Some time ago following a Sunday morning service at our church I had an encounter with a man that marked me in significant ways. His words were pointed but not antagonistic. He spoke with emotion and clarity. This man loved Jesus but he was facing off with the reality of change and he was clear about his objections.
All of the changes in the church had taken their toll on him. He shared that he didn’t like the new songs, the banging sound of the drums, or the coffee cups in the sanctuary. He shared further that small groups were not his thing and he wanted to bring back “the good old days of Sunday School.” He missed the hymns and the liturgy and “the predictability” of the church of his youth.
“I just don’t know what to do,” he said, “When Sunday morning rolls around I find myself dreading to go to church.”
Since that day many years ago, I have had countless conversations that are similar to this one, and chances are your pastor has had countless similar conversations as well. This struggle with change in the church is no respecter of denominations or locations.
Some church consultant types have labeled this ongoing controversy, “The Worship Wars,” because it has been a serious point of contention for over two decades…and sadly sometimes even splits congregations.
Gordon McDonald wrote an excellent book titled, “Who Stole My Church?” That is extremely helpful in understanding the rationale behind the changes and the proper response on the part of those who grew up in a different era. The primary reason for the changes is that millennials are rejecting the church in droves.
In an article I read just this week, Tyler Daswick writes, “The numbers don’t look good. Of Generation Z—people born after 1996—34% identify as atheist, agnostic or nonreligious. It’s the highest figure of any generation ever. Only 30% of millennials say attending church is important. Among millennials who grew up in church, almost 60% have dropped out.”
To counter this challenging trend, young church leaders are doing everything they can to find a way to attract their peers. They realize if the current pattern doesn’t change, America will soon resemble Europe where fewer than 10% attend church monthly and Christianity is considered irrelevant to most. So concerned ministers in America have been making dramatic changes in church music, programming and terminology in an attempt to relate to people under 35.
True, sometimes church leaders have made changes too fast without adequately explaining the reasons. Sometimes they have cavalierly dismissed older believers’ preferences saying, “The church isn’t for you; it’s for the unsaved so get with the program or leave. Quit being so selfish.”
But that’s a mistake, in my opinion. The shepherd needs to feed and protect all the sheep, not just the lambs. It’s my observation that the healthiest churches are multigenerational churches where people of all ages are ministered to.
But let’s be honest, sometimes we can have a consumer mentality and selfishly resist any change. I once had the opportunity to meet Louisville Slugger’s Jack Hillerich who told me, “Two things you can be sure of: First, people resist change, not wanting to get out of their comfort zone. Secondly, people don’t like the way things are!” That puts church leaders in an impossible bind. While the gospel remains the same, changes in methodology are essential to continue to be relevant. But if too many resist change it creates disharmony and negates evangelism, the primary purpose of the church.
I would encourage anyone who is struggling with the changes in the church world to stay faithful to your church and be as positive and supportive of your leaders as possible. A 65-year-old church member was standing in the back of the sanctuary during the early part of a worship service when a disgruntled senior asked, “Do you like that loud, wild music?” The wise member responded, ‘No, I don’t much care for it. But do you see those kids up front who are really into the worship? I care more about them than my personal musical tastes. So I’m good with it.”
That story convinces me. If changing methods can reach my children and their friends for Christ then I’ve decided to listen to my favorite style of music on the radio during the week and tolerate the parts I don’t like in worship on Sunday. And let’s be truthful…a lot of the new music is very good. “A Thousand Reasons” inspires me a whole lot more than “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” So hold on. Someday when we get to heaven, the angelic choir will inspire us all.