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Your Church's Past May Hold the Keys to Change

  1. Simply rejecting the past brings failure.
  2. Knowing the core identity and values of the past is key to beginning a new thing.

So how do congregations know what to preserve about the past and what needs to change? 

A church that tries to hold on to the past will most likely fail. Even though God’s grace is unchanging, the way we proclaim that grace through word and deed does indeed change. Faithful churches re-invent themselves with rejecting their past. If a church needs to build on the past but not hold too tightly to it, how do you discern what is valuable to build on and what is not?

Jesus did many new things in his daily ministry. He healed on the Sabbath. He touched unclean men and women. He talked to a Samaritan woman in the public square. He went to dinner parties with known sinners. All of these new ways of doing ministry seemed to be in conflict with the past. But Jesus taught that these actions were flowing from one of the core values of the past: Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19). Jesus was living out that core value in new ways—yet it was the same core value.

Congregations may need to change the way they serve, worship, and share the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but when they do change, they must do so according to the unique DNA of their past. Some congregations have core values related to music and the arts. Others have core values related to serving the most broken and hurting in their community. Some congregations have core values centered on children and youth. Rediscovering and clearly articulating these unique core values will be essential as the needed changes occur.

How to Discover Your Church’s DNA

A congregation discovers their core values through stories. Ask your members to tell the stories of church events and people (heroes) that are bigger than life. Have them tell stories of hardship that turned to faithfulness. For example, I worked with a church that was searching for their future. They began to tell the stories of the past. One of the big stories was about the church sponsoring Vietnamese refugees during the Vietnam War. When the members told the stories they got excited and animated. They told of sacrificing time and money in order to help those who did not have a home. They told of the successes and the blessings. Over the years, the church had stopped directly serving people who were without a home. They had stopped living out their core value of service to others. They decided to reclaim that core value.

Not long after that decision, this church was reconnected with refugee ministry. They now regularly help resettle refugees from all over the world. They began a homeless ministry and partnered with a transitional housing ministry. They got connected to Habitat for Humanity. The wonderful thing about rediscovering this core value was that they lived it out in newer and bigger ways! It wasn’t just the “old timers” from the past, but young and old, newer members and long-term members and community members—all in partnership in these new ministries. These new ministries were built on a historic core value. Preserving this core value of caring for people with nowhere to lay their head brought this church together in bold ministry and mission for Jesus Christ.

Who are the heroes of your church? What are the bigger-than-life events of the past? In what ways did your church sacrifice for mission and ministry? Rediscover your core values. Claim them again, be creative and bring on the changes!