Shake-Ups Are Inevitable: How to Handle Surprise Church Changes

These days in my retirement ministry, most of the churches where I’m invited to preach have these things in common …

—Almost no man wears a necktie or suit.

—On the platform, you find all kinds of musical instruments.

—Huge screens are mounted on the front walls, where the words of songs and scripture are projected.

—Many people in the congregation read Scripture from their phones.

—Worship leaders are often wearing jeans and sneakers.

—In the announcements, you hear of mission trips to foreign countries, regardless of the size of the church.

—Fewer and fewer hymns are being sung, and when the old ones are brought out, they’re given new treatments. Mostly, though, what’s being sung in worship was written in the past 10 or 12 years.

—Churches announce on their outside signs “blended” services, “contemporary” services and/or “traditional” services.

The times, they are a-changing, friend. (And they are not through changing either. So you youngsters should not get too attached to the present innovations.)

If you cannot adapt, you may find yourself living in the 1950s.

The other weekend, I worshiped with an interesting church in Jacksonville, Florida. I have not known that church previously, but had learned a little of their story before arriving.

As the neighborhood changed around them, most of their members had moved away. Since the church failed to make the necessary adjustments to reach new residents of their community, it was slowly dying. So, not long ago, the remaining membership—mostly senior adults—asked a larger (and healthy, thriving) church in the area to take them over. They would be willing to make whatever changes were necessary to turn this around.

That takes great courage, let me say.

Most “older” churches cannot do this. The members are so wed to the ways of yesterday and the methods of the past that they prefer to let the church die rather than change.

Six months after they called a young pastor from New Orleans to shepherd this transitioning congregation, I showed up for three days of ministry. As always, before and after preaching, I sat at a table drawing people. I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of children and teens and young families throughout the buildings. Already, the church is flourishing.

The longtime members of that little church are having to get used to a lot of change. The pastor does not wear a suit or tie or even a sport coat. Music is provided by a group composed of piano, several guitars and a drum set. Four or five young adults were the praise ensemble.

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Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever has been a believer over 60 years, has been preaching the Gospel over 50 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian Publications over 40 years. He lives in New Orleans.