Multiplication Center

The Futurity of Present Events – What’s Next for American Churches?

May 21, 2012

Peter Drucker, Leadership Network's grand mentor, was often referred to as a Futurist.  Peter always told me that predictions were perilous and inevitably surprising.  I have some drink coasters on my desk quoting Peter that say, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  Peter was usually 20 years or so ahead of events.  This is the way he explained it to me, “You look out the window to see what is happening today and build your picture of the future by extending the implications of the present.” 

It has been 28 years now since Fred Smith, Jr. and I began Leadership Network.  We have always found Leadership Network hard to explain because there is really not anything else quite like it. Here is some good news! I am pleased to announce that if you will just follow this link and you will see in 5 minutes exactly what we do and how we do it. I hope you will stop right now and view it.  I am really proud of the work that went into this colorful piece so please, please take 5 minutes of your precious time to learn what it would take me three hours to describe and then you would still be confused.



This past week has been an intense time for Leadership Network.  There's a lot going on out there.  Some churches are gradually withering away and others are just exploding.  It has always been our approach to build on the islands of health and strength.

I have just had a talk with Dave Travis, who is CEO of Leadership Network.  The majority of our work is with rapidly growing American churches.  I asked, “Dave, you have just written a book called What's Next? and your team has been busy looking out the window.  Give me the three most prominent trends as you look around the corner for what's coming next.”  

So I will use Dave's three: 

1. More multi-site churches and campuses

Megachurches are growing bigger by developing clusters of smaller and more accessible campuses.  The multi-site movement which Leadership Network seeded and accelerated has made a profound effect on this. Our role is to search out the leaders in the field and get them talking to one another in groups of a dozen or so superstar churches and thereby find out what's working and where people are stuck.  I have the privilege of walking outside the front door of my office about twelve feet to meet mega church leaders in our Collaboration Center.  We held 55 meetings in 2010.  Lately we have been collecting Easter Service results.  Some are stunning. 

  • Life Church, based in Oklahoma City but with fifteen locations around the country, had over 71,000 attendees at their campuses on Easter Sunday. 
  • Transformation Church, a young multi-ethnic church in Raleigh, had over 3,000, which is pretty good for an eight year old start-from-scratch church. 
  • Mars Hill Church, based in Seattle but with sites in several states, had 19,634.

Here is where it gets interesting.

Life Church actually had 177 different worship experiences. So the average attendance at a worship experience was “only” 428.

At Transformation the average experience had slightly over 800. And at Mars Hill, the average worship service hosted 479 people that day.

Obviously averages can be deceiving.  There were certain worship venues and times that had many times the average but also certain ones that were lower than the average.

Here's the change.  Fifteen years ago churches were talking about building bigger auditoriums. Now they expand by selecting new sites and making the experience a reasonable size.

Of course, at an average of 428, that would still place those worship services alone in the top 10% of churches in the U.S., but it shows the trend among larger churches to scale up while at the same time building more intimacy.

2. More second and third tier cities

The old conventional wisdom was to look for large innovative churches in the biggest cities and their suburbs.  The surprising trend is that expansive church campuses are cropping in all types of locales.  For example, every time I drive the 25 miles from Still Point Farm into Tyler, Texas I pass five multi-site locations of large churches located downtown or on the other side of town.  When Linda and I are in New York City, we visit Redeemer Presbyterian Church which has multiple campuses around the city – it is a cluster of larger innovative churches, each one representing a slightly different theological stream or primary pulpit style.  They aren't all Presbyterian.  Dr. Tim Keller, the Senior Pastor, is perhaps the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan Christian speaker in the world.  He and his team are spreading new locations around the world in and around cosmopolitan cities.  The congregations are predominantly young professionals who have a strong preference to enter the suburbs once they start families.  Keller and others like him (even in Tyler, TX) follow these young families to the suburbs and even to the further out suburbs that are getting pretty close to my weekend retreat, Still Point Farm. 

You might call these churches high tech and high touch.  The music is live and the pastoral care and small groups are all done by live human beings with lay backgrounds. The message, and only the message, is delivered via DVD by one of the best preachers in the country, Craig Groeschel.  I suggest you pause for a moment and follow this link to get a good sample:

3. Community serving churches

Leadership Network has in the past decade convened cutting edge churches who reach out beyond the four walls to serve the members of their communities – mostly the disadvantaged.  The guru for this trend, Reggie McNeal, works for Leadership Network and has written several definitive books about what he calls Missional Renaissance Churches.  His seminal book written several years ago is titled The Present Future Church

Leadership Network has groups in a variety of specialized areas.  As you now know if you looked at the link I suggested above in the second paragraph, we convene groups of a dozen churches who meet for two days each six months to share ideas and encourage one another.  The groups stay together for two years and the level of accountability is amazing.  These are people doing the same sort of ministry in different cities.  These men and women are mostly engaged in serving the disadvantaged with issues of Hunger, Poverty, Disease, and Mal-education. 

The future of this movement is that more and more churches will be important factors in their communities.  The worship service is often a means to the end of serving others, not just an end in itself.

Conclusion:  I hope I have told you something about Leadership Network that makes sense to you.  It is incredibly exciting to see these things happening and in American communities and increasingly these churches are taking their work global as well. 


So What About You?

Is your church withering or flourishing?  There are plenty of resources available at – we have now published 950,000 books that are all about the practice of church, what you might call applied theology.  

Recent Articles