Change is inevitable. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either too young to know any better, or old enough to be blatantly lying—either to you or to themselves.
Depending on who you are and what, exactly, is changing, the experience can be either a positive or a negative thing.
Sometimes a positive change for one is a negative for another: one person loses weight in a pursuit to get healthier, while another loses weight due to illness.
Sometimes it’s all in our perspective: I found my first gray hair at age 21; at 52 years old now, I am completely gray and have been for a long time. When the serious grays were starting to take over, rather than tell me I was looking older, my sweet husband said he thought it was kind of cool that my hair was always changing. What is earth-shattering to some women (gasp! The world knows I am the age that I am!) was a non-event for me because almost every time I looked in a mirror, my husband’s wise words caused me to think of our ever-changing life as we grew together over the years.
Sometimes we need to realize it’s not about us at all: children grow and change, and it’s not because they want to leave me out of the loop—it’s simply because they’re meant to grow and change. If they didn’t, we’d probably label them disfunctional and cart them off for a host of tests.
The local restaurant remodels and it’s not because they knew I loved that old picture on the wall and they removed it to snub me. It’s because they recognized their decor was not attracting today’s crowd. They can gain new interest with a new look while keeping their faithful customers because the food is still great—only now they have additional people who get to experience it.
The growing church changes because—
Oh, wait. Wait just a minute. Hold it right there. Church isn’t supposed to change, right? Because “everyone” knows that when churches change, they’re automatically compromising the message of the gospel. Church is supposed to be solemn. Holy. Reverent. Stained glass. Candles. Gregorian chant. Harps and lyres. Psalms set to music.
Or is that bright lights and soft hymns? Organ? No smiling?
Or loud hymns? Piano? Are we allowed to smile yet? Are the candles still valid, or is that only for Roman Catholics?
Is it sinful and less holy to sing from lyrics that are projected on a screen? Do changing light colors summon demons? I’m pretty sure we have to play our songs with something less than excellence, because “everyone” knows that musicians who practice and play skillfully are all putting on a performance, and that’s the least holy thing around town. Having fun and playing with joy means we’re showing off. Every time, no exceptions.
Those who know me well can hear my tone in the above passage. For those who don’t, allow me to enlighten you: I would pay hundreds of dollars for the development of a sarcasm font for all my writing needs. It would be seconded by a frustration font, called “Grrrrr.”
Why are we so resistant to change if the change isn’t tailored specifically to our own desires? So often, the needs of the many are overridden by the wants of the few. Not the needs of the few, mind you, but the wants.
I want to be comfortable. Who doesn’t? And yet, if one of my children is cold, I’ll gladly give them a blanket even if that means I am not nearly as cozy as I want to be.
In the same way, I see the situation in so many churches today where those who are longtime Christians are insistent on reaching unchurched people in the exact same manner they were reached—and ONLY in that manner—whether that event in their lives occurred last year, five years ago, or forty years ago.
Growing up in the Roman Catholic church meant that I had the entire Mass memorized by the time I was in the second grade. The priest’s words and the people’s responses were scripted in the monthly missalette, and the only thing that changed was the sermon—which had better not exceed ten minutes’ time, or everyone would start to grumble. A variety of priests over the years never varied the singsong monotone of their delivery. I may have had the Mass memorized, but my heart was not touched. What had reached the previous generation had not worked for me, so it didn’t feel holy or reverent. It felt boring. As soon as I moved out of my parents’ house, I stopped going to church entirely and didn’t miss it.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard a prayer that wasn’t a memorized “standard.” My not-yet uncle was with us for a holiday and prayed for our meal. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was an evangelical Christian with a genuine relationship with God. All I knew was that this guy talked to God as he would a beloved friend, and it made me want to hear and learn more. I still didn’t understand why his prayers were better (to my ear) but I was never again satisfied with the standard, memorized “grace” I grew up with.
What reached my heart years later (evangelism “practice” with one of my best friends) is not what reached my kids. What reached them and drew them to Christ as children (a combination of teaching at home and teaching at church, maybe more) is not what is currently reaching their unchurched friends (friendships, genuineness, relevance). Each generation evolves to keep up with what’s going on in the big, wide world out there, and if we as a church don’t evolve, we can never hope to get people in the door.
Think of the old TV commercials of a few decades ago, and how they captivated us as children. Watching them now may be nostalgic, but their slow pace feels more like plodding than enticement now that we’ve grown used to ten-second commercials filled with action and images.
Churches should be no different. It should not be a show, or a slick sales pitch. The message of the gospel should never be compromised. BUT—the method of delivery must be ever-evolving in order to reach those outside our walls. People who don’t know Christ or who are actively anti-church are outside the walls for a reason. Either they are truly ignorant (yes, in this day and age, there are still people who have never heard of Jesus), they have been hurt by the church (far more frequent an occurrence than we’d like to admit), or there is nothing that draws them (either due to misconceptions of—or disinterest in—what’s being offered).
God’s word is eternal and unchanging, but the world we live in doesn’t stop for a minute. If we expect anyone to be open to what we have to say, we need to put it in terms they’ll understand. People need something real. Something they can relate to their lives in some way. Something that speaks to what’s happening to them, today. Not something that spoke to me, twenty-five years ago.
Churches everywhere struggle with this, and we need to stop being so selfish about our own comfort and think about what will reach someone who may be completely unlike us—someone who has most likely rejected the very thing we think is comfortable. We can become as angry as we want about changes, even to the point of withholding our money or leaving “our” church to try out another—but we’re not going to lose the free gift of salvation we’ve already received, right? However, if a person never finds relevance within our church walls, how is he ever going to hear of the salvation we now take for granted?
A pastor who wears jeans and flannel is not somehow preaching a lesser gospel than a pastor who wears a suit and tie. A full band does not make communion time less reverent than an individual playing the piano. Coffee in the foyer or in the worship center isn’t the first step toward climbing in “that” proverbial handbasket. Scolding people about what they’ve worn to church isn’t winning souls (or even friends). If you’ve ever decorated your home for Christmas or put candles on the dinner table for ambiance, you have no business saying a church is wrong for using lights and color to create a setting of worship.
Change is needed. But it’s needed in our hearts before all else. Look beyond yourself to others who are hurting and meet them where they are, not where you think they should be.
I’ll leave you with this interesting quote I found while reading about other churches who have succeeded or failed, depending on whether they embraced needed change or wanted to stay comfortable without risk. It’s almost funny, but more than anything, it’s awful . . . because it’s true.
Karl Beck wasn’t joking in Pastor Karl’s Rookie Year (“Never Trust a Spiritual Revolution You Can’t Dance To”), when he said, “It’s easier in most churches to introduce a fourth person into the trinity than it is to change the color of the carpet in the foyer.”