I remember my grandpa telling me that an effective pastor has two things in his hands at all times: the Bible and a newspaper.  Grandpa, I’m sorry, but I haven’t held a newspaper in a really long time.  But, his point remains true today.  Pastors and church leaders first and foremost need to know God’s Word, but we also need to understand what is happening in the world.

While the mission of the church never needs changing, the methods certainly can and should adjust as needed. Carey Nieuwhof says, “When things change and you don’t, you become irrelevant.” 

2020 has not just been an interruption to the way things were, but a major disruption.  We’ve seen new trends arise out of nowhere and other trends that already were on their way accelerated at warp speed.

With that in mind, here’s 5 mind-blowing statistics that I believe the church and its leaders need to pay close attention to.  If the first four statistics bring uncertainty for how to effectively lead a church, the 5th statistic should give you all the strength, peace, and contentment that you need.

1)     50% of people are still working remotely from home

Belay Solutions, a leader in the virtual assistant world, claim that more than half of the workforce is still working from home.  Remote working was certainly a trend on the rise coming into 2020, but now, out of necessity, it has exploded.

And this trend is here to stay for a while.

Google just recently announced that they don’t envision their workers coming onsite until end of summer 2021.  Usually businesses and churches tend to lag behind the tech giants before making similar decisions. Regardless, this decision shows that remote working isn’t going away any time soon.

Another reason it’s not going away is because more people are happier in their jobs working from home than ever before.

While you can look at the major shift in work alone, truthfully, 2020 has been the year where everything is coming to the home.

  • Grocery shopping has been made easier through delivery services like Instacart.  Major players Walmart and Amazon now offer bringing these goods right to your front door.
  • Going out to eat is now being replaced by dining in.  More families are cooking at home or using services like DoorDash and GrubHub to bring restaurant food to their door.
  • Exercising at the gym is being replaced by fitness at-home businesses like Peleton and the Mirror.  Apple just announced they’ll be offering a new fitness service shortly.
  • Going to the movie theaters has been replaced by streaming services that are now dropping blockbuster new releases and major Broadway plays.

Everything is coming to the house.

What does all of this mean for the church?

Firstly, the church needs leaders who understand how to lead a remote team.  Some people thrive working from home and others don’t.  Getting self-motivated, focused people on your team is a must.  Leaders will need to create job descriptions that have as much clarity around expectations and goals as possible.  The effective leader of a virtual team will have to look more at results and performance than simply checking hours.

Secondly, if people are moving to home habits, we have to position the church in the home as well.  Utilizing the medium of technology, we have to learn how to not abstain from technology, but to use it to help disciple our people.  This major disruption can be a great opportunity to remind, resource, and empower individuals in the home to help them grow their faith.   While we can move more discipleship efforts into the home, we have to continue at the same time to help people thrive in real relationships with others outside of their home at the same time.

2)     40% of Americans are thinking of moving to less populated areas

recent Harris Poll gives us this statistic.  Moving into rural or less populated areas would be a reversal of a centuries long trend of people moving from rural areas to cities and suburbs.  

Along with rising infection rates and the ability that most people are finding that they actually can work, produce, and be satisfied doing so at home, many are thinking of moving to less populated areas.  Ditching the long commute and investing in cheaper, but larger living space is appealing to more people than ever in our country.  As statistic number 1 showed us, everything is moving into the home.  It makes sense to have a larger space and more square footage to allow for home offices, and even personal rooms for exercising or entertainment.  As long as the Wi-Fi is fast and Zoom works without error, there are millions of people thinking and considering this lifestyle.

If this trend is here to stay, it forces some serious questions for your church.

Will those that leave the big city for the less populated areas still connect with their big city church either in-person or online, or will they be looking to connect with a new church in the community to which they are moving?  For churches that are in the big cities, does this mean that big buildings and commercial leases will be a thing of the past?  Should you invest more in your online ministry to expand your reach and “go” with the people that once connected with you that are now leaving?

For churches in rural areas, are your facilities guest and visitor-friendly?  Is your church and the people that attend your church ready to accept those who are moving into your community?

3)     Google just suffered its first decline in search for the 1st time in its 22-year history last quarter

Before you start feeling bad for Google, don’t worry, they still own more than 92% of the search engine market.  But upon further looking into this, there’s a search engine that’s 6th on the list that is rising astronomically called “DuckDuckGo.”  In 8 years they have gone from 1.5 million to 66 million searches per day.  The reason this one will be interesting to watch is that it promises something that Google and other top search engines don’t: privacy.

There’s a good and bad side to this.

I can understand not wanting to be watched over every little thing that we do in life, or even online.  It does feel intrusive when I have a thought in my head about wanting to buy a golf club, and then nearly every website I visit is an advertisement for the golf club I wanted.

But the downside is particularly really dangerous for two reasons.

1)     Sometimes the reason people want more privacy online is because they are doing things and visiting sites they shouldn’t be visiting.

2)     Coupled with the pull towards isolation and individualism we were already feeling before 2020, I’m concerned about the long-term effects of our desire for privacy.

How much privacy do we really need?  We are not meant to live completely private lives.  I’m understanding of the different personality types that exist in this world, but not even introverts are meant to be alone.  We are meant to do life-on-life.  We were wired to be in relationship with others.  I’m not against you using a search engine that offers you privacy.  I am against you living a completely isolated life.  For the church, this means we have to invest in one-on-one discipleship methods to make sure that everyone has at least one person that they can truly talk to.  Putting more emphasis on accountability partners for all people in our church could be a wise strategy.

4)  Research indicates that pastoral well-being is at an all-time low

According to Church Pulse Weekly and Barna Research, data suggests that pastoral health is declining and quickly.  Some of the numbers include:

  • 12% of pastors report they are in excellent emotional health right now
  • 13% say they are in excellent relational health with others
  • 18% say it’s easy to invest in their own spiritual well-being

These are the lowest numbers that Barna has ever seen, and they’ve been tracking these numbers for decades now.

This has not been an easy year for a lot of people.  Having to deal with a global pandemic alone is difficult.  When you couple it with the racism and protests that have gripped our nation, and then back into further political and reopening differences, it’s easy to say that 2020 has been the most difficult year for leadership in our generation.

I like how Pastor Levi Lusko described it.  He explained 2020 and the state of what we are leading through like this:

“I think we all feel a sense of exhaustion because we didn’t know we weren’t running a marathon. When you run a marathon, you use everything in the tank to get to the end. But [now], when you get to the end, you realize it’s a triathlon. In ministry, we tend to build seasons. As a pastor, you have it in your head that this season is when you have built in rest and this season is when you accelerate, but this year has defied all of that.”

When you feel like you weren’t even trained up for a marathon, but you ran it anyway and actually got to the end, only to get a bike for the next leg and not the rest or medal that you were expecting, it can be deflating.

Pastors and church leaders have the honor, and the responsibility to lead their church and to glorify God.  Churches are led best out of the overflow of the pastor’s relationship with God.  If there is exhaustion, burnout, fatigue at the top, it can lead to very devastating consequences. 

If you know a pastor or church leader, reach out to them or send them some form of encouragement.  Remember that church leaders are not immune to the ups and downs of this world any more than you are.

If you are a pastor and not feeling well, please take care of your soul.  Take a rest.  Breathe.  Relax.  Enjoy God.  Get in His word.  Pray.  Invest in your relationship with God. Simply BE with God.  Reach out to someone.  Get help.  And be encouraged that you can actually do all of these things mentioned with integrity because the next statistic is also true.

5)  God has changed 0%

In a year where so much has changed, this one defies all the odds.

Hebrews 13:8 tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” 

God is:

  • Just as loving
  • Just as kind
  • Just as merciful.
  • Just as much in control

God is not nervous in heaven right now as he watches the news on CNN or Fox News.  He’s not pacing back and forth wondering how we are going to get out of this mess.  And He’s not biting his fingernails as He sees the alarming statistics brought on by the coronavirus.

Even if you don’t know what to make of all things 2020, trust in His promise that in all things God will work for the good of those who love Him.

The church has changed, needs to change, and will look very different than it did just months ago.  Take comfort in the fact that this is God’s church and not yours.  Fast-forward to the end.  After all the crazy ups and downs that have come since the beginning of time, God wins.  His church wins.  The gates of Hell will not prevail against Him.

This all-powerful, all-knowing, fully-in-control God is still the same.  And the way He feels about you is still the same.  He’s not mad at you.  He’s madly in love with you.

Continue to proclaim Jesus in all things.  Let’s keep running the race together.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

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