There is a ton of buzz in churches these days regarding the need for some major cultural shifts. I believe the Holy Spirit is moving His bride in some dynamic ways at this moment in time. Some even say that we may see a 2nd Reformation in the Church over the next decade or two. Does that scare you or make you nervous? It may be frightening to change things up from the what you’ve always known. For many, stepping out in faith and following the voice of the Holy Spirit is challenging. Perhaps you are second guessing if you even hear His voice at all.
But there is so much at stake in getting culture right, and last week we discussed the possible costs of changing your church culture. While it is essential to understand that changing culture in your church can be a slow process, focus on one small change after another. Those small changes will come together cumulatively to create a significant impact. And that is what we’re talking about here, and it is what we’ll be talking about at the HGC PreConference at Exponential in Orlando in March.
Today, I want to open up the discussion about the cost of NOT establishing a change in your church culture. If you missed the first part of this discussion, you may want to go back and read that first.
The Cost of Not Changing
Remember the story I told you all last week about serving in a church that finally, after about eight years, started talking more about discipleship and possible multiplication? I became so full of hope that my particular house of worship would step into its potential and become a beacon of hope in my community. I remember getting so excited that I was ready to begin implementing all of the changes I knew needed to happen for us to be a church that made disciples to multiple generations of multiplication immediately. Yes, I’m keenly aware of my own hubris here, but I sincerely and desperately wanted to see a change in my community. And I know God designed the Church to be that change.
Unfortunately, what I experienced was the frustration of talking with no goals, plans, or execution for over three years! Each week in meetings, we would spend vast amounts of time wrestling this idea of discipleship and multiplication to the ground. Week after week, I became distraught listening to the same argument as to whether we should or should not become a discipleship-minded church. In my mind, the answer was clear. The Bible says we are to “go out and make disciples,” so that’s what we should be doing, not wasting precious time just talking about it. Francis Chan states in the Introduction of his book, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity:
“Christians in America have become experts at conviction–and failures at action. But the first Christians were quick to act. If you remember the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the people heard Peter’s sermon and immediately asked, “What shall we do?” To which Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized.” How did they respond? Three thousand of them went straight to the water to be baptized. And that is what’s supposed to happen. . .We need to learn to err on the side of action, because we tend to default to negligence.”
That was my experience each week at my church, which is one of the reasons I eventually had to walk away.
So let’s talk a moment about the cost of not making those small changes to generate greater impact. I know now that trying to implement everything I had in my head all at once would have been a grave mistake. That’s why the subtitle of our Exponential PreConference is “Small Changes – Big Impact.” There are changes you can implement now, and it will cost you a lot later if you don’t. At Exponential, we hope to leave you with a list of actionable steps you can begin to implement when you arrive home.
1. You may lose friends.
In the same way that you could potentially lose friends as a result of changing (Part 1), you’ll lose them if you don’t. The people who love you genuinely want to bring out the best in you and see the Holy Spirit work in and through your life. These are the people in your life that don’t necessarily agree with everything you say, but they challenge you. They may even sometimes frustrate you, but you know the love and truth found in their words. These friends are not going to sit around and watch you remain stagnant. At some point, after much prayer for you, they may consider moving on. The loss of these friendships will hurt you the most.
2. People will leave your church.
Do you see a pattern yet in relation to Part 1? When people feel that a church is stagnant, they are going to move on. People in your church who are champions and fighters for the things God champions and fights for will lose heart.
Many Christ-followers, especially in the west, have built attachments to things in the church. Think about the people who insist upon sitting in the same seats each week and will not move. Want to change the carpet or maybe even remove the pews in your church to have stadium seating? Prepare yourself for war!
While some of this may seem funny to many of you, it’s the reality many pastors face each day. What happens is that somewhere along the way we forget the church isn’t about our own personal preferences (music is a great example here). The church is about building the body of Christ–training, equipping and empowering people, and then sending them out to make their God-given, God-sized dreams a reality.
3. Your church will stay the same and look the same.
If you don’t help move your church into cultural change, your church will look, feel, and be the same. The transformation of people’s lives will come to a halt. When you, however, commit to the vision God has for your church, your congregation may begin to attract people in your neighborhood that don’t look the part as we’ve sometimes erroneously defined it. As you go out and invite the “least of these” into real relationship, guess what? They might actually show up! You may find your church filled with people who are messed up on drugs, prostitutes, gay, straight, black, white, brown, and every other color of the rainbow!
In God’s goodness and faithfulness, you will find yourself looking out on Sundays seeing people of affluence, upper-middle class, lower-middle class, and the poor because God needs them all! The money that dried up when you first started making changes will begin to find its way back into your church, and you will see that money used in ways you never thought possible. Your community will look to your church as a beacon of hope in your city!
One of the things I’m most excited about with regards to church culture is this vertical focus I see moving into and wrapping itself around a church’s DNA. For as long as I’ve been a part of the church, there have always been churches that operated like evangelism machines, and then there were others whose primary focus was discipleship. The evangelism-focused churches produced a ton of newly-born Christians but rarely helped beyond salvation. The discipleship-focused churches focused on maturing Christians so much that they became irrelevant to the culture of the community. Typically, these two types of churches have much to critique about each other while the people look in only to see the same dysfunction in the church as in the world.
But when you have a vertical focus, it becomes absolutely possible to experience both the salvation and the maturation of believers all at the same place! I’m experiencing this now within my local congregation. A church that was once known for great spectacles to get people in the doors is progressing into a church that sees God as the first thing. And when God is the first thing, evangelism, discipleship, and everything in between fall into place. It’s that trickle-down effect that comes from our focus on Him alone.
Intimacy and Fellowship with the Spirit
I encourage you over the next several weeks to ask God to search your own heart. If the flame in your heart that used to burn like wildfire is just smokey embers, He will move in you. That is the piece you have to get right first. Your personal relationship and connection to the Holy Spirit is the most crucial element in getting it right. Please don’t neglect that! He desires an intimacy with you that is unmatched by any other relationship you have.
As you get your own heart in alignment with His, He will reveal those things that need to change in your church. Perhaps, too many people are attached to the trivial in your church, and they need to let go and move back to that vertical focus. Pray for God to stir their hearts as you begin to set the stage for the next steps for your church.
Our prayers are with you as you move forward, and we are always here for you as well.