5 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2019

by Carey Nieuwhof

As everything seems to change around us more quickly than ever, what trends should church leaders pay attention to in 2019?

For the last three years, I’ve kicked off the new year with a post on disruptive church trends. You might still find those helpful. Even though some of them are a few years old, they all deal with cultural shifts that are still happening.

Here are the direct links:

7 Disruptive Church Trends for 2018

6 Disruptive Church Trends for 2017

5 Disruptive Church Trends for 2016

The reason this matters so much is two-fold.

First, there’s no shortage of information in our culture. But there is a shortage of meaning. It’s one thing to know something is happening, it’s another to know what to do with it and which trends matter most.

Second, leaders who fail to navigate the disruptive trends happening in our culture won’t be left with much to lead.

Leaders who pretend nothing needs to change end up being the blacksmith in the era of the automobile, Sears in the age of Amazon, or Kodak in an Instagram culture.

If you ever hope to reach the next generation, change is your friend.

So, in the hopes of helping every leader better accomplish our collective mission, here are 5 disruptive church trends I see defining conversation and action in 2019.


Over the last few years one trend has emerged that hasn’t been talked about nearly enough: Almost all the growth happening in churches seems to be coming from churches that have a more charismatic expression to their worship, preaching and culture.

I’m not talking about charismatic theology here, although some churches would definitely fit that bill. What seems to link most growing churches these days is a more charismatic or expressive style to how they worship, teach and gather.

A few characteristics synthesize this trend:

Worship that’s actually worship, not just a band performing music in front of a passive audience.

Preachers who speak to the heart as much as they speak to the head.

Communicators who preach as much as they teach.

A congregation (large or small) that actually engages each other and the mission (not just people who randomly assemble).

Facilitating moments of transcendence, not just immanence.

In other words, it’s personal. It’s more emotional. It’s more real. And you can feel it.

I realize that you can poke holes in my theology or definition of this. That’s not the point. I have the privilege of speaking all over the world and connecting with thousands of leaders each year. This is just something I’m seeing.

It’s loose, it’s not particularly well-defined, but it is happening.

Meanwhile, I see churches that cling to a purely attractional model struggling more and more. By attractional I mean:

Their bands perform more than they lead people in an experience of worship.

Communicators who speak more to the head, not the heart, and teach more than they preach.

A congregation of less engaged people who seem to randomly assemble to experience an event, rather than to connect (this is true regardless of how large or small the church is).

A greater focus on immanence without much thought to transcendence.

Why is this? I outline five reasons in this post and you can read the background there.

As we watch this develop, at least from where I sit, there are two cultural shifts happening that are driving this change.

First, as I outlined in the post, the foyer moved. The genius of the attractional churchwas to make someone’s first encounter with church accessible. That’s still super important (don’t lose sight of that, please), but the Internet means that almost everyone who attends church has watched online first. And even if you don’t have an online stream, they’ve checked out someone else’s or Googled their way through some questions.

This means when they show up, they are ready to go a little deeper a little faster. Not please enroll me in seminary deep…but show me the real thing because I want to know if this is real kind of deep.

Second, I’m sensing younger adults are deeply craving connection and transcendence. In a world that feels like a cacophony of noise and anger, and in a day where they have anything they want whenever they want at their fingertips, young adults are looking for something (SomeOne) beyond themselves…an experience that can’t be reduced, fully explained and isn’t even fully definable.

Which is, of course, part of the character of God. He’s so much bigger than us. The mission is bigger than us. And it’s all bigger than our words can explain.

One further thought on this trend. Total anecdotal observation. But I noticed via Instagram that people seemed to put up their Christmas trees much earlier in 2018. As in late-October and early-November early. As I drilled down a little further, guess what I noticed? Almost everyone doing this was 35 and under.

Complete conjecture, but here’s what I’m guessing. In a world that seems increasingly unsafe and unsound, for young adults, the Christmas tree, lights and decor are reminders of wonder, peace and stability. Whether that’s nostalgia, a bold declaration or a bit of both, wise leaders would think about how to make their church a little more like that. Because of course, if the church can’t offer wonder, peace and stability in uncertain times, who can?

Either way…there is massive opportunity to connect with a culture that deeply wants connection…something other than the hopelessness that seems to be today’s news cycle.

Final word…all of this is a great opportunity for churches that currently do attractional really well. This is not about suddenly becoming inaccessible or completely different. A shift in tone, expression and focus can recalibrate the experience for everyone.

Weird isn’t the goal. Connection is.


There’s an ongoing debate about how much church you can do ‘online.’

Laura Turner wrote a helpful piece recently for the New York Times in which she argued that online church isn’t the same as in-person church. Laura cited this blog and we had a short but great chat via email about her piece. Largely, I agree with Laura, and as a local church leader, I really appreciate her viewpoint.

I think what can be missing from the discussion about the online church is that too often our conversation is binary. Church online is good or bad. Wise or dumb. A cop-out or great.

Here’s what I think the future holds for online church. In the near future, online church will become almost exclusively a front door and side door, not a back door.

In the early days of online church, the Internet functioned as a back door. Consumer-oriented, disengaged or lazy Christians headed for the back door and traded the drive and the traffic for the comfort of a warm bed or the convenience of a treadmill or commute. If your primary disposition toward church was to consume content, online just gave you a far easier way.

But those Christians are an endangered species. We’re a decade+ into church online and they’ve drifted off into the background, and honestly for the most part, into Kingdom-irrelevance. You can’t change the world if your only connection with the Kingdom is through your earbuds.

That group has become consumers, not contributors. And you can’t build the future of the church on them. Mission requires engagement movement. So the back door people are history.

Ditto with the casual observers who consume and never contribute. There’s no future there, so move along, people.

The future of church online is not with the Internet as a back door. The future of the church is the Internet as a front door and side door.

Church online will become a front door for the curious, the skeptic and the interested. It will be the first stop for almost everyone, and a temporary resting place for people who are a little too afraid to jump in until they muster the courage to jump in through physical attendance.

What we’re seeing at Connexus where I serve is that almost everyone who attends for the first time has engaged online for weeks, months or upward of a year. They see online as the new front door, which it is.

It’s also a side door to Christians who travel or who can’t be there on a given Sunday. In that respect, it boosts engagement because it keeps people connected. They never miss a Sunday or a moment because of the seamless slip between digital and analog that our lives have become (I write more about that here).

But wait, you say…what if they don’t come back as much in person? Well, then that’s not a side door or front door issue, that’s a consumer who’s using online as a back door, and as we’ve already seen, there’s no future in that.

I’ll write more about this issue later this month, but in the meantime, think about how you can position your church to see the Internet as a front door for new people and a side door for engaged members. Forget the back door. It’s irrelevant.


Although for the reasons outlined above, most churches are beginning to realize that online church is a very real thing, unless you’re a very large, multi-site megachurch, you probably don’t staff your church as though it is.

Until now, most churches (even churches over 1,000) cultivate their online presence by tacking it onto the job description of someone in the creative department. As in Here, you go run social, please. And oh, can you get these sermons uploaded? And then once every five years, the church allocates X number of dollars to hire someone to redo their website hoping that will fix the problem for another half-decade.

The problem? The vast majority of churches spend 99 percent of their staffing dollars on in-person gatherings.

Increasingly, this will be the year many churches realize you can’t have a massive impact online when you spend 1 percent of your staffing resources on it.

So why does this matter?

Well, as outlined in trends #1 and #2 above, the Internet is the venue in which the entire community you are trying to reach lives. If you want to reach them there, spending 1 percent of your resources on it is likely not the smartest strategy.

I know this is about as basic as it gets but look around you. Do you know of any church near you that’s spending 30 percent of its resources to reach people online?

Didn’t think so.

And we wonder why we don’t see more direct results from online outreach.

Mystery solved.

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Source: Church Leaders