Thinking Out Loud

November 20, 2012

The Church is Changing, But is it Changing Fast Enough?

Heard on U.S. election night:

The Republican Party needs to realize that the country is changing faster than they are.

As soon as she heard this, Mrs. W. saw an immediate connection to the church, or rather, The Church. While some within the institution are somewhat resistant to changes taking place — changes which include

  • midweek meeting to small home groups
  • traditional hymns to contemporary choruses
  • suit and tie to casual dress
  • Authorized Version to the NLT and The Message
  • sanctuary decorum to coffee cup holders

— these superficial changes either belie attitude adjustments which never happen or are simply too superficial, not drilling down to the bedrock of the decision-making process which guides objectives and intentions.

In other words; “Yes, we’ll add drums and electric and electric guitars as long as understand that we’re just doing this to reach out to the community, and not because it’s our first choice. And we’re leaving in Amazing Grace and Blessed Assurance.”  Which is to say that we don’t really embrace change, it is simply something that has been thrust upon us.

At a certain level, that’s okay. Reaching the community is a valid goal. But the world at large does embrace change; you could say the broader culture thrives on change.

So we change, and the pace of change is increasingly accelerating, but meanwhile the pace of change in the wider marketplace is accelerating faster. All of which leaves us with churches with ‘relevant’ preaching that is becoming irrelevant and contemporary music in a world where ‘contemporary’ is somewhat of an adjective fossil.

Or worse, we go casual and informal only to discover that the next generation actually craves liturgy or even pageantry. Or we go with slick multimedia not realizing the cry of peoples’ hearts is for interactive communication. Or we add some rap to the opening song in a city where the top radio station plays country. Or we address employment needs in a place where the greatest issue is depression and mental health. Or we build gigantic mega-churches which mitigate against the authentic community life some are seeking.

Like the Republican Party, we’re left with a system that simply hasn’t responded to a changing world, because we’ve become so expert and so efficient at being the church to speak to the culture as it existed in 1995.

Make more changes? I can hear the groaning at that thought, but as changes come faster and faster to every facet of life, we need to rewrite the playbook and the rulebook continually.

Now excuse me while I nail this to a door somewhere.



  1. Jesus was the master of changing things up, telling familiar truths in provocative new ways and caring more about being effective than honoring dusty traditions. WWJD? He would change the approach but keep the truth solid.

    Comment by Cynthia Clarke — November 20, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

  2. While change might be necessary, compromise certainly isn’t. Sadly, we see a lot of compromise.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — November 21, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

  3. More than a decade ago, I was asked about the changes that were brought about through the influence of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.

    At the time, I replied — and I’ve stated this several times since — that if the Lord were to tarry, a hundred years from now, nobody will talk about adding guitars and drums, doing skits, or stripping auditoriums of religious icons. Instead, Bill Hybels will be remembered for a revolution in how we communicate the Gospel story. While a number of people copied Bill and Willow, Bill himself has been busy updating the playbook on a regular basis.

    As to compromise, I think it depends on your view of the approach used in world missions. If contextualization is seen as compromise, then you’re probably going to see what takes place in the west (North America, Western Europe, Australia/New Zealand) as compromise.

    To a large degree the proof is in the fruit. Those adopting more progressive forms (not progressive i.e. liberal doctrine) are seeing changed lives.

    As the rate of change continually increases, we’re going to see more and more clashes between Christianity and culture. Some will retreat to traditional or conservative forms, and there is a certain comfort in the familiar; but if you view the church as mission, then there will be continual adaptation, which I believe to be a better choice of words.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 21, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

    • I was considering the message more than the format. So many Churches here are little more than social clubs with much activity but the Name of Jesus is hardly mentioned and much of the Word is considered unreliable. Many Old Testament accounts – Adam & Eve / the Exodus parting of the sea / Elijah and the altar etc – are held as non factual stories.

      I do believe the Church needs to ‘adapt’ in order to reach the community and there are many ways to achieve this – but compromising the Word isn’t one of them – as I’m sure you’d agree.

      Comment by meetingintheclouds — November 22, 2012 @ 4:15 am

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