Case Study: Making Changes

As time goes on, and as a church begins to be transformed back into vitality, growth and a place of healing, changes will need to be considered.  Changes are often made in worship style, preaching style, and music style for instance.  Old traditions seem out-of-place when a church is growing spiritually, and they can be an impediment to growth in a couple of ways. Consider…

When churches fall into decline, the people in the church are very likely to grab onto their customs and traditions more strongly 2-2014 040-LRthan they did in times of growth.  Back when things were going along great, they were trying new things, new songs, new ways of doing things, but as their earlier growth, in both spiritual and numerical terms, begins to decline, traditions are more precious as reminders of the past. In time, traditions can become more important to many people than everything else, for they are safe, secure and familiar. Secondly our traditions and customs can inhibit growth because with the passage of time, their usefulness has declined. Take music as an example.  Our old traditional hymns are really wonderful, and I like them personally, but ask yourself how they sound to someone who hasn’t heard them and grown to love them.  Are they anything that people would be likely to listen to these days?

Of course, you know the answer to that. Unless they are a fan of classical choral music, probably not.  Even worse, they are likely the kinds of things people these days would try to avoid.  That being the case, do they make your church more attractive to a modern-day person who is looking for a church?  Sorry, not really.  This is especially true if there is another church nearby that has more contemporary music.

It is true that churches sometimes fight and split over things like style, so some might say that you can’t change anything for fear that your church will disintegrate further, but I want you to notice the order of things as I’ve presented them.  Yesterday, we spoke of a congregation that looks outward to the community through the loving eyes of God, seeing lost people who need the love of Jesus Christ in their lives; we are talking about a congregation that has moved a long way towards spiritual maturity.  In such a place, with people who are more mature followers of Christ, they won’t care about “style,” for they care about souls… and this is the environment for change.

In fact, a wise leadership team will have already led their flock toward a culture of change in the church, in which there is an expectation of new things, new practices and new attitudes… precisely because they are once again growing in Christ.  They simply will not care any longer about holding on to the past.

The result of this attitude shift is that all of the programs, customs and ways of the church are ready to be examined to see whether or not they should be kept on, or replaced or repaired so that the Lord can be glorified.  Just for the record, we are not talking about tossing out anything that is a Biblical imperative here… only the traditions and ways of men.  Am I saying that traditional services and music cannot be productive in any situation? No, not at all, but they should be carefully evaluated to ensure that they are the most useful way to proceed. I will add, that they usually should not be changed too much before the people have grown mature enough to happily accept it, for that is where problems begin.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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14 Responses to Case Study: Making Changes

  1. Little Monk says:

    Dear Don, this is, as ever, a great post and invaluable information for ministry leaders. But for once I don’t have a “spiffy comment” about it… but only a quickly reflected…. “question” more than anything else.

    When I’ve found myself at THIS point with a church in transition… when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of… “OK, now what… specifically… do we DO?” as to making changes… Once upon a time, back in my OWN checkered Six Sigma Best Practices days, I’d have run a survey, and made changes based on variables. (I know you know whereof I speak.) That is a horrid confession of sin, Gentle Readers… not the “survey” part, but the “I make change based on variables” part…

    And in the process of implementing new plans, we account for “efficiency, cost effectiveness, and economy of scale”. OK.

    But NOW… now I have come to realize a bit more about “worship”, and “personal sacred space”, and “comfort zones”. I still honestly don’t see the ANSWER. But I’ve come to understand that there is a bigger QUESTION here than my “modeling” and “training” prepared me for. The “Wrong Music”, in a time of sacredness, is a true Distraction to the mind, heart, spirit. That Distraction, can “defeat” worship, prayer, and hearing the Word.

    Part of my shepherding… part of caring for the House… needs to be “environmental controls”, and maintaining the “comfort zones” for those who are there. Now, those Comfort Zones are diverse! I think that’s where much of the conflict comes in. How can we account for this “heterodoxy” without exalting the one and devaluing another?

    As I said, no answers, just continuing to grapple with the question. But at least… I’m now SEEING the question!

    Grace — LM

    • Don Merritt says:

      Oh my…. I’m sure you noticed that I kept this generic and only talked about “changes” in general terms. I did so because I don’t think that one size fits all. In the strictest sense, I don’t have the answer to your question either, and I will admit further that I’m not quite sure that it’s the right question at this point… yet that can surely change. I’m reminded of something from politics here, please forgive me for relating it.

      There are two kinds of political leaders: First is the one who commissions a poll so he can decide what positions to take on the issues of the day. Second is the one who reads the poll results to ascertain where the people are now, so he can figure out how to lead them where they need to go. The first one is a politician. The second one is a statesman.

      My guess is that the answer lies within the Leadership, as to the kinds of leaders they are and the quality of the vision they have, and within the congregation and the degree to which they buy into the vision of their leaders and their own level of spiritual maturity… A quality vision, shared by a mature congregation makes the answer simple, and that situation or environment, is the goal of this process. That’s why a more mature leadership is step one, a more mature congregation is step two, and reaching out to the lost is step three and style changes is step four. Exactly what those changes should be is a local matter, and won’t be the same everywhere.

      This probably doesn’t answer your question very well, but it’s the best I can do…

      • Little Monk says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful response, and please understand, I was trying to apply the essence of my “question” still staying within that generic “for instance” scope you have been writing from. That is, I used “music – classic or contemporary” more as a “ready example” than as the specific application. I don’t want to try to generalize your lessons out to a universe of possibilities. Whether I succeeded or failed, I am trying to stay within the “same scope of discourse” as the one you are teaching in.

        I appreciate the illustration of the politician and the statesman. I’d love to see you follow that up with its spiritual application and church administration application one day. One of the few “dark and regrettable” elements of my own professional past is that one of the tools in which I have significant training and skill can be easily turned to less-than-noble uses. I let myself be persuaded (at one point in my walk), that to apply this tool to “church service” and teach it to pastors, meant that it would be used only for “good purposes”, and result in “good fruit”. Well, keeping a sad short story short… I could not be more wrong. This powerful tool was applied with the same mixed agenda in the church universe as the political. So I quit teaching it altogether. I was teaching pastors to be “politicians” rather than “statesmen” in your illustration… and that simply had to stop.

        So I think my question about application could be framed in terms of ANY of the “man-made culture elements” that have been discussed in your lessons… whether music, decor, dress style, furnishing, bell/book/candle or not… etc.

        The only thing I MEANT to say about my QUESTION was that:

        “Once upon a time” I thought a church leader had to determine which SINGLE configuration was RIGHT for “their congregation” as a whole, and that “dissenters” from that “mean” were “malcontents” with attitude and control issues.

        Over time I’ve become convicted to a broader view, that in the matter of worship, each individual’s “comfort zone” is spiritually significant, not a matter of their own biases or ego. But that there are “ranges” that can be quite diverse, depending on the diversity and numbers of the church involved.

        To insist that worship for Oneself, to be “distraction free from cultural dissonance” requires a given environment or cultural theme… is NOT arrogance or objectionable. That is simply honest and transparent.

        But to insist that worship of GOD, for ALL, requires a given environment or cultural theme… yes, that is arrogant, and denies others their equal opportunity to worship.

        ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

        I’ve become convinced of the truth of that, yes. I have NOT, however, yet figured out really how to deal with it.

        Grace — LM

  2. William Haney says:

    Even your old church has made favorable changes as you well, as you well know. Some are subtle which can be the beset. Some is demographic. Our pastorm has tapped in the last year some younger gentlemen and some who have families that has helped with growth. Granted, my common ground is minimal (one I don’t own guns), but it has helped with the energy there. Run with it!! One tricky thing is you go forward but not make those stuck in the past not feel obsolete. Always reach out to them or leave an open door if that makes sense.

    • Don Merritt says:

      You’re right of course. We had a lot of success with some of those changes… could have done others better… and moved a very long way over all; transformation took place. Always need to be reaching out, always need to keep moving forward, always much to be done; it’s exciting!

  3. vwoods1212 says:

    I am a fan of the traditional hymn; appreciate some new stuff but when I need to get into that deep place with God, He chooses the songs, which tends to be hymnals. Brings to mind Elisha when he called for the minstrals to invoke the presence of God. Brings about this question: is worship for us or for God?

    DM your thoughts on this post which I found a couple weeks ago:

    I was quite astonished. VW

    • Don Merritt says:

      Personally, I prefer the old hymns too. As i am writing this, I am listening to classical, as I usually do. So, if it were up to me, I would used Bach in Sunday worship, since most of his music was written for church, of course most Americans today associate Bach’s music with Halloween and haunted houses; I’d soon be the only person there. Ah, who is worship for, particularly when it comes to music style? I can tell you this much, it isn’t about me!

      I checked out the post you suggested. All I will say in this public forum is that the author comes from a vastly different background than I do, although I read it with great interest. By the way, most people would agree that Adolf Hitler was a personification of evil. Not many know that he was both into the occult and classical music, a big Strauss fan, he also enjoyed Motzart !

  4. esthereyere says:

    Who helped you set up your website/blog? It’s beautiful.

    – Queen Esther

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