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THRIVING TOGETHER - Dr Ian Duncum - A LOOMING CRISIS Part 3: The Future of the Church

Updated: 17 hours ago


For many years I have shared both the pain and the joys of those who work with churches. Like many of you, I have asked many times whether there are better ways forward to thrive together and have missional impact on our world. And sustainable ways - it's not about trying harder - but doing different things in different ways. Interrupting and reflecting on practice. That is what I do as a pastoral supervisor/mentor. What I do as a church and non-profit consultant. And what I endeavour to do as a blogger and writer. I hope what is posted here is water, God willing, for those planted in churches that we may thrive together.

Please let me know what you think in the comments. Or you can contact me through my website:


The Future of the Church

It is a risky thing to extrapolate from what we see now into the future. Nevertheless, it is fairly obvious that there is some unsustainability regarding current models of church. While this has been said before, the rates of pastoral burnout and attrition in Australia have communicated to generations Y & Z:[1] “Don’t go into pastoral ministry in a standard church.” [click links to Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series] And these generations are listening to that message, with already hundreds of pastoral vacancies across Australia and increasing. If this blog seems a departure from the series, it is instead vitally connected. Gen Y “stated that their biggest concern about business life is primarily to work in an unfair environment, with a team they cannot get along with…”[2]

The other movement that is happening among these generations is a desire for meaningful spiritual entrepreneurship. Arman (2013) notes this shift: While the desire of the Generation X to start their own business and become an entrepreneur in their youth is 3 percent, it rises to 33 percent in Generation Y. [3]

In other words, they don’t want to be ‘kept’ by a church as a functionary to care for and teach the flock in the face of the enormous spiritual needs they see in Australia – we all know Christianity is losing ground, so business as usual is not going to cut it. These generations are instead drawn to church planting, micro churches, multisite and parachurch ministries in order to bring missional change.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to us, since the reason for the expansion of the early church was a clear focus on multiplying leaders who could in turn multiply other leaders. And a vibrant attention to planting churches who would in turn plant other churches. Some organisations have sought to recover these emphases, and publishing books on both these topics have proliferated.

There is a reason for that; we have forgotten what it means to pioneer and multiply like the early church.

Paul put it like this in Rom 15:19 (MSG) In such ways I have trailblazed a preaching of the Message of Jesus all the way from Jerusalem far into northwestern Greece.

Paul’s strategy included the training & encouraging of fellow workers to go out to the region around large cities such as Ephesus & Corinth where he had established the work (Col 1:6–8; cf. Acts 19:10; 2 Cor 1:1) (SH, 409).[4] So the claim to have reached the borders of Illyricum could refer to missionary work done at Paul’s request and with his encouragement;  not just his own personal mission. [See also 10:18.[5]]

Paul’s vision could be likened to lighting a series of candles in a curve round the northeastern quadrant of the Mediterranean; having lit them and ensured that the flame was steady, he left it to others to widen the pool of light.

Paul was so confident to leave other leaders to not only continue the work in this region but for them to also train further leaders, that he said “now that I have finished my work in this region.” Paul was content to reconnect with friends in Rome & go on to light more gospel candles at further centres of influence such as Spain. 

Everything rises or falls on leaders raising up other leaders. As amazing as Paul was, this production of reproducing leaders was at the centre of the rapid expansion of the early church, and every major move of God since.

Paul’s call and passion is to take the message of Jesus to non jewish outsiders, to the unchurched. This must have been a calculated policy on Paul’s part, the most effective way of carrying the message of the gospel as far as he could throughout the non-Jewish world.

It was pioneer work. Off the map. To plant vibrant, self-reproducing churches in this region.

Typically 38% of church attenders in Australia would at least probably be involved in planting a church if they had opportunity.[6] Some of them would definitely be involved in planting a church. But they are just waiting for the chance.

As Bonhoeffer reminds us “the church is only the church when it exists for others.”

So where does that point us?:

1 Churches that do not join God on his mission and are focussed on their own life will have a limited life span.

They will struggle to get a pastor in this new era, because Gen Y & Gen Z are not asking, “How can I work in a church?” They are asking, “How can I join God in his mission?” In other words, they are connecting with church planting, micro churches, and parachurch ministries that have a clear agenda to help people and reach them for Christ. So the standard or predominant model churches that will tend to thrive are those that encourage missional leadership. For example, for a church to say to prospective pastors, “We are looking for someone to lead us to plant three multiplying churches over the next decade. We really mean it, We will back you 100%.” But other churches content with business as usual probably won’t thrive. Because Gen Y & Gen Z are more wired for spiritual entrepreneurship; only those churches that foster and promote missional leadership will make it. One of the difficult parts of working as a church consultant is the 'realisation gap,' a church recognising that they needed to make a different decision twenty years ago to have a different present and a different future. That is why this crisis is doubly urgent!

2 We will see multisite churches increase in Australia.

Covid lockdown was a defining moment for many less effective churches that suddenly realised that they had little engagement from attenders. When numbers plummeted, their viability, both missional and financial, became doubtful. There is an opportunity for such churches, but it is costly: to lay down their life and find new life in an adoption merger. That is, to give up their less effective, less missional ways and request a vital, healthy, missional church to adopt them, without conditions (see my blog post about one adoption merger and some principles).

Of course the flipside is that the pastoral leadership of the adopting or parent church must be spiritually entrepreneurial – that it can span more than one local congregation and catalyse multiplying leadership across the sites. While I am on this, a very important principle that needs underlining is that churches and denominations can have plans to plant, replant and revitalise (whether standard or microchurch models), but without spiritually entrepreneurial leadership, all such efforts will fail.

Multisite churches can utilise resources more effectively, with staff often shared across sites. And they can engage in local mission in new communities as sites are added. The risk is that sites become dependent. Therefore allowing mature sites to become independent plants and a continued focus on planting new sites, which in turn plant other sites, keeps mission at the centre.

3 We will probably see micro churches increase in Australia.

Part of the problem with the emerging church movement from the 1980s on is that it was not always missional, and mostly not multiplying.[7] So I am being more tentative in this point, because anecdotes of the exhaustion of working closely with challenging people, gatherings of those disaffected with standard models of church who wallowed in that together, and groups that focussed on deconstruction/reconstruction of their faith abound. In other words, a new model cannot, in and of itself, rescue us from our fallible, and often self-centred humanity. However, the greater ability of micro churches or simple churches to be nimble, contextual, and less resource-hungry is clear.

Again, Gen Y & Gen Z are generally looking to make a difference, and leading in ways that are more entrepreneurial. So their engagement in micro churches is one aspect of seeking to bring missional change. Of course, the flipside is eschewing moribund standard model churches with little missional imagination and also the heavy demands of management, administration, and compliance that they do not feel either contributes to their life vision nor the biblical mission of the church.

4 Churches that seek to engage meaningfully with their local community will start seeing results.

I have written in other blogs (link and link) that the lack of community connection I have generally seen when consulting with churches has been surprising. From websites to facebook ads, effective events and ongoing groups that engage not-yet Christians, there is much more that we could do. This is probably one of the most frequent conversations that I have with pastors – how to effectively reach our local community. And I find that passion and an overall plan are keys, because the churches that are doing these things well are still getting good results. I have an online course in beta testing to seek to address this (link).

Looking to extrapolate the present into the future is always a fraught exercise. But what I would like to emphasise in closing are two things to keep in tension:

Firstly, we are in crisis now, already there are hundreds of churches across Australia that do not have a pastor. It will only get worse unless we can respond in proactive ways NOW.

Secondly, some churches are doing very well. They are planting new congregations. They are reaching their communities. What this means is that rather than being carried along by national/societal, denominational or local trends, the main determinants of a local church's future are within the hands of that church. Sure, there are external factors that may make it difficult for a church, but the main health determinants are internal. [8]

That should fill us with hope as we face the future. Churches (of whatever size) that are relentlessly missional, that welcome innovation and are planting/multiplying and replanting dying congregations have both great ability of attracting/keeping pastoral leaders and bright prospects. Make no mistake, there is still a spiritual thirst in Australia, and churches that connect relevantly and deeply with their local communities, and the needs of people, will still see people coming to faith in Christ.


[1] Generally, defined by these years of birth, with current ages:

Gen Z

1997 – 2012

12 – 27

Gen Y (Millennials)

1981 – 1996

28 – 43


[3]Arman, A. (2013). Y kuşağına devam, accessed at http://www.hurriyet. 

[4] W. Sanday and A.C. Headlam, Romans, ICC (1895; s1902) 

[5] Dunn, J. D. G. (1998). Romans 9–16 (Vol. 38B, p. 864). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[6] NCLS Research

[7] Andrew Jones, online conversation 2024. Emerging missional church was much more emphasised in Australia & NZ, than in the US & UK.

[8] Kaldor et al (1997). Shaping a Future.

© 2024 Ian Duncum. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

Rev Dr Ian Duncum is a trained and accredited (with John Mark Ministries) church consultant with over 20 years experience of working with non-profit enterprises and churches across a number of denominations. This has also included denominational leadership in church health and development and church research in the tertiary education sector. An accredited minister with a track record of growing churches, Ian also trains church consultants, facilitates training for ministers and leaders, and mentors/supervises pastors and other leaders. He can be contacted at

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Mit 4 von 5 Sternen bewertet.

I sit just on the Gen X side of the generational spectrum and I definitely relate to the whole idea of lack of interest in working (even attending) in a church focused on business as usual. As I read the scriptures I see the mission of God's people is always about growth and movement and expansion. The good news is supposed to go out, not be contained. As long as we (the church) are selling a story that we are supposed to maintain what we have, we should not be surprised to see a massive drop off of those seeking to participate and lead.

The thing that church planting and missional expressions of church offers are avenues for young leaders…

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Ian Duncum
Ian Duncum
15. Mai
Antwort an

Thanks Joel!

We need to hear from and respond to younger generations, and allow them to lead. I am excited about the possibilities that are before us when we make those transitions.

Strength to you as you do that,


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22. Apr.
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Thanks for this article Ian. It draws together several threads from research and general observation, and makes a powerful argument for necessary change in missional intent, organisational structures and the focus of local church activity. I agree that micro churches may well be a growing trend, and these may not find denominational connection attractive or relevant. In an attempt to escape the burdens of running an organisation they may not be called churches at all. While that's understandable - a bunch of friends hanging out are not required to meet compliance regulations - it comes with all kinds of risks like spiritual abuse by dominant characters and discipleship being swallowed up in socialising. We need to find ways of creating…

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23. Apr.
Antwort an

Thanks for your insightful comments. Yes, microchurches can reach their full potential when they (and multisites) have evangelistic-entrepreneurial leadership and are part of an oversight network. I am hopeful that those established churches that are responsive to this looming crisis, and these emerging generations, in missional intent and care for pastoral leaders will also flourish.

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22. Apr.
Mit 4 von 5 Sternen bewertet.

This has long been a sense I've had growing up in the church. We're starting to feel that call to survival and for some it means doubling down, but for many we're feeling that call to jump into following the Kingdom as it works in the world.

Thanks Dr. Duncum for this post.

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Ian Duncum
Ian Duncum
22. Apr.
Antwort an

Thanks for your comment! I believe Gen Y and Gen Z are leading us in helpful, spiritually entrepreneurial, ways that will lead to flourishing, rather than survival. Doing the same thing in the same way will not end well. It will only be in prayerful innovation and recommitting to local community outreach that the renewal of the church and society will be found.

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