Years ago, some church leaders and I went to an Easum and Bandy event in a neighboring suburb and I had to pull over the car on the way home because everybody was crying.
- The changes our church needed to make in order to revitalize itself would take years.
- The level of energy required seemed monumental.
- The subsequent push back anticipated back home felt overwhelming.
Actually one of us was not crying. The whole event and even the subsequent conversation about the challenges filled me with energy. I loved it.
A chunk of my time is spent these days talking with church groups about helping congregations make the shift to a 21st Century Church culture and sometimes it feels overwhelming to those who gather.
Where do we begin? This questions comes from faithful church people. They are my people.
They still do all the things they’ve always done: gathering on Sunday mornings, sitting in pews, singing hymns, serving in great and small ways. But – for some reason – it’s not working anymore, or at least it’s not working the way it used to work. “People don’t come anymore.” They sometimes feel like the way they’ve been the church is all wrong, or they are being judged for the way they’ve worshiped all these years.
They’ve been faithful. The world has simply changed in even more ways that we realize. I love figuring out how those changes are impacting how we might be the future church.
Where do we begin? It depends. But here are three things any church could do in the next month.
- If your church building gets a lot of foot traffic, set up coffee on a random morning and give it out for free. Do not give people a flyer about your church. Just the coffee and a hearty “Good Morning.”
- If your church is in a small town or suburb, invite the mayor out to coffee and ask what your church could do to serve the community. Do not make this about proselytizing or “getting new members.” This is about learning how your church might serve.
- Sit down with your leaders and a church calendar and have a conversation about why you do what you do. Write down every possible answer – even the awkward ones. Why do you have a flower guild? (i.e. to make the sanctuary beautiful, to feature Mrs. Smith’s gardening gifts, to appease someone.) Why do you have a fish fry every Friday? (i.e. because Mr. Jones loves the fish fry, because it’s a money-maker, because it gets the neighbors into our building.)
Culture shifts take time, and they are exhausting and infuriating. People will threaten to leave. People will leave. It’s okay.
And it’s also okay – in fact it’s holy – if your people decide that they cannot change and it’s time to close. Consider all the congregations that have closed since the resurrection.
But if you are ready to become a 21st Century Church, there are many ways to begin.
Image of Dorothy’s first steps on a long but fruitful journey.