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The temptation in predicting trends is that we imagine God in Deistic fashion, as if he were uninvolved or absent in human affairs. But history is not an inevitable progression. God may choose to start a revival in the United States within the next ten years. He may allow the U.S. to wither from a nuclear attack. Who knows what the Lord has planned? We should never speculate about the future in a way that makes God seem distant and removed.

There is, however, something to be said for understanding the times in which we live. If we can discern contemporary trends in evangelicalism, we should consider their implications and trajectory for the coming years. Here are five trends to watch for:

1. Chastened Expectations of Culture Change through Politics

Evangelicals will be less inclined to focus our efforts on changing culture through the political process. Books like Culture Making by Andy Crouch, To Change the World by James Davidson Hunter, and Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson are already influential among thoughtful evangelical leaders. Younger evangelicals (on both the political right and left) are increasingly put off by the politicization of evangelicalism.

Evangelicals will continue to be socially aware and active – perhaps even more than in the past – but in different ways (art, literature, movies, etc.). And even our expectations in these areas will be chastened by a theologically-driven humility regarding how much change we can effect.

2. Growth of Evangelical-Style Prosperity Teaching in South America and Africa

The new face of world Christianity is no longer the European man, but the African woman. The missionary movement has resulted in a dramatic demographic shift.

Unfortunately, the result has not always been a vibrant evangelical witness, or even a recognizable evangelicalism tainted by the prosperity gospel. In many places, the teaching is fundamentally “health and wealth” with just a few evangelical qualities. I expect the spread of evangelical-tinged prosperity teaching will persist.

3. For evangelicals in North America, homosexuality will become a wedge issue that reveals the major cracks in our theological disunity.

In the next ten years, we will see a number of prominent evangelical pastors come out in favor of committed same-sex relationships as compatible with a life of Christian repentance. The controversy in the mainlines will reach historically evangelical churches and denominations.

A number of historically-conservative churches will surprise us on this issue. The atheological foundation at the bottom of what used to be a cultural-conservativism will give way. The distinctions between traditional and novel views of Scripture and its role in the church will become evident, with homosexuality representing the edge of the cliff.

At the same time, a large number of pastors will maintain biblical convictions on the issue of homosexuality, and yet will preach and teach on the subject less and less – as they don’t want to offend newcomers in a way that would preclude a hearing for the gospel.

4. We will tighten the belt for ourselves and (hopefully) recommit to world missions.

The speed and quality of internet connectivity will fuel more mission work and collaboration with people in other countries. This exposure to other contexts will force us to re-think our historic emphasis on big buildings and maintenance. This trend is already evident, as church planting becomes more prominent, multi-site campuses become an option for many mega-churches, and guys like David Platt call us on the carpet for building “monuments” while people need the gospel (not to mention the basic necessities of life).

Many churches will rethink the purpose of big buildings because of cultural pressure (extravagant sanctuaries like the Crystal Cathedral are viewed negatively and thus become a hindrance rather than a help in reaching out), while other churches will do so because of their passion to give more to missions.

5. Polarization regarding Philosophy of Ministry

Evangelicals are already divided on the issue of ministry philosophy. I suspect these lines will become more defined in the next decade.

The attractional model will lead many churches to adopt incredibly entertaining children’s church programs, youth group experiences, etc. The attempt is to hold on to an evangelical culture that is increasingly bored with church. Mega-churches will continue to compete with one another for a decreasing number of “regular church-goers.”

Other churches will react to the attractional model by upholding family-centered churches and dismissing event-based evangelism. I suspect that few church leaders will read and listen to people on both sides of this discussion.

(My hope is that the missional Reformed movement, which holds a lot of promise, will work to stay rooted in biblical faithfulness, not pragmatism, so that it doesn’t digress into simply the next variation of the attractional model. Right now, I see strongly missional guys taking care to make good distinctions that help prevent a drift toward the left. I also see an openness from non-missional guys to learn from the missional warning of turning into an isolated enclave. I hope this conversation continues.)

On a related note, the “worship wars” will become a thing of the past. Our society’s musical taste are too fragmented for there to be a “contemporary” and “traditional” style. Young people are less and less likely to choose a church based on the style of music.

What do you think? Are these trends likely? Are there others I should mention?


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28 thoughts on “5 Trends to Watch for in Evangelicalism: 2011-2020”

  1. I’m afraid that I think you’re right in the general direction of Evangelicalism. Just as the atheological reasons for denying the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection diminished the Church’s conviction on topics like divorce and then abortion, the positions some evangelicals have taken on Evolution based on the same grounds suggest that there would be plenty of scope for the scenario you predict to occur (especially given the current agnosticism on the subject from some). Thanks for the food for thought.

  2. Jon Bartlett says:

    Trevin, good points. But Stephen, as an evangelical and Christian AND scientist of nearly 40 years, I have to respond. I can’t accept a ‘slippery slope’ arguement linking belief in an Old Earth (and some form of evolution) with denial of the resurrection. And the foundation of my belief in both is entirely ‘theological’!

    Yes, I’d take your stance on most of those topics, but this one is NOT one that can be casually linked in – after all, Trevin doesn’t even mention it.

    Sorry, for the minor rant! Jon

  3. Kevin Chen says:

    Here is the stats I recently came across:
    “In the United States, currently, 48.3% of children under 5 are minorities; 1 in 7 marriages are interracial; and a growing number of families are adopting cross-culturally. Yet sadly, 92.5% of all churches are segregated by race and class, and eleven o’clock on Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the week.”

    I can only hope and pray that multi-ethnic and multicultural (as opposed to monocultural) church become the trend to watch for in the young restless and reformed churches. And the social implication of justification would be seen and felt.

    “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

  4. 2. Growth of Evangelical-Style Prosperity Teaching in South America and Africa

    I nearly threw up in my coffee reading that.

    Now I have a clearer idea of why I have a desire to go preach the gospel in South America and die.

  5. Dom says:

    Hi Trevin,

    If my personal convictions serve as any indication, your projection in #1 is accurate. It is vitally important that we finally get it into our heads that the kind of transformation we need is not going to come about through political means (which in the end, are coercive). Only through our faithful witness as the church will we impact our culture in a way that brings any kind of meaningful transformation. We have the privilege of looking back on a generation of heavy political involvement by the “religious right” (oversimplification, I know), and from my perspective, it seems like the exorbitant amount of energy, time, and money spent trying to influence politics would have been much better spent serving our world and focusing on our own problems as the church. Let’s say we successfully pass a law that makes X illegal, nation-wide. What have we really accomplished? Not much, in my view, as a good reading of Romans 7 and 8 should make clear.

    Thanks for your post and blog in general.

    Peace,

    Dom

  6. John Davis says:

    I believe there will be a trend to false doctrine rather than the truth of God’s Word. There will be many who believe that they are following Jesus when they actually will follow something that has the name of Jesus tied to it. These will deny the deity of Christ and still proclaim to believe in Jesus.

  7. Andy Holt says:

    I think you’re spot on with the first three, particularly your third point. The issue of homosexuality will soon work its way through evangelicalism, and clearly already is. People like Jay Bakker will move their position further into the mainstream because it seems compassionate, empathetic, and merciful. In this day and age, the worst thing you can be is judgmental or mean-spirited or prejudiced. The wider culture will only encourage this split, as the media, entertainment, and political machines will openly applaud any and all evangelicals who move to accept same-sex relationships, while at the same time condemning all who oppose them as close-minded and behind-the-times. The equivocation between homosexuality and racial civil rights will only exacerbate the problem for those who refuse to abandon biblical principles.

  8. Jamie Arruda says:

    Let us never fear what others may think of us for upholding God’s truth.
    The living word of God says in many places that homosexuality is a deviation, a sin, and even an abomination. Though we should never be cruel and hateful to anyone, if we indeed love God, we must stand up for His ways and NEVER accept same-sex relationships as anywhere near OK.
    It is not my opinion, it is God’s.

  9. Chuck says:

    About #5, the last paragraph about the “worship wars”, I would love to see more churches phase out their split services (contemporary/traditional). I believe this would help diffuse much of the acrimony as well as stem the tide of generational divide in our churches. Can’t we tone things down a bit, maybe have a more blended selection of music? Respecting both the past and present seems sensible to me and thankfully a few churches are going this direction.

  10. Micah Cobb says:

    Trevin (or anyone else),

    I am not Reformed, though I am interested in that tradition. The biggest influence that the Reformed tradition has had upon me has been to change my philosophy of ministry. People like Mark Dever, John Piper, etc. have convicted me to stop placing entertaining events and lessons at the center of my ministry.

    But I’m interested in reading more about the Reformed philosophy of ministry. Is there a good book that discussed it? What about from the missional Reformed group?

    –Micah

  11. Nate says:

    Relative to your 2nd point, regarding growth in prosperity teaching, I think you’re right…but I’m hoping you’re wrong :). I work in a far corner of the Indonesian archipelago and prosperity meetings draw huge crowds. I passed a banner the other day advertising an upcoming meeting that loudly declared “Jesus Will Bring You An Abundance”

    Prosperity teaching will succeed almost anywhere because it appeals to our flesh. That said, I think there is an even greater instant traction for this kind of teaching in the developing world. Many of our worldviews ‘over here’ have strong animistic underpinnings which means that there is a strong bent to be looking toward heaven for that moment of when instant, magical prosperity descends on us. Beyond those who knowingly teach a pure prosperity gospel, some well meaning evangelicals feed the fever as well when they don’t take the time to study the deeply layered context into which they are teaching. For instance, in this part of the world cargoism and ‘cargo cults’ are huge, but I’ll listen to folks preach who aren’t tuned in to the animistic context use the phrases like ‘we need to pray for transformation’ and not realize that to many of the hearers that means they need to just sit tight and wait because Jesus is going to transform their current external circumstances into a sort of heaven on earth…overnight.

    What to do. To be sure, some good teaching will help, but I tend to put more hope in the perhaps simplistic proscription that to be lights in the midst of this, all of us, but particularly those of us in missions, need to be living simply and lighting the way by delighting in the sufferings and occasional times of want that happen to come our way.

  12. Jon, sorry to distract from the main discussion. I was painting with very broad brush-strokes and I apologise for any offense I have caused. I didn’t mean that a person must agree with James Ussher’s timeline to avoid succumbing to Theological Liberalism! My concern is with those whose basis is not theological.

    The thought process I often see begins with the premise that if science says creation by God out of nothing is impossible, then it must be impossible and science’s explanation must be correct (the same basis as those who deny the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, hence my parallel). That’s often the end of the consideration, leaving the person with a view of God as unconcerned with the world and a confused understanding of the need for salvation because their view requires death before sin. This has been the shipwreck of several people I went through youth group with.

    Unlike them, you have obviously not settled for a surface consideration of these issues. If you’d like to point me to an article which explains your view more fully, I’d be willing to read it, but won’t redirect this thread any more by responding further here.

  13. Micah Cobb says:

    Does anyone have any recommendations for books on the missional reformed philosophy of ministry?

  14. Jeff Ling says:

    Trevin,

    Good insights as always. I would like to comment on the “worship war” issue. While I agree that we are moving beyond the idea of people choosing a church based on musical style, we still face the idea of people choosing between what I would call repetitive romantic content and passionate Biblical content. I would submit that there is a conflict going on within the hearts of worship leaders over accepting their role as theologians and teachers. Worship leaders must understand their unique responsibility in connecting the doctrines of God’s Word to the hearts of God’s people. If not, we risk producing romantic sentimentalists not robust and passionate disciples who can defend the gospel and weather life’s storms for God’s glory.

  15. Sean O'Brien says:

    Trevin,
    Great post! I concur with many of your findings. I would paint the divide between missional and attractional as even greater than proposed. I think in the next 10 years we will ultimately see the demise of the Mega-church model. Many of my fellow Seminarians (our next leaders) are disgusted with what the influence of Mega-church has done to the church landscape in America. Many are convinced that we are repeating the error of England and we too will have many large, empty ‘Cathedrals’ that become offices and shopping malls. We are starting to see this happen already with the announced bankruptcy of the Crystal Cathedral among others. Many believe this model is destined to fail and that a return to authentic, historic, Christianity is what is needed.

    In this, we must be cautious not to create a next generation of influential churches that are spiritually post-modern, but, we must create a generation of church that is distinctly Christian. This is due to the fact that post-modernity will ultimately fail us in the same way that modernity is failing us right now.

    Thanks for your timely post brother!
    Sean~~

  16. Brent Thornton says:

    Micah, I believe you may find RC Sproul’s book, ‘What is Reformed Theology’ helpful. John Piper’s writing in general does not address the question of what it means to be reformed directly, but will reveal a practical expression of what it means.

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  18. Micah Cobb says:

    Thanks Brent. I listen and read Piper, and I have read Sproul before. I don’t think my question was sufficiently clear. Sorry.

    I was asking for books on Reformed *philosophy of ministry*, not on Reformed theology. Thanks for the suggestions though.

    (As I said earlier, I am a young minister trying to develop my views on how ministry should be done. I don’t like the way that the trends in philosophy of ministry are following the trends of corporate management. That’s what attracts me to a lot of the Reformed preachers–Piper, Dever, MacArthur, etc–is that they stand against those trends on Biblical grounds. I have heard a lot of interviews with them on their philosophy of ministry, but I was looking for a more systematic and comprehensive treatment.)

    Thanks so much!

    1. andrew price says:

      Write one Micah!!

  19. Keith Farmer says:

    Micah,

    Your statement: “I am a young minister trying to develop my views on how ministry should be done”

    Is rather telling about the condition of the church today. You are not alone in your quest…but there is clarity in God’s Word. You don’t need the next best trend from the newest guy on the block :-)

    John MacArthur has a great sermon based on 1 Peter 5:1-4 Here is a link to that sermon:

    http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/60-47_Shepherding-the-Flock-Part-2

    Here is a summary quote from John regarding the role a shepherd is to take. Please take time to listen to the entire sermon…this is what your congregation needs from their leadership…

    “What are we to do? We’re to shepherd.

    Who are we to shepherd? The flock of God among us, the ones allotted to our care.

    How are we to shepherd? We’re to lead them, we’re to feed them, set the example for them.

    Why are we to shepherd? Because God has promised in Christ an eternal reward which we will enjoy forever and ever.” John MacArthur

  20. Patrick says:

    So if the “worship wars” are over, who won?

  21. msmullin says:

    I think these observations are generally accurate. However, presenting a dichotomous choice between “attractional” or “family-centered” ministry models is problematic. They are not the only two options or even the two options at opposite ends of a spectrum. While the dangerous fruits of the attractional model are evident these days, the manner in which some “family-centered” models come close to making family into an evangelical idol is similarly troubling. For different reasons, neither approximate a biblical model. By presenting them as bi-polar options, it scares off those who would be willing to move away from the attractional model and towards a more NT model, but see the serious issues with the “family-centered” approach.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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