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This is the fourth in a series of personal reflections on the State of the Church in 2024.


As if all of that weren’t enough, there are other cultural trends and changes affecting churches.  Some of these cultural trends are themselves results of, or responses to, the larger global crises.  For instance, the pandemic has radically altered every sector and rearranged priorities for most individuals and families.

People have evaluated how they spend their time, with the overall result of lessening the amount of time they want to commit to extra activities.  There is a growing expectation of fewer and shorter meetings.  Gatherings and experiences need to have clear purposes.

Work is changing.  It already was before the pandemic, but that has accelerated the changes.  Technology has made many tasks easier and more efficient, requiring less time.  AI and digital tools take over more of the tasks that once occupied us.  People work remotely and with greater flexibility.  They want autonomy in their work.  Work is understood as just a part of life, and not the most important part.  Workplaces are expected to be more aware of employee well-being.  Employees are demanding and receiving more.  Many experts expect the forty hour work week to soon be a relic of the past.  [Here’s a recent Atlantic podcast on these themes]

The ethics of the workplace and how people communicate has changed, including what is considered appropriate or inappropriate.  Many professionals have now received training in emotional awareness, cultural awareness, implicit bias, boundaries, harassment, DEI, self-care, and more.  I notice generational differences, particularly among retired folks who might not be as aware of all of these changes or undergone the relevant training.  Sometimes what previous generations got used to, younger ones consider inappropriate, or even hostile.  

There are also generational shifts in communication, including what modes are preferred, making it even more difficult to connect effectively with everyone.  The Washington Post recently had a fun, interactive piece on preferred communication modes and methods at work.

The whole culture has also grown more informal and casual.  Even back in the nineties I attended ministerial training workshops that pointed out that people valued authenticity and viewed formality as inauthentic.  They wanted churches where they were free to express themselves instead of trying to fit some preconceived expectations.  Where they would be welcomed and accepted for who they are.

I mentioned before the growth of the “spiritual but not religious” category.  Many more people now get the needs they once met in congregations met in other ways.  Centering prayer apps, faith-centered podcasts, coffee shop meetups, the growth of nonprofits, Taylor Swift concerts, and more.  A curious coming trend is the use of psychedelics to stimulate mental wellness and spiritual experiences; I even have a UCC colleague in California who is undergoing the official training to be a “psychedelic chaplain.”

And then there are the current economic conditions–inflation, skyrocketing construction costs, high interest rates, supply chain shortages, staffing challenges–all of which affect our ability to do some of what we had planned to do only a couple of years ago.  Some of these economic trends will be short-term, of course.  We should also acknowledge that the good economy of the past decade probably lulled us into accepting that as normal.


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First Central Congregational Church