10 Emerging Trends of the Church [Part 1]

As the global pandemic continues to affect our daily lives two years on, what has become evident is that life and by extension, the ways in which we know and recognise church will not be returning to what it once was.

As part of our ongoing series titled “Season of Emergence” where we explore how the church will emerge out of the pandemic, we sat down with Miles Toulmin, Executive Director of Alpha Asia Pacific to have a conversation about what might be some of the emerging trends of the church in the upcoming future. The ten points summarised below are influenced and inspired by Dr. Winfield Bevins, with reference to his podcast on church planting here and here.

In part 1 of this article, we summarise our conversation by exploring 10 possible trends that are emerging and becoming evident in the church around the world. Part 1 highlights trends no. 1-5.

Part 2 of this article can be found here.

1. Western to global Christianity

[1] Over the last century, the distribution of Christians around the world has changed dramatically., showing the flexibility of the gospel in its ability to transcend language, ethnicity, and culture. In the year 1900, 82% of all Christians were in the West. Today, 67% of all Christians are outside of the West. Christianity today is not white. It’s multi-colored. If we were to look at Evangelical Christians, the shift is even more pronounced. In the year 1900, 92% of all evangelicals were in the West. Today, 77% of evangelical Christians are outside of the West. We have had a huge internal change within the makeup of the Christian faith, with a massive change in demographics and geographical concentration of where Christians are at.

[2] In his book, Timothy Tennent wrote that “the global expansion of the church of Jesus Christ is widely regarded as the single most important development in the history of the church of the twentieth century.” As the global distribution of Christians change, we can expect to see more lenses of Christianity emerge, that while they must still be Gospel centred, will also bring in a perspective that is different from what we have known to be mainly Western interpretations of the faith. [1] Quoting from Johnson & Chung, “What is certain is that Christianity can no longer draw on a dominant Northern cultural, linguistic, or political framework for direction. Neither can the future be seen exclusively through the lenses of Southern Christianity. Global Christianity today is a phenomenon, not of uniformity, but of ever-increasing diversity.”

2. Monoethnic to multiethnic churches

In the 21st century, we have seen about 420,000 missionaries sent out into the mission field. Only about 12-15% of those missionaries have come from the West. The vast majority of missionaries sent out within the last 20 years in this century are from outside of the West with plenty of them going to the West to re-evangelise.

We are seeing an increase of multiethnic churches around the world, especially in many parts of the West. Globally, part of the reason we are seeing this shift is that many of the missionaries that are being sent out today are coming from outside of the West, and instead are going to the West. By extension, when this happens, the churches that these missionaries plant are not monoethnic. While they may be there to reach Westerners, they also attract the different ethnic groups that they may naturally connect with.

In many major cities around the world, the demographics of its population are also becoming increasingly diverse. In his podcast ‘Church Planting Conversations with Dr Winfield Bevins’, Dr. Bevins speaks further into this by using the example of what’s happening in the United States. [3] It is estimated that by the year 2045 or 2050, there will be no one dominant ethnicity within the U.S. What then, should church planters be taking into consideration in such a context? If your city is becoming increasingly more diverse, can your church represent the context in which it is planted?

3. Cloning vs contextualizing church

The globalisation of church also means that the traditional model of “franchising church”, where we replicate an exact model of church wherever we plant may need to be reconsidered. While there is some merit to this, there is an increasing appreciation that this model may not work everywhere.

In many cases, exact replication or cloning of an existing model of church  isn’t always the most effective and may not be sustainable in the long run. An analogy we might use is if you were trying to grow crops in a desert using agricultural methods typically employed in the tropics. Your frame of reference is the rainforest but suddenly you’re asked to grow something in the desert. Trying to replicate a rainforest in a desert would require a huge amount of resources. In other words, it’s not sustainable forever.

How then, do you try to plant crops in an environment that is completely new to what you know? You need to look into the history of the place. How did people traditionally plant in this place? What crops do they grow? What does successful agriculture look like in the context of this new place? If it’s going to be self-sustaining and self-perpetuating, what needs to change?

In a world where Christianity is becoming global, people are beginning to wake up to the idea of contextualising church rather than cloning church. A contextualised church would still carry the core gospel message, but be able to relate to the specific culture and people group it is reaching out to.

4. Changing metrics of success for the church

The metrics of what it means to be a successful church are changing. For some time now, the church has been very much focused on numeric growth as a marker of success. The problem with big churches however, is that they do not grow as fast as small churches in terms of reaching new believers. [4] They might attract a crowd, but not necessarily reach the unreached.

The shift we are seeing is that other types of growth are now being considered, which we believe is very positive. One example of a different type of growth being considered is growth in maturity. In the Bible, Paul says in Colossians that the aim is to present everyone mature in Christ.

“Him we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

Colossians 1:28 (NKJV)

[5] It will be wise for the church to consider more than just numerical growth as a measure for success, as Mike Bonem in his book mentioned, “wise leaders pay attention to the metrics and discern whether a downward trend indicated a problem to be addressed or a “pruning” that will ultimately strengthen the congregation. They know that even if the numbers don’t meet their expectations, God can still be at work in powerful ways.”

The pandemic has made us reassess what church is really about and what we are really measuring. To quote Mike Bonem again, “No set of metrics will paint the full picture of a congregation, but if the measurement system offers a more complete look at people and helps leaders make decisions, it will have served a powerful purpose. Moving past the barriers to effective measurement in ministries can yield important insights about how what we’re doing works. And equally important, how it may not be working”.

5. Mega to microchurch

The trend of megachurches peaked with Gen X. While it may still hold some appeal with Millennials, it has considerably even less appeal with Gen Z.

[6] In a McCrindle study titled “The Future of the Church in Australia”, they asked people what they wanted from their church in Australia. Results showed that what people wanted was “local”, for the church to be local, for the leadership to be representative of the diversity within the local community, and for the church to be embedded in the local community. “Many Christian leaders believe the church of the future should be an expression of its local community. There is less of an appetite for destination churches as Australians are looking for a more localised experience. In contrast to the cathedrals of old that often stood tallest on the hill, Australians are more interested in something that is down to earth, warm and welcoming.”

Megachurches will continue to exist, but alongside them, we are beginning to see the appearance of microchurches. It is largely known that smaller churches grow faster and many times are more effective in reaching the unchurched. 

[7] To quote an article by Larry Kreider of Dove International, “To care for the harvest of souls coming into God’s Kingdom, more churches are needed. Fuller Theological Seminary found that if a church is ten or more years old, for every eighty-five members only one new person comes to Christ annually. Churches that are four to seven years old bring in one new believer for every seven. Churches less than three years old average one new believer for every three members every year. 

You can see from these statistics that the opportunity to reach the unchurched for Christ has great potential. New micro churches networking effectively together in our communities give the opportunity for thousands of new churches to be planted rapidly across our nation and the nations of the world. This will result in multiplied thousands who will give their lives to Christ. Now is the time to prepare for the harvest.”

Alongside microchurches will also be networks of microchurches. Churches that stand alone are vulnerable, and in time, we will begin to see networks made up of these microchurches appear.

As the world slowly emerges out of the pandemic, one thing is certain. The ways in which we know, think of, and ‘do’ church have changed. We are in the advent of a new season for the church and how we respond to both the challenges and opportunities that will arise from this season will have an impact on the reach and effectiveness of the church in the years and in the generation to come.

Part 2 of this article is continued here.


[1] Johnson, Todd M. & Chung, Sun. (2009). Tracking Global Christianity’s Statistical Centre of Gravity, AD 33‐AD 2100. International Review of Mission. 93. 166 – 181. 10.1111/j.1758-6631.2004.tb00451.x. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229886593_Tracking_Global_Christianity’s_Statistical_Centre_of_Gravity_AD_33-AD_2100)

[2] Tennent, Timothy C. (2017). How God Saves the World: A Short History of Global Christianity. Seedbed Publishing. (https://my.seedbed.com/product/how-god-saves-the-world/)

[3] Bevins, Winfield. (2022). S2E1 | 10 Trends Impacting the Future of the Church. Church Planting Conversations with Dr. Winfield Bevins. Asbury Church Planting Initiative. (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/church-planting-conversations-with-dr-winfield-bevins/id1533463298)

[4] Keller, T. (2015]. Church Planting is What We Do. (https://timothykeller.com/blog/2015/12/3/church-planting-is-what-we-do)

[5] Bonem, M. (2012). In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership: Tapping the Wisdom of the World for the Kingdom of God. Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series. (https://mikebonem.com/books/in-pursuit-of-great-and-godly-leadership/)

[6] McCrindle, M. & Wherrett, S. (2020). The Future of the Church in Australia. McCrindle Research. (https://mccrindle.com.au/wp-content/uploads/reports/Future-of-the-Church-in-Australia-Report-2020.pdf) [7] Kreider, L. (2011). There’s a New Church Emerging! (https://dcfi.org/resources/articles/theres-a-new-church-emerging/)

[7] Kreider, L. (2011). There’s a New Church Emerging! (https://dcfi.org/resources/articles/theres-a-new-church-emerging/)


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