3 Disruptive Trends Emerging From COVID-19

Change is inevitable but irrelevance isn’t. Churches are facing a perfect storm of disruption and need to understand the broader changes occurring in the culture and among Christians in how to fulfill the Great Commission in a post-pandemic world. Carey Nieuwhof interviews bestselling author Thom Rainer to discuss three emerging trends coming out of the pandemic.
The Digital Revolution for Small Churches
The last five years have brought about profound changes to the way people do church. Thom Rainer says the digital revolution has resulted in many churches going digital, from a 10% adoption rate to now sitting at around 90%. Rainer reflects,
“We have not begun to understand the impact of the churches going digital.”
Churches as small as 30 or 40 people in attendance are not only embracing live streaming of services but they are using digital communications to support outreach into the community. Rainer highlights,
“Many churches have started prayer ministries for the community online.”
Churches are finding that they are doing more ministry in their community through the digital door than through face to face meetings. Rainer says he would tell all churches of any size to go digital.
“It is a mission field that you don’t know about until you get there. You really need to be in that mission field.”
Rainer says he understands that most of us have a preference for the physical gathering but we should not abandon the digital world as it is an area that you can reach into your local community that you may have not discovered yet.
Death of denominationalism
Rainer also points out a second trend which will impact the church in years to come and that is a disaffiliation of Christians with denominations. Rainer notes,
“The decline of denominations is precipitous, way more so than before the pandemic.”
Denominations no longer have the hook, the appeal or the doctrinal unity than when they were first formed. Rainer points to two major shifts that have weakened denominational affiliation.
Denominations historically served geographical limitations and were formed where immigrants gathered, however with the acceleration of online communities, geographical location is not as important for forming churches. Many websites state a church’s doctrinal position, helping people to determine whether a church meet’s their doctrinal position. Other than doctrinal adherence, denominations also equipped their pastors through bible colleges. That training has been distributed to para church organizations and networks. Rainer points out,
“There is a diffusion of ministry and equipping as it used to be highly concentrated in the denominations and churches of those denominations.”
A lot of leaders in churches and ministries are not hiring from the seminaries rather they are hiring from the marketplace or hiring from within. Organizations such as Rainer’s Church Answers are offering certifications in ministry to compensate for the lack of theological training in ministry leaders.
Rainer does not think denominations will be reinvented and that there will be some vestige of denominations in 50 years time but their influence will wane.
Death of evangelism
Finally, the third trend in the North American church that has been accelerated in the pandemic is the death of evangelism. Rainer notes there is mounds of data that evangelism as a priority has been declining in local churches.
“What has happened when the Great Commission has become the Great omission?”
Rainer considers that the church in the US is now facing a post-Christian culture. This new climate has made it more difficult to effectively engage in evangelism. The healthy churches are going to need to rediscover evangelism rather than get distracted by culture wars. Rainer observes,
“Our churches were once in an area of their own. Now they are in a mission field they don’t recognise.”
Rainer says that Jesus did not say go and build great facilities, rather he said go reach people with the Gospel. Arguably a lot of church growth in the last 20 years has been transfer growth, rather than new converts where Christians have moved from smaller churches to larger churches. Rainer says that we cannot expect people to just drop by our church anymore. He observes,
“The way we do church has to significantly change, if it does not the trends are inescapable.”
Listen more to Thom Rainer on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership podcast here.
About Thom Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.