The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article recently titled, "10 Media and Advertising Predictions that Didn't Come True in 2016."
*TV advertising, like it always had, would help decide the election. Reality: Hillary Clinton dramatically outspent Donald Trump on TV ads, while Trump relied on a mix of free media (rallies and interviews) and an aggressive social media strategy. And just in case you've been in a coma for the last few weeks, Trump won.
*The NFL would continue humming with no issues. If there was one indisputable truth among media writers, it was that the NFL was immune to ratings pressures in TV. Yet in 2016 the league suffered a surprising decline in viewership. No one is quite sure why, with theories ranging from the national anthem protests to the interest in the presidential election. Nonetheless, though they have bounced up a bit of late, early on in the season ratings were down.
*Advertisers would pull back on digital or pull back on TV. Now that 2016 is in the books, we know that digital ad spending surged, but not at the expense of TV. Bottom line? Advertisers determined they needed both.
I don't know if anyone put forward a similar list of predictions for the interplay of church and culture at the start of last year that have been proven false, but I know of more than a few that were heavily circulating through the corridors of conventional wisdom that we now know have not proven accurate:
*Younger Millennials and Generation Z would come around to church and faith just like earlier generations. We now know that instead of becoming more religious as they get older, they become less – and further removed from church involvement. This makes the challenge of reaching Generation Z more urgent and challenging than ever before, as they will not naturally turn back to any kind of faith from their youth. In fact, Generation Z is the first generation where the majority didn't have a strong faith upbringing to begin with.
*Large, fast-growing churches are attracting crowds through the abandonment of orthodoxy. Patently not true. Study after study has confirmed that what marks large, fast-growing churches more than any other single factor is conservative theology. A major study out of Canada (that I recently blogged on here) revealed that what separates declining churches from growing churches is that declining churches are more liberal, while growing churches are more conservative.
*The church has moved past racism. If 2016 proved anything, it was how deep racial divides continue to be and how tone-deaf many in the white Christian community have been to the fissure lines. The most segregated hour in America continues to be Sunday mornings at 11 a.m., and most leaders have no idea how to build truly integrated church communities that would provide the beachhead needed to tackle racism in the larger world.
*We didn't have to worry about the "rise of the nones" because we were just losing the nominals who weren't a vibrant part of the church to begin with. Oh my, where to begin. Lest we forget, the nominal population, no matter how it was shaped historically, has always been America's mission field. It's who Wesley and Whitfield, Moody and Graham won to Christ. The so-called "nominals" who make up the rise of the nones have always been the prime evangelistic target. Its inhabitants are the ones who have historically been the most open; the ones who represent the fields white unto harvest. Nominals populating the rise of the nones simply means that our primary mission field has become a much tougher target. So rather than heave a huge sigh of relief that Evangelical faith may not be losing any ground in terms of percentage points, we must recognize that all that means is that we are, for now, holding our own. But "holding our own" isn't exactly the mission.
*The key to reaching Millennials is to go retro, traditional, liturgical, ancient-future, Anglo-Catholic. I've always found this one fascinating. The Christian publishing industry went through a phase where it couldn't publish enough disaffected Christian Millennial memoirs. Many took those musings as a window into the unchurched Millennial soul and the key to developing ways to reach them for Christ. Um… you do remember these were Christian Millennials largely whining about their parents' 1990s megachurch, right? What does that have to do with reaching non-Christian Millennials? Very little. Case in point: name one Evangelical church that has broken even the 1,000 attendance barrier with Millennials that has employed a strategy built around disaffected Christian Millennial memoir tastes. Exactly. That isn't a swipe at small churches, just that this was never the key to reaching non-Christians.
So what were your predictions for 2017 again?
James Emery White
Mike Shields, "10 Media and Advertising Predictions that Didn't Come True in 2016," The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2016, read online.
James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Baker).