A year ago, I sat down to write my annual blog on trends for the New Year. For some reason, I couldn’t hit the “publish” button. It wasn’t because I didn’t think the trends were on target, but partly because I had a fear that some of the trends wouldn’t be very popular to readers. Nevertheless, I’m grateful they are still sitting in a folder on my computer with nowhere to go because by March of 2020, literally none of us had anywhere to go!
As we face a new year with new possibilities and a prayer that we will soon see an end to a pandemic, it’s time to consider how ministry trends might look in 2021. And while some of the trends might not all be filled with optimism, I’m trusting the Lord for His sovereign plan and praying they will be a wake-up call to all of us as we forge ahead with hope.
1. Events will come back slowly and with hybrid options. I don’t predict large gatherings will make a quick comeback in 2021 due to ongoing concerns related to COVID-19 and herd immunity. There is hopeful optimism with a vaccination, but it will take many months for people to feel comfortable gathering in large crowds. From everything I have read about the future of events, the trend will be hybrid events—smaller live events with the option of viewing it through a live stream or digital option. The good part of this trend is that digital events give access to a wider range of audiences, including a global audience. Ministry leaders should consider that the number of people in the room does not equate the number of people who can hear your message.
Even so, there is power when women gather. My prayer is that by mid-2021 women will once again feel confident in gathering, traveling, and attending events where they receive biblical teaching and inspiration. As a leader, don’t hesitate to consider ways your women can attend an event and gather safely.
The other trend for events will be customized, smaller events for specific audiences. Consider offering a retreat focused on one spiritual discipline or a leadership event where the topic focuses on developing skills. These events may be more costly, but the benefits will include increased community, networking, and spiritual development. I believe this could be a win for the event spectrum.
2. Teach women how to lead online small groups, digital content, and addressing smaller attention spans. Leaders were forced to learn the mechanics of video conferencing tools and leading Bible studies virtually in 2020. There will be an ongoing need for leaders to learn how to maximize the effectiveness of online groups, how to engage women online, and develop an online community. There is a huge need to help older women learn how to adapt to this method, so offering practical ways for women to engage online will be needed. Don’t assume that all of the women in your ministry know how to set up a Zoom call or can help others through the process. Practical training will be a necessity moving forward because online small groups are never fully going away.
We’ve seen the trend of smaller attention spans happen over the past 10 years and I don’t expect it to slow down. Because we have access to so much information and can get it quickly, attention spans are diminishing. We may be better at multi-tasking, but our attention spans are lower than most goldfish. We are bombarded by screens—holding one in our hand, while also working on a computer with a television nearby. The first time I did an in-depth Bible study was more than 35 years ago. It lasted 26 weeks. Today it’s difficult to get a group together for six weeks. So, how will this impact your ministry to women? Teaching methods will need to be more creative. This will include the use of more media and making studies available when it’s convenient for the consumer. We’ll continue to see the use of bite-sized devotionals through phone apps and women will demand that things are beautiful—things they can share on social media for the world to see.
We’ll continue to see the rise of online Bible studies, remote work, and flexibility. This will impact our educational systems, including the way we move from auditory listening methods to more visual and kinesthetic learning. Women will want more collaboration, yet they will also value isolation. It’s a dichotomy that leaders will balance in the next year and beyond.
3. The aging of Baby Boomers. It’s no surprise that the Boomer generation continues to get older. By 2030, the youngest Boomers will be 66 years old—a time when many of them will be retired or at least slowing down. The next decade will be a major shift in church leadership—or possibly a void in church leadership—both for women and men. I believe this will impact not just churches in general, but our ministry to women. Boomers will face more health issues and they will spend more time focused on their families—whether it’s caring for elderly parents or taking care of grandchildren. They will be less committed to weekly attendance at church because of these other commitments, a trend we’ve already seen in the past decade.
Because of this trend, younger women will have the opportunity to step into leadership. Older women will be needed for their wisdom and experience. These Boomers were pioneers in many local church ministries and younger women would be wise to listen and learn from this generation. On the other hand, Boomers need to be willing to pass the baton to younger leaders and encourage them to lead. Boomers should not assume that younger women know how to lead a Bible study or how to build community in the local church. Be ready to mentor, but also be ready to let go.
4. Political and cultural divisiveness that stems from theological viewpoints. Even though one big election is over, this trend continues to rise to the top. This is a touchy subject and one I’m hesitant to address, but I do believe it’s going to be a trend we continue to see over the next year and beyond. Believers have always had disagreements about theological issues, but instead of valuing unity over methodology, we have disregarded politeness, and focus on spreading the gospel for petty arguments on social media. There are many opinions (and I stress opinions) and a lot of assumptions made from quips that fit into a 280-character limit on Twitter. The current trend is to be as loud on social media as possible, but we disregard the value of one-on-one conversations and dialogue. I have had many conversations with leaders who are quick to dismiss others because of hearsay and gossip rather than truly knowing the full story.
So, how can we do better? Instead of making social media an idol you consume and count as truth, can we teach women to love one another even though we may have differences of opinions? Can we help women see how the world views Christians because of our online behavior? If the world will know us by our love, then we have a lot of work to do in the next year.
5. We continue to value personality tests and disregard spiritual giftedness. There is much chatter where I work and where I serve in my local church about the enneagram and not about spiritual gifts. Many younger women I know can spout off their leadership strengths, their compatibility with others, and their conflict habits based on personality tests. And while I enjoy learning about myself and how I’m wired, I’ve seen a decline in how we address the spiritual gifts that edify the body of Christ and how they are used in the local church. This is a trend I would love to see change in the coming year. When was the last time you took a spiritual gifts assessment? When was the last time you helped a woman find her place to serve based on her spiritual giftedness and not her personality? As a leader, I urge you to begin these conversations.
6. The need to develop care systems within the local church—especially in the areas of trauma, mental illness, addictions, and abuse. This is a trend I wish I didn’t have to address, but it is an important issue women’ ministry leaders cannot be blind to. And while Bible studies that focus on a book of the Bible are still my favorite, we cannot neglect doing Bible studies that focus on the felt needs of women in the church and in our world.
My prayer for this trend is that we become churches who have systems in place to provide care for women who have had trauma in their past or those who are currently experiencing it. Help your pastor develop procedures and provide a list of care providers in your community to women who are crying out for help. Look for training opportunities and ways you can be more informed and equipped to help others through tough situations. Pray for the church to not sit in silence, but to take action and see the needs sitting in the pews.
7. A blurring of the terms complementarianism and egalitarianism. Ten years ago, I saw stark contrasts in where women could lead in the local church and beyond. The term complementarianism was coined in 1988, but its theological roots are found in creation. The term was used to combat a rising tide of feminism that scholars believed was infiltrating the church. It suggests that both men and women are created equal, but have beneficial and complementary differences and roles. Yet, the theological origin has been replaced with a social position of when and where women can lead in the local church. Because of the blurring found in definitions and explanations, the trend I’m observing is that women struggle to understand how they can lead and be true to theological interpretation. Younger women struggle with the term of “calling” and often question the absence of women being visible in leadership. Thus, the struggle and blurring of the terms is a trend I see now and in the next several years.
I know our readers may have a difference of opinions on this topic, but God can use all women to make a kingdom impact, regardless of what camp you fall in. Instead of focusing on how women “can’t” lead, we should ask the question, “How are we seeking to lead in the ways that are in line with our complementarian convictions?” In addition, let’s ask the question, “Are we urging women to spread the gospel just as Jesus urged Mary to go and tell the disciples that He had risen?”
Are these trends you are seeing in your ministry? What others things would you add? I’d love your thoughts as we begin 2021 and work together to make Christ known.
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for LifeWay Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church. You can hear Kelly at LifeWay’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.