The other day I read a church notice-board with a mixture of amusement and sadness. At the top of the noticeboard was its strapline: ‘Presenting the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ in a relevant way to a changing world’.
This was followed by a list of its activities:
Sunday: 10.30 Morning Worship; 6.30 Evening Worship
Boys’ Brigade…. Girls’ Brigade
Luncheon Fellowship for Seniors…. Ladies’ Fellowship
I was amused, because to all intents and purposes this was a very traditional church. I was saddened, because the church was unaware that it was living in a time-warp. True, they had made changes to their worship – instead of singing hymns, they are now singing songs – but in no way is this church relating to the culture around them: in fact their style of worship is probably even more impenetrable to people not familiar with the standard ‘evangelical’ style of worship of endless repeats. If this church wants to live up to its strapline, then it certainly has to change.
Recently I was sent a ‘link’ to a Rotary seminar. It featured a young Australian management consultant giving a pep-talk to Rotarians. The context of this talk is that Rotary clubs, like many churches are, are in trouble, for they are growing old: the average age of a Rotarian in the UK is 73! If Rotary is to survive, then it needs to change radically. This was the point of the video clip. The management consultant began with a quotation from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but those most responsive to change”. He then went on to argue that if Rotary is to survive, then it must remain relevant – and to remain relevant, Rotary clubs must re-calibrate their purpose, they must re-engineer how they do things, and they must re-position themselves in the market-place.
The same is true of churches today: we too need to recalibrate, re-engineer and re-position ourselves if we are to be responsive to the challenge of change. Otherwise we will not survive. As has often been said, the seven last words of a church are: ‘We never did it that way before’.
To go back to the church with its unhelpful noticeboard, it needs an outside management consultant to come in and make them aware of how out-of-touch they are with the real world. For although they still have a relatively good congregation, with people of all ages present, they are not making any major impact on the community around them; the people they are baptising, for instance, are mostly from church families. Somebody needs to come along and ‘rub the bruises sore’, and help them see that instead of fulfilling the Great Commission given to us in Jesus, they are actually only operating according to the norms of a certain type iof church culture. They need to ‘recalibrate’ and put their church back to its ‘factory settings’.
To return to Rotary and its troubles. My Rotary club had a major ‘falling-out’ last year (does that ring any church bells?) and lost half its members. Fortunately I was not part of the ‘falling-out’, but nonetheless as the incoming club president I have the task of re-building the club. One advantage I have is that the club knows that it has to grow if it is to survive, and so hopefully will be open to the changes I will propose to make growth happen. I find it helpful to quote Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary: “Rotary must be evolutionary at all times – revolutionary on occasions”. I also like to quote Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. I believe that if my club is to grow then we need to focus not on meetings, but on projects as we seek to fulfil our strapline of ‘service above self’. I have developed a growth plan which involves growing together, growing more, growing in service, and growing in influence – and a detailed strategy to put to plan into operation. I wonder, are there any parallels with church?
I enjoyed your essay, and find it stimulating as you set the table for us…still looking for solutions, however. You seemed to criticize a traditional church for its programs, but recommend more programs…? Great thoughts, but I would enjoy more of them, please.
Blueridge, in Virginia [the Colony]
As far as Britain is concerned, the changing world is the growth of Islam in this country, compared with the decline of Christianity. Latest figures show that there are about 3 million Muslims in this country, compared with an estimated 150,000 Baptists or twenty times as many Muslims as Baptists.
The challenge is to convert these Muslims to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. A formidable task.