As I have been studying church life and death, and observing different congregations, and pondering the future of the Church in a post-Christian culture; some thoughts and questions come to mind.
Let’s make one thing clear. The mission of the church has never changed nor should the message of the church change; but our presentation and strategies for accomplishing the mission and delivering the message needs to be polymorphic and adaptive! Don’t get me wrong, small congregations are not bad and large congregations are not good and vice versa… but, every congregation should be a vibrant reflection of our living God equipped and able to fulfill his mission and purpose. If church culture, big or small is holding back Kingdom growth, if a congregation is withering and dying because it is not tapped in to the True Vine and not producing fruit, that is a HUGE problem.
Most of these are not new or original, but I think every congregation needs to assess them.
1. If your pastor had a very limited skillset, would you prefer someone skilled in funerals or baptisms?
2. If you have a multigenerational church, does the primary financial support come from those 65 years and older, or younger?
3. If you have a multigenerational church where the older generation is the primary source of support…if the matriarch or patriarch dies, do you think their scions will stay, if nothing changes?
4. If the older generation passes away, how long will the church survive financially, especially if those younger generations leave because the church refuses to adapt to the 21st century?
5. For the older saints, if you could look down from heaven, would you prefer to watch the younger generation stay engaged in your congregation after you are gone, or would you prefer to not see your traditions change? Whether it be music style, order of service, the tradition, fill in the blank…
6. If you are in the older generation, would you rather be intentional about making changes to impact younger generations, or would you prefer to drive them away for the sake of maintaining the tradition? (Of course, they should stay and respect the time honored tradition because holding on to our tradition is more important than keeping people engaged in the church…)
7. If you are in one of these churches and struggling to find a pastor… are you looking for a caretaker to maintain the estate, then wrap up it’s affairs once it has passed away, or do you want someone to guide and lead you into the future (even if change is painful)?
8. If you keep records or can call to mind, how many visitors have come to your church in the last 2 years? How many came back a second time? How many are still there? If you could ask why they didn’t come back, what do you think the answers would be?
a. Not enough youth? Is it because all the young people and young families are going to a more contemporary church down the road?
b. Not enough programs? Is it because there are so few people left attending your church?
c. Music? I spoke to an older friend recently who had been church shopping for a while… in succession, he went to several churches that had not changed to contemporary praise styles. His comment, “my parents made me go to a church like this when I was a kid (60+ years ago), it was tiring then, it needs to just die already.” He said, “I loved the message, and the preaching was good, but I won’t go back.” This is a man who constantly says he should have been born a century ago, hates and doesn’t understand technology, doesn’t have a smartphone or computer, wishes phones still had live operators and party lines, and has a hard time with tv remotes…
9. If you keep records, how many baptisms has your church had in the past 5 years? How many were young adult/adult new believers? How many were children of existing families? If your church is only baptizing it’s own children, is it really fulling the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations? How many of the lost, irreligious, unchurched, disillusioned, spiritual, agnostic, or atheist people out there has your congregation made disciples of in the last 10 years?
To contrast two churches: both were founded in the 1800s. Both had attendance around 100-150 in the late 80s early 90s. Both have strong foundations in biblical truth. Both hold tight to biblical ideals, sin, salvation, and expectations of godliness. Both are multigenerational churches with ages birth through 90s+… two very different situations in 2019.
a. Determined after a period of decline 25 years ago, it would make adaptive changes the expectation and norm. Determined to be on the forward edge of worship, programs, outreach, teaching and technology. Average weekend attendance now is nearly over 1,000 plus viewers streaming online and listening/watching podcasts. Has a dynamic website, their own smartphone app, several worship teams, hundreds of volunteers, the list goes on… With a budget of millions per year going to Kingdom work around the world and impact in their community able to support many full-time staff. Easter weekend saw 5 services in two auditoriums plus a satellite congregation all packed, all with the same message of hope, and around a dozen baptisms.
b. Has held on to traditional worship with hymns and a piano. Has a rudimentary website. Has average weekend attendance around 50 with a budget well below $10k per month and can’t support one full-time pastor. Average attendance on Easter and no baptisms.
While I have never been a fan of the “dog and pony show” overshadowing strong biblical teaching and exceptional pastoral care, if not adapting to the trends in praise and worship, not adapting to changes in technology and delivery of the message, has crippled your congregation to the point of minimal impact and even death…
A pastor friend of mine sat next to a senior saint during a contemporary worship service. He asked her, do you like this music? She answered, “It’s okay. I loved the old hymns, but I really love watching my grandson praise God up there on the drums!”
YOU NEED TO CHANGE!
Unfortunately, there are congregations and even entire denominations, that will refuse to hear this message. They will blame everyone and everything for the death of the portion of Christ’s Body they are stewards over… Christ said, the gates of hell will not overcome his Church, but we allow our insistence on not adapting to kill our congregations while the faithful are left to find somewhere else to attend a worship service…
The deepest sadness is these congregations are full of friendly, loving, devout believers in Jesus Christ. However, the only way one congregation grows, is when another congregation dies, and those who want to hold on to tradition consolidate… these people need dedicated pastors and staff to equip them for ministry, but as the congregations dwindle and funds dry up, only bi-vocational pastors, who inherently have their attention split (serving two masters), or pastors who have an independent source of income, usually retirees (who have already put their time in and are looking for someone to take the mantle of leadership) are able to serve in these congregations because of simple economic demands on their families.
Unfortunately, time and again, once the older generation who resisted adapting for so long pass away, the church is in critical condition and on life support, and it is too late to breath new life in; leaving both the pastoral team and members with no way to keep the doors open, even if the mortgage was paid off 50 years ago…
The facts and statistics do not lie. This is the sad reality facing churches that do not adapt.