As my children have grown they often come up to me and complain about random pains. I tell them those pains are growing pains. It’s part of growing. It’s part of changing into an adult. As my parents have aged they have had pains too. They have had issues with arthritis, heart issues, don’t heal as fast, and its takes some time to get going in the morning. Growing up hurts but so does growing old!
Churches have growing pains too and they grow in one of two ways, they either grow up or they grow old (let it be known the metaphor is not about maturity here). The good news is with church you have a choice but the bad news is you don’t with your body.
There is a huge problem though for churches that chooses to grow up. To continually grow in a positive direction you have to change. The problem with change is you have to give up some things so you can continually grow. You have to give up to grow up. It’s not those things were bad or wrong, it’s they are no longer useful in keeping a track for growing up.
So as a result often the church you fell in love with when you first came to the church will have to leave some of things you love for the sake of reaching more for the Gospel. Let me give you a couple of examples. At my previous church I often would hear that we don’t sing hymns. Now the reality is we did sing hymns, but not the way they liked to sing hymns. The way they liked to sing hymns was the ritual of turning the page in the hymnbook as the song leader says, “Please turn to…” Then singing the hymn, “Verses 1, 2, and 4 (what was wrong with verse 3 anyway?),” in harmony with piano and organ accompaniment. Yet, if you want to keep growing and keep reaching out to new people it has been effectively demonstrated that contemporary music does a much better job at accomplishing that goal. So, in light of that vision of reaching more people we no longer sang hymns at that church. Those who loved hymns could care less about the vision though, and really, the best thing they could do was to go to the church down the street that sang the blessedness out of those songs. For them to stay would only bring dissension and discord- which it did.
Visions are all nice and everyone agrees with them until it gets down to the actual programming. That’s when people start getting upset because that’s where the real change takes place. Another example, at Celebration we want to be a church of 400 by the end of this year and we want to be a church that grows people in faith by serving people in the community. As a result we have made two changes in our programming. One is we no longer do Shake-n-Howdy in the middle of the service. Why? It’s impractical and poor stewardship to try and give 400 people coffee and breakfast each Sunday morning. Plus, in order for us to reach out to 400 people we will have to have 2 services at one hour each. Shake-n-Howdy just becomes impractical at that time. So we are making the changes now so that we can grow and reach out to more people. However, criticism of the move is expected. Why? The people that really like Shake-n-Howdy probably come for that social aspect in the service and have come to love it and they really don’t care to sacrifice it in the name of vision. Another change we made is we are moving from Life Groups to Missions Groups. We are telling our regular groups they can still get together- but starting this spring we will be looking to form missions groups – small groups with a focus on serving the community. Other changes are coming down the pike as well to get us ready to be a church that reaches into the community.
So what do you do when the church you fell in love with keeps changing? Personally, you have to decide is the church about you or is it about Jesus and what he desires? The question you should have for your leaders is not complaining what you like or dislike, but are they following Jesus or not? Are they taking cues from him as they make decisions about the church? In truth they should not be making judgments based on thier perosnal tastes, but upon prayer and the Word. Remember, church leaders are ultimately held accountable to God, and its his priorities they must follow first. Many times, people want to put the American government philosophy on the church and they forget church is a theocracy, not a democracy. I’m not saying people cannot voice their concerns, they should, and a wise leadership will listen intently.
And by the way, the church will grow one way or the other- up or old. No church is static. Churches that refuse to keep growing up eventually grow old and what you hear in those churches is not complaining about the change but lamenting how the church is not growing and reaching out anymore. Many, many stories are told about the glory years and the apparent confusion why the church isn’t attracting anyone anymore. You hear laments like, “People just aren’t spiritual like they used to be.” Or, “Our country is going down the toilet spiritually. There is nothing you can do about it.”
Personally, if I had to choose between the two, complaining or lamenting, I’d choose complaining. Neither one is fun for any party, but at least with complaining you know there is an honest attempt being made in growing up for the sake of the Gospel. It’s messy, but each blessed soul is worth it.