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It’s been a long time coming…

July 29, 2009

Wow…my writing time has really gone downhill. Here and there I get ideas on things to write about, but by the time I get a chance to write the moment (personally or historically) has passed me. Additionally it seems like most of the people I read have stopped posting as well, which isn’t a great motivator to even check in on this.

The past few months at my church have seemed like a drastic transitional period. We’re expanding into new areas while simultaneously contracting in others. About a year ago, a ministry I was heavily involved in was canceled in favor of a less personal, more energetic and less volunteer intensive program integrating heavy reliance on parent participation away from church. Now that program is being morphed into something that resembles (just based on reading on the church’s website) a hybrid of the two programs. At the same time other facets of the church have changed. In June our music director left due to a change in his wife’s employment leaving a leadership void. At about the same time, my wife took a sabbatical from playing piano giving us a total loss of two, about 20% of our music team. One family, the head of our nursery and a deacon, is currently traveling to the East Coast on a military move while another family is looking at heading east in early 2010. Two other families moved outside of the church area last spring.

Still this church continues with its plans. While we expand our sights to other parts of San Diego County we rely on new growth to sustain our strength (financial, physical, mental…) in numbers. As an aware congregation member, it’s hard to see new growth and still feel like it’s barely keeping up with the rate of attrition and I can’t imagine what that feeling is like for church staff, paid and unpaid alike. It’s a strange feeling to look at this all through short context of time I’ve been at the church. In the six years I’ve been there, we’ve seen five different head pastors. Despite a downward growth trend over the last few months, it’s hard to keep the perspective that just a few months ago the church numbered higher than it had been at any other time I’d been there and that just a few years ago a pastoral leave followed by a pastoral death and some brutal church politics ended with about half of the church (for one reason or another) leaving.

Occasionally I remember that churches, like business aren’t static entities, or at least they shouldn’t be. Christian churches often make themselves analogous with the human body or with a living organism, yet they fail to think in stages and end goals. Just as humans aren’t born as adults, corporate entities don’t start out in the form they will achieve at the apex of their growth. It’s easy to get caught up in the short term, “what the heck is going on?” mentality and start looking for the  life jackets when things aren’t looking up and even easier to lock into a fixed, dogmatic approach when things are going well. While the long-term goals remain unchanged, the methods used to reach those goals cannot remain static if the entity wishes to survive. The “well this is the way we did it in 1987” mentality has to be abandoned when it’s 2009 and attendance is in decline. Certainly there are exceptions to this, but on the whole I feel that many churches, like many businesses in our recent recession, are beginning to wake up to the problems of their rigid, dogmatic approaches with only a sliver of hope for recovery. This isn’t to say that these entities will necessarily fail but that dynamic creativity could have prevent the crisis period altogether.

The real difficulty is ascertaining what will work and what is failing before it’s too late. In churches, even the most minor change can be devastating. I spoke to a woman this past weekend who asked me about the cost and usefulness of electronic drum kits. We talked about whether or not it was viable for the church to get a traditional kit and (among other things) was told that since this would be the church’s first drum set they wanted to ease the congregation into the idea of using drums in church. Unfortunately this isn’t uncommon. The idea of leaving a church over the incorporation of drums seems like an absolutely trivial thing to my young, Southern California church mentality, but it is an absolute reality for an entire generation or two of American churchgoers. Whether it’s a decision on coffee carts, drums or the pastor wearing a tie or a polo, church leaders are bound to offend someone when they decide to make a change. People view changes made outside of their control or in opposition of their preferences as a threat to their existence. Coffee inside of the church building wasn’t allowed in 1979 or 1989 when the old guard held power, and when it is allowed in 2009 it becomes symbolic of a passing of the guard and the demise of a generation’s sensibilities.

The growth of churches that got their jump start catering to the college crowd (for me, circa 2002, it was Flood and for some of my friends it was The Rock, I couldn’t tell you what San Diego churches fill that void now) has widened the gap between age groups by giving many 20-somethings the impression that these large, concert-esque services are the ideal way to fill seats and spread God’s message. These services are something older generations often simply do not connect with, not because the methods of these services are necessarily wrong, but because “that wasn’t how it was done in 19xx”. They see the darkness and the loudness as excessive pandering to secular culture. Meanwhile, the “rock concert” worship team (Crowder, Tomlin, etc.) has become an ideal in the mentality of many young church-goers who become enamored with the (generally) simplistic language, uplifting message and emotional atmosphere delivered in these types of services.

In many ways, these differences are reasons to be glad for the plethora of churches and church styles. Some people want the intimacy of the small church atmosphere. Others prefer being part of a large church that is capable (because of sheer manpower) of having a multifaceted approach to ministry. Plenty of people want their church to either be more contemporary or remain rooted in the evangelical traditions of previous decades/centuries/millenia. Instead of celebrating our common bonds though, we use them as leverage for complaining. We visit other churches that move us at some level that doesn’t happen in our regular churches then complain about how our regular churches aren’t doing things like the place we visited. Now, not all complaining in church is bad. Certainly there are things that are worth taking a stand on, however more often than not we take our passive-aggressive attitudes into church and sit there, arms folded, showing everyone else that we are there because of duty, not because it’s where we actually want to be.

I’m guess I’m going to end this extended diatribe with the following: if you aren’t happy with the church you’re at, then either look beyond the surface of your church to find reasons to be happy with it, positively affect changes in the church to make it the church you want, or go to the church that you want to be at. Growing up in a given church or being a member since 19xx doesn’t grant you the priviledge of dictating church policy or moping around when policies aren’t to your liking. There’s nothing dishonorable about leaving a church because you’ve outgrown it, or because it has outgrown you.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennie permalink
    August 5, 2009 11:20 am

    I found this post very interesting. I have these thoughts too. I must say that I think that Christians want to serve, and that it can be discouraging when you cant serve where your heart is telling you to serve. For whatever reasons, budget, politics, or even that your ministry may offend others.

  2. August 7, 2009 1:48 am

    a) i’m stalking you back. b) i’m glad i checked in on your blog again. it’s been a while since i popped over, partly because you-like me-seemed to have taken a sabbatical.
    this is a good reminder to keep our assininity to oursleves and that we are part of a body-the body needs every part, and every body part needs the body itself-yes, God put and left the appendix there for a reason, too. thanks for the perspective, especially while church hunting.
    so are you going to blog about p?

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