When Change Must Come…How?

July 20, 2007


I had coffee with a friend today and we were discussing what is happening within our tribe right now. As we talked I was reminded of a comment left in response to my recent blog, “Ears To Hear” by Matthew Dabbs. Matthew said , “I think things are getting better and worse all at once.” I think I have to agree. On the one hand I am encouraged by the contemporary missional direction of many churches away from legalism and inherited beliefs. Freedom brought by a deeper understanding of grace and Gods acceptance of us in our walk with Him is such a positive result happening in many of our churches today. At the same time there are those so steeped in legalism that they have become reactionary. They fear and equate any kind of change with error and apostasy, and fight it with scathing rebukes that cause one to wonder if the Spirit of Christ lives within them at all.Churches have approached the need to change in at least two different ways. Some have started over from scratch. They decided that a new church plant was the only way to bring about the kind of radical changes necessary to be a missional church today. Others have taken the road of compromise and have sought to appease both groups within a congregation. They have elected to have a traditional and contemporary service. This seeks to make everyone happy and meet the needs of the diversity in the body with out causing turmoil. While that is the goal, in most cases turmoil was not avoided, and maybe that was to be expected.

I am not here to try and make a judgment as to the ‘best” way to accomplish our goals of being the church that Christ wants us to be. I would like to make an observation that may or may not be true in all churches that take the second road. Please understand this is a personal opinion, but one that I believe is based on solid observation. Lets call the church in our example simply Christ Church.

Christ Church realizes that it is not growing. At the same time It knows it has a number of members that are more contemporary in their thinking and that if something is not done, they will soon leave for other more progressive churches in the area. They realize that they have a large number of more conservative members and the vast majority of the money that supports the physical plant they worship in is supported by this part of the membership. After a period of evaluation the leaders feel that it would be best to approach the situation by offering two services, one traditional and one contemporary. It is reasoned that they may loose some of the ultra conservatives with the move, but that that is better in the long run for the church as a whole. They also feel that this will help them hold on to the younger more progressive thinkers among the congregation.

The progression of change often follows this pattern after the introduction of the contemporary service. A number of the more traditional members leave (kicking and screaming) for other congregations in the area. It takes a while, but eventually the dust settles. After a period of time the contemporary numbers begin to increase from like minded thinkers in congregations from the area that are not willing to make any change. A period of peace and harmony follows and all seems well. But there is a problem festering under the surface. Those on the contemporary side want to continue there direction and may wish to have for example women take a more visible role in worship, or the addition of an instrumental music service, etc. At this point the leadership is caught in the middle. To go further in the contemporary direction will no doubt cause an exodus of the more traditional members with there money. The financial pressures brought on by the initial addition of the contemporary service in the first place are still there and may have lessened some, but still are an immediate concern. So a period of stagnation sets in where there is a decline in growth from both the traditional and the contemporary groups because of the tension caused by the pull in the two directions.

It is sad and a reality that many of the decisions for Christ Church are now going to be based on finances and keeping the peace. Problems will arise that need to be dealt with, but because of the pressure of the immediate situation, they will be hushed, laid to the side, and in some case ignored all together for fear of rocking the boat.

While I have mentioned two ways, there is also a third method to bring about needed change that has been used by a few congregations, and that is to simply say this is the way it is going to be and if you don’t like it please seek a new church home. And then I suppose there are variations and combinations of all three of these methods.

So what do you think? What do you think is the best way to approach change in the Body of Christ? I know that each situation would have to be evaluated on its own merits and circumstances, but in general, what do you think?



  1. How? I wish I knew! Ask me in a couple of years, I may (or may not) have an answer based on experience. : )

    Contemporary worship is the only kind that matters in a practical sense. That is, something old will not call the world to brag on God. How could it, with its archaic words, language, and practice? Part of denying self includes giving up what I might want in an assembly for the sake of something bigger–God’s glory.

    Take a look at how I’ve rearranged worship at Lawson Road at http://lawsonroadworship.wordpress.com and let me know what you think. Rather than focus on 5 acts of worship we focus on the 5 acts of God. Creation, Fall and consequent Curse from God, Redemption, New Humanity, and New Creation. We’re telling a story every week, which gives all our songs, prayers, images, Supper, etc., new and deeper meaning, will answering life’s biggest questions (explained somewhat at our home page rochesterchurch.org)

    Looking back on Madison’s history, how would you advise churches facing the same struggles you guys have overcome?

  2. Ben that is a great approach to worship.

    Ben asked, “Looking back on Madison’s history, how would you advise churches facing the same struggles you guys have overcome?”

    Here is my short answer. Determine which of the three directions mentioned above (1. Plant a new congregation. 2. Multiple services to meet the diversity. 3. Full speed ahead and let the chips fall where they may.), would best honor God. Bathe all questions, concerns and decisions in prayer. When the leading of God is present go forward, regardless of the perceived cost, (lost of members, etc.). Teach, teach, and re-teach the principles behind the decisions and why they are critical. The Truth will set you free. Trust God to bring you through. Realize that without change, death will be the eventual out come.

    Our tribe is not growing, it is declining. Open hearts and minds to the work that God wants to do among us is our only hope, and that means change.

  3. I preach in a small church (40 in regular Sunday worship) that will die unless the way we do church changes. Right now, we have a model of doing church that is building centered and designed to serve the church member. This is why we have Sunday school (at the building), worship (at the building), Wed. evening Bible Study (at the building, etc… Church is a 3rd person entity that each Christian comes and does. We must change so that Church becomes a 1st person reality whereever we are to be found at. For example, instead of meeting at the building on Wednesday why not meet at a home where other people in the neighberhood can come or why not meet for dinner at a local restaraunt where our “fellowship” is seen in the public?

    Changes like this will need to be made by the whole group. Because of our size, we cannot appeaze two or more views. The upside is that it is easier for 40 people to change than 400 or 4,000. The downside is that our way of doing church is so engrained into our mindset that we may never be able to overcome it. You see, every church has a “DNA” that it was given when it began and changing that DNA often is an impossible task.

  4. Rex, those are great observations. Having worked with a new church plant in the past with a store front meeting place and small numbers, I can relate to where you are coming from. I found that the greatest missional lessons were taught not from the pulpit and in classes, but one on one by example much like Jesus did. Showing by example how to minister to those that Jesus loves away from the church building will do more than a hundred sermons on what we need to do. Your reaching out to Annie was serving like Christ. Having another Christian with you when you reach out like that can change their life forever! (Read Rex’s Blog about Annie: http://kingdomseekingsaint.blogspot.com/2007/07/tonight-i-met-annie.html)

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Boy Lee…great blog, but a tough one! I don’t know how to go about change “smoothly”, but I do recognize that if some changes are not made, many churches are going to die out. I see this coming from Southern IL where it is a “mission field” because many churches are choosing to do the same thing that was done 50 plus years ago. What worked then to reach the lost, is not working now, so to me, change is inevitable and needs to happen to reach a lost world. Toes will be stepped on, but I would rather step on toes in this life, than to have people lost in the next one because I refused to take the leap of faith and change to reach a lost world.

  6. Lee,
    Great post and great questions. How? When?
    My advice would be to pray and fast as leader, elders, ministry teams, congregations. Seek the will of God. Is it God’s will? Is it God’s timing? Are we just changing for change sake? Would it be fruitful? Consider the cost?
    Will this cost dishormony in the body? A split? Would the split hurt us spiritually, publically, financually?
    I personally think it is important to ask yourself what is the importants for this change? Why do we need to do it?

    Evanglism? Most people who aren’t Christian aren’t going to wake up one sunday and say, “I think I am going to go to church to day because I hear that such and such church has an exciting worship.” Most lost people are at home sleeping off hangovers, playing golf, getting the grill ready for NFL, Fishing, doing other projects enjoying the weekend. That is why Jesus says in Matthew 28, “G0” not “sit and wait for the world to come to you” or “get a good worship team put together and they will come” He says, “Go”.

    Just my thoughts. I love you brother. Great post as always. Love your blog. Keep up the great work. Excellent questions. This is just my thoughts.

  7. Thanks Julie. The problems comes when we think that the way we did it back then was the “right” and “only” way to do it. Change and adapting are a natural part of healthy growth.

    Preacherman, you are so right on! Most of those folks sleeping in on Sunday could care less what we are doing. Putting the “Go” back in Gospel is where it is at. Thanks as always for you thoughts.

  8. […] my post from last week, “When Change Must Come…How?” I touched on three different ways we have been approaching the need to bring about change in the […]

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