Thursday, August 28, 2008


I’ve been asking myself the following question/s tonight: What church would admit that it doesn’t want to reach new people? When a church says that it wants to “change” or “move forward” to reach its community, what in the world does that actually mean? Give me something tangible.

Does is mean that they now have a new rotating list of door greeters in case a visitor comes? Does it mean that they will be friendly to any visitor that comes? Does it mean that they’re really hoping and/or praying that new visitors come? Does it mean that they’ve cleared out some space and put in a pool table, in the hopes that a visitor will come? In short, does it all revolve around visitors coming…and then somehow finding something about that church that relates to their needs?

I’ve been talking to a lot of churches about this lately. It seems that everybody wants to grow. They want to move forward. They’re open to the changes necessary to see growth happen. But are they really? I’ve quoted an old friend of mine many times on this blog who once said to me; churches say they want to reach lost people, until they figure out what that means.

For Jamie and me it meant stepping WAY outside the box and probably also our comfort zone at the time. It meant that church might not look a lot like the church we once new. And it certainly meant that our ministry path would not take any of the traditional routes. And in the end we met more lost people than we ever had inside the box. So why would we ever get back in?

Every church says that it wants to reach lost people, but what does that mean? I think it means that they want the excitement that new people bring. I think it means that they don’t want their church to grow old and literally die. But I think very few churches are really open to the changes that might be necessary to make that happen. I think some churches think they’re open to those changes. But I don’t think they really even know what those changes are. Again, it’s more than just a new door man, or a new “blended worship service” (which is a really….weird word to use in that context), or a pool table downstairs in the basement. And it means more than just hiring a new youth minister who will “go out and get those kids” and then somehow, in defiance of sociology, psychology, relevance, and possibly even the gospel itself, talk those kids into wanting to attend a weird concert and short (or sometimes really long) lecture every Sunday morning.

A number of years ago I was serving in a church that will, for the purposes of this post, be known as Church X. I was really struggling. It was a very traditional church that had all but lost its young people. Unbeknownst to me, I had been hired to reverse the trend. The trend was that the church was now out of touch and hadn’t successfully and meaningfully discipled anybody in years. So even the adults who had managed to stay were of no help and, in their current state, and as harsh as it is to say, were also of no use. Again, I was really struggling.

Finally one day, after the pastor and I had had it out, he stepped into my office and suggested that maybe I wasn’t doing my job. That maybe I hadn’t accomplished what I had been hired to do. And before I could even think about what I was saying, I blurted out; “Of course I’ve not done my job! You’re asking me to perform miracles here! You’re asking me to fix two decades of total failure on your part!”

It was an awkward moment. As soon as I said it, I thought “Oh no! What did I just say!” It was like referring to the huge pink elephant in the room that everybody had worked so hard to ignore. But instead of giving me a verbal bashing, he just stood there, looked at me, blinked, and after a minute, finally suggested that we had to figure out a way to get along.

If you can look over the course of your life and pinpoint turning points, those two minutes were a turning point for me. After he left, I sat down at my desk and realized that, as crazy as it might have been to say what I’d said, what I’d said was true. And it was true for a lot of guys. And it was going to be true for a while.

We now live in a day and age when churches hire professionals to do the foot washing. And after years of complete and utter failure on the church’s part to disciple, be relevant, and to evangelize, they go out and hire twenty years olds to fix things. And when those twenty year olds suggest something as crazy as, say, an after game dance in the fellowship hall, the pastor/deacons sit down with him to discuss how he might model his youth ministry and own personal style on the adult congregation’s model and style…which had been doing so poorly that they had to go out and hire a “professional” to help them fix it.

What do churches really want?

What they want is for their methodology to work. They want to be able to somehow appease the older people in the congregation, and for that same methodology to be relevant to the needs of youth and young families. They want to turn back time. But they can’t. So what in the world are they going to do?

Again, what in the world are they going to do???

Comments on "fix"


Blogger Eleanor Burne-Jones said ... (8:34 AM) : 

They are disappearing fast and very, very few leaders are able to turn them around. Of those who can that I've met, most are now suggesting it is too late because that whole model of church isn't appropriate any more, so they are looking to planting instead or at least planting alongside. So while I appreciate others may have different views, I'd personally suggest spending very limited time on this question. Look to what kind of foundations are needed for the future of believers in this country ten to twenty years up ahead.


Blogger Cari said ... (4:12 PM) : 

We have no real desire to change. We want someone to come in and make what we're doing work-to justify our actions. And if we keep on keeping on, someone will come along and make our formula work.

Real change only happens after a disaster. In the OT, God pretty much had to all but obliterate a church to get it back on track. I feel in my bones that that's where we're headed. Can you really see our church changing? Can you imagine someone actually saying, "That's it," and being the catalyst for change? Can you imagine walking in to our church and everything, I mean everything, being different? It's all very overwhelming and discouraging.

I say I want change, but am I really, like you say, ready for what that means? I can say it all day. But here I sit.


Blogger shaunespencer said ... (4:19 PM) : 

Some thoughts:

You’ll have to forgive me for constantly “ringing the same bell” (a little metaphor for all the SA readers), but I think the problem of ministry methodology remains a problem of our view of how the Scriptures act authoritatively (no small question indeed). We are many times quite content to take our message from the Scriptures but painfully reluctant to take our ministry methods from the Scriptures. I would submit that if we took a more thoroughgoing view of the Scriptures as authoritative over our ministry methods (as well as our message) that we would find ourselves in a funny (but more effective spot). We would likely have to be more traditional in some ways (if we would define “traditional” as extending earlier than 1950) and more culturally radical in others (meaning that we would have to measure relevance by our relationships instead of by our programs). I’m afraid that the discussion of ministry (too often for me at least) can easily become an intramural contest between preferences instead of a sacrifice of my life to a king whose authority extends further back than 1950 and further forward than 2008. That kind of submission will require a move of the Holy Spirit leading to repentance.

(Hey Tim, I actually wrote down my login and password…)


Blogger Nicole_Hostetler said ... (5:22 PM) : 

Thank you!! This is what we are facing where we are today. We are the first young couple in DECADES to be the CO's of the corps. Of course, miracles without deep down change is what is assumed will happen. Just by having a young couple will attract young people. But what happens when what they see are just a bunch of unchanging people staring at the newbies? When the "schedule" and "leadership" is etched in stone... what do you do? We shake things up a bit (actually A LOT). And we've faced incredible persecution and frustration from within because of it! A sermon I feel led to share asks the question: How can you attend a church EVERY SUNDAY and never be changed? How can you proudly boast you've been a "member" for 30 years and yet show no signs of spiritual maturity? How can you expect new life to emerge when all we have are weeds? (Still working on how to SCRIPTURALLY not PERSONALLY share this word with our people). Sadly, there are the few who want to work...want to change...but are bullied into going with the party line.


Blogger Sean said ... (8:33 PM) : 

I am huge fan of 'pruning'. If any church is stuck in a rut, it always has to do with a lack of forward spiritual motion. People stuck in traditions instead of truth, rules instead of grace, years instead of growth, etc. . . Now the only way to truly break those things, is to teach through it, provide a God given vision, start moving forward and then basically cut off whoever needs to be cut off in order to bear fruit again.

Now that doesn't really answer the question very well, because frankly, in every church environment (local and denominational) there is the tricky issue of leadership. If the leaders in a church do not buy into, embrace, carry the burden to see the church grow, no matter what (most specifically, seriously changing the methodology)then it is almost impossible to change the church culture. What has happened in the mainline denominations is a clinging to the traditional methodology to the point of excepting a more liberal theology in an effort to be more comfortable for new people coming into their weird service. And observing the rapid rise of mainline denominations, we can see how that has clearly worked. ?

So how to change; sure start a new church, Or like I did, move to church that is growing, but those modes do not actually help the existing state of the original church. Scripturally, non of the people going against the religious structures were ever met kindly. But what did they do? God told them what to say, and they said it and they lived it. How to change, you say it, model it and at some point if the church, or specific people refuse to come with, you 'prune' them. Fish or cut bait.
Nothing like a totally 'relevant' line from a church song to accentuate the point. 'Though none go with me, still I will follow'.
We never see Jesus chasing after the pharisees, trying to convince them to switch up the tradition. He said it, lived it (died it, then lived it again) and when the Pharisees messed with him, he said, here's the way it is, now excuse me while I continue saving the least of these.


Blogger Larry said ... (2:55 PM) : 


Changing culture is difficult at best. Trying to change it in the church, especially evagelical circles, can be even more difficult. We often mistake piety and legalism for holiness.

We then hire young guys who are creative and cut their creativity to the quick by challenging them at the least little sign of disturbing the dust. I am even finding it hard in my spot and I have a lot of "authority." Could it be that we need to start whole new congregations that are not building bound or bound by traditionalism (tradition is not all that bad. We need the tradition of the saints).

Will it take the a catastrophe in the Church? Or can we pray and expect revival?

All of this is a struggle for me today.


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