They have deep relationships in their community.
5. The congregations have membership that matters. These healthy churches are high expectation churches. Membership is much more than completing a card or walking an aisle. These churches have entry point classes that set the expectations of membership. Church members are expected to serve, to give, to be in small groups, and to be accountable to others. Church discipline is practiced in most of these congregations. Because membership is meaningful, the assimilation rate in these churches is very high.
6. The members are evangelistically intentional. The gospel is central in these healthy churches. As a consequence, the sharing of the good news is natural and consequential. But leaders in these churches do not simply assume that evangelism is taking place. There are constant reminders of the priority of evangelism. There is inherent in many of these churches some type of accountability for ongoing evangelism in a number of contexts.
There is a lot of bad news in the world today. Indeed there is a lot of bad news in many of our churches today. I am not the metaphorical ostrich with my head in the sand.
But I am convinced that there are many reasons to be encouraged about God’s work in our churches. These six trends for 2012 exemplify some of those reasons for encouragement. In tomorrow’s article, I will add another six trends. And I think, as a consequence, you may have 12 reasons in 2012 to be encouraged.