Church: The Change Within Part I

As a minister for 55 years and a pastor for 53 years I love churches and those who comprise memberships. To be a critic of something I love so much is an impossibility. To pretend today’s churches don’t have a major challenge would be to evidence a lack of observation, however. The challenges are multiple and complex.

On relates to age groups. To simplify the issue let’s just divide the body into two parts each having multiple sub-parts.

One is the older membership. Members are checking out of churches in the older age group. Likewise, younger people are staying out or dropping out. Many of the members of the older group have given their lives, devotion, and financial resources to purchase land, build buildings, and develop ministries.

The younger group consists of a smaller number of their demographic body than previous generations. Many are uncertain they want to be a part of organized Christianity though studies show a greater interest among them for things spiritual. To survive the church must reach a larger segment of this body. Faced with this challenge some churches are indirectly if not directly marginalizing the older group giving them the impression they aren’t needed and don’t count. To question this approach is often represented as questioning the will of God.

In a drive to reach the unchurched some churches are un churching the churched. This is increasingly resulting in the older generation giving up and giving in but not giving to the church. That in itself is a challenge. The younger members being attracted are not the givers the older generation proved to be.

New churches begun as contemporary ones are growing using techniques, methods, and messages that attract the younger generation. Established churches that try to sideline their older membership and change their church lifestyle are finding it challenging.

Organizations that study church growth say that a church prospers using either traditional or contemporary styles of worship. The form they are started with attracts people who like that form. To change the form is to take away the very thing that attracted the people. They begin to look elsewhere to find what they had.

Those same bodies that study church growth agree that to change a church’s style has rarely ever worked. Some persons find an exception to the rule and represent it as the norm. They set themselves up for failure by discounting the facts.

In spite of the rush to change some traditional churches have stayed with what worked and by doing it tastefully have prospered. This is even true of liturgical congregations. Many of them are attracting young people by doing what they have always done with quality and good taste. Many youth find their formality appealing.

Churches have a challenge. To prosper they must respect their history in charting their future. There are wonderful examples of churches reaching all age groups. Neither needs to be forfeited.