2009 Feels a Million Miles Away

In June, we celebrated 10 years of helping churches get unstuck at The Unstuck Group. We’ve served nearly 400 churches since Tony first started coaching pastors and helping them think about ministry strategy in a fresh way. Pastors felt stuck. We’re continually refining the Unstuck Process and resources to help them get unstuck.

So 2009. Do you agree that feels like a really long time ago?

Avatar was the biggest movie of the year. (With Transformers, Harry Potter and Twilight franchise movies in the next few slots.) Stephen Curry was the number 7 pick in the NBA draft. Bitcoin first showed up. The “Miracle on the Hudson” happened. Michael Jackson died.

A group of ministry consultants on our team spent some time reflecting on what’s changed in the landscape of how we do ministry the last 10 years.

ministry shift

This is the list we came up with:

1. The Priority Platform

The priority platform for people we are trying to reach and for the people already connected to our churches is no longer the pulpit on Sunday morning. Over the last ten years the platform has shifted from physical to digital. Very likely, there are more people hearing the messages you communicate through digital methods rather than physically attending a service or another event at your church.

2. The Culture Wars

Cultural “churchiness” is on a rapid decline. It was back in 2009 that the American Religious Identification Survey reported a double digit rise in the ‘nones’ for the first time. Since then, we’ve seen our culture shift dramatically on a variety of hot button topics. From the point of view of many people on the outside looking in, the church is not reflecting the progress made in business, schools and even government.

3. The Engagement Strategy

In ministry, churches have long defined and measured engagement too simply, with the primary focus on just getting people to attend. What will it mean to be an engaging church in the next decade? For starters, we’re going to have to learn how to engage people in their daily lives more effectively, and that will most definitely mean leveraging technology more strategically. More on that in our recent Church Engagement Report.

4. The Pace

Ten years ago the iPhone was only two years old and the iPad was still a year from being announced. Other things that many can’t imagine life without like Instagram, Snapchat, Uber and even GPS were only ideas. The pace of growth and adoption of new services and ideas has exploded, yet many of our churches look the same as they did 10 or more years ago.

The pace of growth and adoption of new services and ideas has exploded, yet many of our churches look the same as they did 10 or more years ago. Click To Tweet

5. The Felt Needs

There’s more awareness of mental and emotional health needs than 10 years ago. In particular, feelings of isolation and loneliness have risen dramatically. Recent research suggests most Americans are considered lonely, and that more than half of survey respondents said “they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well.” Young adults are marrying later in life, and increasingly living on their own, which also contributes to a different set of felt needs than people their age had 10 years ago.

6. The Mission Field

It seems that more and more, churches we work with have had their sights set on global missions at the expense of clarifying their mission field at home. Part of the Unstuck Process involves helping a church clearly define where God placed their church and who is in the mission field. We find that clarity about the mission at home is essential to the health and growth of the church.

It seems that more and more, churches we work with have had their sights set on global missions at the expense of clarifying their mission field at home. Click To Tweet

7. The Subscription Mindset

The subscription economy has grown by more than 100% every year for the last 5 years, now accounting for $2.6 billion in sales. With it has come a greater expectation of quality or your message or product becomes disposable. To reach this culture there’s an increasing need for the church to add real value to people’s lives or risk being met with apathy.

8. The Megapastor

Several high-profile people are no longer leading the churches they once pastored. It’s a sobering reminder that we can’t lead alone. Fortunately, we’re seeing an increased focus on building healthy leadership teams with shared responsibility and accountability to each other and the churches they lead. We need the strength of a team in all areas of ministry, particularly when it comes to leadership.

9. The Next Generation

In ministry, it feels like everyone’s still talking about Millennials. Gen Z will be moving from your student ministry to your adult ministry very soon, if they’re not already—and they’re different in a lot of ways. The biggest two differences we think churches are not paying attention to? They’re even more digital than Millennials and they are influenced differently.

10. The Conference

Everyone was live-blogging conference notes to help them learn how to lead and grow their churches. We’re seeing more and more churches getting comfortable inviting in an outside perspective and equipping leaders in a more hands-on way.


Truth be told, in so many ways, our ministries really haven’t changed all that much in 10 years. Is your church still singing “Revelation Song,” “Jesus Messiah” or “How Great Is Our God?” (Just kidding, that last one is 15 years old.)

In ministry, we iterate too slowly. We need to hold tight to mission and loosely to methods. If we do that, we will continually evaluate how well our methods are working—hopefully more frequently than every 10 years.

Part of what we work so hard to provide in the Unstuck Process is way of iterating. A way of monitoring your ministry’s health, of making plans and refining strategies, of building and leading a team of mission-minded people. Here’s to another 10 years.

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