Despite the adoption of coffee bars, PowerPoint presentations and full-stage lighting, churches are seldom on the cutting edge when it comes to addressing demographic trends.
Here are six dramatic trends that are not being addressed adequately by local churches, church networks or denominations.
If we continue to ignore these trends for another decade, churches will continue to see an erosion of members, attendance and relevance in a rapidly changing American culture.
Gleaned from “SixDisruptiveDemographicTrends: WhatCensus 2010 WillReveal” published by The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina (UNC), these trends will impact churches as well as the U.S. economy.
1. The South has several new faces.
The report reads: “…between 2000 and 2008, the South was the preferred destination for movers in nearly all of the major demographic groups, including blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, and the foreign born.”
While the Northeast and Midwest grew by 6.5 and 9.4 percent respectively, the South attracted over half (51.4 percent) of the 24.8 million increase in the U.S. population.
The West garnered about one-third of the total U.S. growth, but was a net exporter of two out of the four groups mentioned.
Of course, the South isn’t called the Bible Belt for nothing, but established churches in the South tend to be single-race churches, white and black, with few examples of churches designed to address the issue of the South’s growing multiculturalism.
2. The minority majority is coming.
In the 1980s when I first visited Fuller Seminary’s campus in Pasadena, Calif., I was told that there was no majority group in Pasadena – everyone was a minority. That trend is now a growing reality across America.
The UNC report calls it the “browning of America,” which is a phrase I don’t like because it pits white against “browns,” and if not carefully stated becomes a pejorative description of those not white.
But the fact remains that non-white population growth is outstripping white growth dramatically.
Between 2000 and 2009, Asians increased by 31 percent, blacks by 10 percent, and Hispanics by 36 percent. Non-Hispanic whites increased by only 2 percent.
Immigration patterns and birth rates are the primary drivers of this coming minority majority. By 2050, the non-Hispanic white population will fall below 50 percent for the first time in our nation’s history.
No group will be the majority population, and that holds both great challenge and great promise for churches in the next 40 years.
3. Out-marriage is in.
Same-gender marriage has grabbed the headlines, but cross-ethnic marriages are the quiet growing reality.
“Among newly married couples, the out-marriage rate was 14.6 percent in 2008, up from 6.7 percent in 1980,” according to the UNC report. In addition, those marrying outside their ethnic group tend to be more, not less, educated.
Churches in our community (rural, southern Virginia) tend not to have interracial couples, although there are many in our community.
As this out-marriage trend grows, churches will need to become more conscious and sensitive to these ethnically blended families.
Church literature and advertising will need to run images of cross-ethnic couples and families in order to indicate a church’s welcome to these blended marriages.
4. The baby boomers aren’t babies anymore.
“On January 1, 2011, the first baby boomer born in America turned 65 and set into motion what we refer to as the “silver tsunami.” Almost 80 million baby boomers will leave the U. S. workforce in the next 20 years.
Churches already skew older than the national population average, and this will only become more pronounced in the next two decades.
Seeker-sensitive churches that sprang up to attract baby boomers in the 1980s will be impacted by the aging of this group.
While churches almost always want to attract young families, by default and intention there will be churches that focus primarily on senior adults.
Senior adult ministry for and with older adults will not just be a subgroup of larger congregations.
Entire churches will be senior-led, benefitting from the years of experience, education, skills and resources this group possesses.
5. It’s no longer a man’s world.
According to the report, men “bore 80 percent of total U.S. job loss between 2007 and 2009” leading some to proclaim the “end of men” in the economic market.
Out of 10 college graduates over the past decade, six were women, four men. Women own 40 percent of all U.S. businesses, and women hold 43 percent of all executive, administrative and managerial positions in the U.S. economy.
“Women are close to surpassing men as the numerical majority in the paid U.S. workforce.” In addition, in “married couple households, women now account for 47 percent of household income,” and 63.3 percent of mothers were the primary or co-breadwinner, up from 27.7 percent in 1967.
The implication for churches is obvious in several areas. Ministries to men and women need to recognize these new workplace realities.
Ozzie and Harriett are dead, and churches need to deal with gender issues like it was 2012, not 1952.
6. Grandparents are the new parents.
“In 2010, 4.9 million American children lived in grandparent-headed households.” This is an increase of 26 percent versus a 4 percent increase for children living in all other type households.
Increasingly, these grandparent-led households also include one or more adult children who are parents of the grandchildren. And, 40 percent of children were living in a home headed by a grandmother only.
This growing family-type challenges the traditional church idea of what it means to be a family, and provides opportunity for churches to meet the unique needs of grandparent-led households.
That these households tend to be non-white and economically stressed provides additional challenges for church ministry.
Each one of these trends challenges the traditional church’s idea of its community, membership, inclusivity and understanding of gender and race issues.
Small churches will face unique challenges, but also unique opportunities in addressing these trends.
However, if denominations, churches and church networks continue to ignore these society-shaping developments, we will miss the great opportunities for growth, outreach and church revitalization in the 21st century.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.