#BestOf2014: Wanted – New Church Methods for New Church People

balloon girlThere’s nothing wrong with traditional methods of doing church. As long as you want to minister to traditional church members.

People who like traditional styles of church (whatever yours may be) need places to worship, learn and be discipled. Too many of them have felt overlooked, even ridiculed, in recent years as many churches have rushed to make changes.

But.

The traditional church member is dying out.

Literally.

If we truly want to change the world with the Gospel of Jesus, that is less likely to be done using traditional church methods with every passing year.


This article was originally posted on August 12, 2014. It wasn’t one of the most-read posts of the year, but I think it’s worth a second (or first) look as one of the overlooked #BestOf2014.


 

Traditional Church Methods Will Only Attract Traditional Church People

We need new ways of doing church.

It’s ironic that I’m the guy saying say this. For at least two reasons.

First, I’m one of the old guard. A middle-aged, third generation pastor of a brick-and-mortar church with a mortgage and a full-time salary.

Sure, the church I pastor has a slightly younger demographic than the average. And yes, we started dressing casually before most churches did. But if the sight of church members wearing jeans while sipping a coffee as they listen to the sermon feels radical – well, that’s just one evidence of how non-radical we really are.

Second, as a traditional church guy, I have no idea what I’m asking for. None.

What would a truly God-breathed, bible-honoring, life-transforming, people-reaching, radical change in the way we do church look like? I have no idea.

But I do know this. We’re not just looking at one idea or one new way to do church. We need to be open to a whole lot of new ideas and new ways to do church. 

The days of landing on one particular church format, then promoting it as the best way to do church, then duplicating it everywhere, can’t end soon enough.

 

Future Church Possibilities

Actually, there are a handful of principles that I think are likely to become more common in the next few years. I think the new, dynamic church is likely to be

At least I hope so.

Unfortunately, it’s also very likely that, while these new ways of doing church will be met with joy and relief by some, they will be met with skepticism and anger by many.

 

Step Up and Stand Out

If you’re crazy in love with Jesus and want to help other people fall crazy in love with Jesus, but you can’t figure out how and where you fit in a traditional local church setting, here’s my suggestion.

Stop trying to fit in.

Start standing out.

Start ministering the unchangeable truths and grace of Jesus in ways that make sense for the people God is calling you to minister to. People who won’t come to a traditional church. Don’t worry about all the naysayers who will condemn you just because what you’re doing is different.

The church could use a boatload of different right now.

And I’m not the only old, traditional church guy who will be cheering you on, either. There are a lot of us.

We may not know how to do it ourselves, but maybe we can be like Simeon and Anna. Maybe we can recognize Jesus when he shows up at the temple in a way no one else expected.

After all, the only “right” way to do church is any way that reaches people for Jesus.

 

So what do you think? Are you feeling the call to stand up and step out?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Balloon Girl photo from EladeManu • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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27 thoughts on “#BestOf2014: Wanted – New Church Methods for New Church People”

  1. I’m not sure I agree, Karl, that traditional church people are dying out. Some of us are, that’s for sure, but I see new people arriving every week at my traditional church, who are looking for worship that feels sacred, holy, and set apart from what they find in our culture at large. I have nothing against big churches or contemporary Christian music, and I know that many folks are attracted to a more contemporary style of worship. For me and many others (including lots of young people), we prefer more traditional worship. Let’s just rejoice in the fact that we’re all worshiping God; we don’t have to all do it the same way. The important thing to keep in mind is that if we are all praying that God’s will for us be done, and we’re all letting go of any notions that “it HAS to be done MY way,” the details will work themselves out. And traditional worship will continue to be found by people who seek it, even if contemporary worship is more prevalent.

    1. Hi Cindy. Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I actually agree with you.

      Maybe I should have done some work defining what I mean by “traditional”. Because I definitely don’t mean trading out what has typically been called “traditional worship” for what some would call “contemporary worship”, although that’s sometimes needed. Most churches that we would call contemporary have their own traditions, too. And in the next generation, the people who prefer that tradition will be dying out, as well.

      You are absolutely right that new people are “looking for worship that feels sacred, holy, and set apart from what they find in our culture at large.” Nail. On. Head.

      There’s a growing trend among millennials for traditional worship forms that go back even further than yours or mine (if I’m not being presumptuous about your traditions), to ancient high liturgy in some cases. But we need to be open to the fact that, even as they come for some traditional aspects, they will bring new ideas and formats, too. If we tell them “if you want one part of our tradition, you have to take all of our tradition without changing it,” we won’t keep them. For instance, it wouldn’t surprise me if choirs started making a comeback among millennials – well, it would surprise me a little – but they’d add a new, never-done-it-that-way-before twist to it.

      So yes, a draw towards tradition is happening with some in the newer generations. But I think there’s an even larger and growing population base that’s looking for forms of worship that no one has thought of yet. We need all styles for all kinds of people.

      1. Thanks for your clarification, Karl. We ALL have to be open to the Spirit moving among us and the changes that will bring! I love your posts, by the way, and am hoping to do a book study on your Grasshopper Myth at my church one of these days.

      2. Ed Stetzer has done some research in this area which has not yet released. This research does not support that a preference for traditional worship forms particularly ancient ones is as much as a growing trend among Millenials as some writers have presented it. I have not observed this trend in Millenials in my area. Traditional churches in the area have very few Millenials in attendance.

        One reads anecdotal accounts of Millenials who are attracted to such worship forms but Stetzer’s research does not indicate that these Millenials form a large contingent among church-going Millenials. Churches that are seeking to attract Millenials with traditional worship forms are targeting a very small segment of the population. They are basing their outreach strategy on a myth! They are also turning their backs on a much larger segment of the population.

        1. Thanks for that info, Robin. I look forward to reading Stetzer’s research when it comes out. He does good work, so it will be nice to have some confirmation of what the real trends are.

  2. Knowing what to ditch and what to preserve – that’s wisdom. I have big blind spots, because I want our worship and other gatherings to be serious, not silly; Word and Spirit receptive; clear and compelling. Yet, the forms we use automatically put us in boxes. The building, the time frame, the furniture, the particular verbiage – all of these are methods which both provide comforting stability to some, and alienating strangeness to others. And my preference for the comfort of the comfortable is convicting – so I am ready to hear ideas.

  3. I enjoyed your thought provoking post! I received Jesus Christ at the age of 32. My age now is, (said with a laugh) a little over 50. My experience in what you call a traditional church was for only 2 years. Even though I was in a leadership position in a traditional church, I could never find a way to feel like I fit well within the community. Any changes was longer hitting a brick wall, or if they happened it was a fight all the way. I am a cross cultural, multi ethnic type of person. This means traditionalism rarely fits within my mind set. I did not grow up in the church, so I was unaware that such things existed. From my experience and my wanderings throughout the years, as a guest in various churches, (including international churches and 2 countries outside of mine) those who reach people and disciple people focus on what works best in the area where they are planted as a church. We can definitely learn from one another as the organized church, but in the end we must pray and seek how to make disciples and reach people in each of our neighborhoods.

    Now I may rock a few peoples world when I share the following; The Pastor who is trying his best, (led by the Spirit) cannot change a traditional church on his own. There will be people who will be unwilling to be part of change and will oppose it every step of the way. BUT then again, God is the heart changer. Yes, there are Pastors who will refuse to change and move away from what you call the traditional church style, but there are those who are trying and the sheep are being stubborn!

    An example of a story of change; About 10 years ago a denomination closed down a small traditional church. It could no longer support itself, but the building was still useable with some remodeling. The intention of the close was to be for an extended amount of time. During this time the few people that remained and were refusing change disappeared. The next step was to place a younger Pastor into the lead role, remodel the church, and bring it into today’s culture and style as a restart. 10 years later this restart is now a vibrant part of the neighborhood community where it is located. Is it mega in size? No it is not, but it is doing what God calls us to do for him! In fact I taught my first pilot workshop on Relationships in this church, because with the change they were into “new” ways to make disciples and multiply the kingdom.

    I continue to teach the Relationship workshop, because this is exactly what the teaching and learning together forces people to do who attend. Our life is about relationship, in 3 areas and once we understand this, we will no longer use the words a “traditional church” we will be or become a relational group of people who desire to make disciples and multiply.

  4. This is so what I have been sensing in my spirit all summer. As a pastor who has recently stepped onto the waters of bivocational ministry, the future at first seems uncertain, shakey, and fear can easily invade your heart. The thing to remember it is still Jesus church, so whatever shape the future holds, the mission of Jesus will prevail, whether it is in a traditional building, a store front, school auditorium or a factory coffee room. One thing is for sure, WE CANNOT continue to do church has we always have done and hope to survive the challenges of the 21st century.

  5. Karl, I am in complete agreement with you. I grew up in the Catholic church and couldn’t wait to stop going when I reached 18, dull, old and not relevant to me. Roll on a good few years – in my late 30’s, married and with children, a Christian friend introduced my family to a New Frontiers church in London. Wow, what a revelation. A church that really welcomed us, rocky music, interesting sermons, people having fun, loads of families, children and older retired folk enjoying themselves going to church. I realised what we had been missing all those years. After a few years we moved out of London to a more rural location and became members of our local Anglican church – Oh dear, back to the dark ages again!. We are in a small town of 3500, with a primary and secondary school – and the church has just 50 regular congregation, with a handful of children. A few years ago, before the local vicar retired, he tried to re-order the church so that it could be used by the whole community. A small group of older traditional members wrote letters of complaint and the re-ordering was stopped. We asked them what was going to happen to the church in 10-15 years time when they are all dead and gone and they have no younger members coming in. I don’t think anyone is interested in that, and I now travel 15 miles every Sunday to visit a church that suits me. Very sad and so many missed opportunities. The message stays the same but the method can change.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Lee-Ann. I wish it was rare, but it’s not. Hopefully your story will be read here by other ministers and church leaders and will help confirm for them the need for new ways of doing church. Like you said “The message stays the same but the method can change.”

  6. I have tried to comment twice. Earlier on the moble and it failed and a fewminutes ago on PC. Then it decides to configure and reboot. Maybe God is trying to tell me not to comment what I wanted to. Your letters touch my heart every time I read them. This one in particular. I have been struggling with leading in ministry ever since our senior pastor passed on over 2 yrs ago. I am not the same as most traditional preachers. Its never been about me. It is all Jesus or nothing. from one day to the next, I never have a clue what to do. But I know Gods call on my life. That call has never been to be the next man in charge. Jesus is in control, not me. I do believe that true believers will eventually meet in smaller settings because of the polititcs and legalism within the pharisidic lead tabernacles. I long to see a fire of God like I used to and not the complacient cliches that say they love and not show that love

    1. I’m glad you were persistent enough to get through, William. Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your story. Not having a clue, but stepping up and stepping out anyway is often what the ministry is all about. And frequently how God uses us the most. Keep it up.

  7. People are comming because they want to not because they feel they should ?. church will soon be down to Christians ? If they dont meet Christ somewhere along the line theyll get bored and leave.?

    1. Not sure if I get what your comment is really about, Nigel, but let me take a stab at it. Yes, Christians have an obligation to gather as the church, whether-or-not they feel like it. But non-believers don’t have that obligation. And they won’t come unless we show them Jesus in a way that makes sense for them and their lives. There’s a growing segment of people who want Jesus and want church, but are not finding him in many of our traditional ways of doing church.

      Yes, people should meet Christ when they come to church. Not just “somewhere along the line”, as you put it, but every step along the way. And yes, if people don’t meet Christ in a church, they will get bored and they should leave. Cuz a church without Jesus isn’t church.

      Like I said in my last line of the post, “After all, the only “right” way to do church is any way that reaches people for Jesus.” Finding Christ is the only true essential for a valid church experience.

  8. I for one like the more contemporary music, but the congregation likes the mix of contemporary and traditional hymns. We work in a hymn through our worship. I have felt we needed to go to the park and start a weekly service there. We’re in a town of about 3,500 people with an influx of 10-15,000 each day from oilfield work. I feel such a call to reach out to the community with an unconventional method of worship and teaching. I think the ‘teaching’ format would work best instead of the ‘preaching’ format for some services.

  9. I’ve been reading a few blog posts on church methods and one thing has stood out so far. Typically there are few allusions to Scripture and how it shapes this conversation. I’m not impugning character; just simply wish to say that if God has given us “all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” I would think that there would be more than a few over-arching principles that Scripture gives that would steer and lend a higher level of credibility to many of these conversations. Quite a bit I am hearing in posts has definitely caused me to do something very good–to think about what I’m doing, and am I ever grateful for that! And I’ve even been challenged to change. I’m just concerned about the relative absence of allusions to God’s Word as a needed anchor point that keeps us from inadvertently drifting. I remember as a kid having math teachers that would not give full credit for answers unless I “showed my work” to justify how I arrived at the answer. Just wondering if we do better by showing a bit more of our Biblical rationale for the things were considering leading the flock of God into. Iron sharpening iron.

    1. That’s a great point, Dave. Obviously everything should be done according to biblical principles. The challenge is that, despite your hope that there are “more than a few over-arching principles that Scripture gives” about methodology, there are almost none. The bible certainly says next-to-nothing about our current methods, like sitting in rows, listening to a sermon, meeting in church buildings, etc.

      I think that’s on purpose. If the New Testament had mentioned more than it does about how the early church gathered, we would turn those external actions into unchangeable rules, much like the Pharisees did with Old Testament rituals. I think the New Testament writers purposely gave us principles, but left the methodology up to us, so we could adapt eternal biblical principles to new cultures that they could never have imagined.

      In fact, that’s kind of the point behind this post – that there are no biblically-mandated methods, so we need to be careful about holding on to outdated ones.

      Thanks for the thoughtful response.

      1. i’ve been a Christian for over 40 years, and was part of a small rural close knit loving fellowship for 30 of those years.I think I’ve been in a traditional church half a dozen times, and each time I was preoccupied with the methods of service and worship that I encountered. they remind me of the pedagogy that operates the public school systems. Having worked in many industries including manufacturing design and engineering, I’m familiar with the concept of form following function, and see that principle very clearly that play in traditional churches, as well as the one I was part of. But the functions and form are worlds apart, and at this moment I suspect the main reason is the traditional churches exist in their present form largely due to the buildings that house them. i’m reminded in scripture that the Jewish nation had not wanted to be pilgrims without human leaders, and so God gave them a temple, the law in writing, and a hierarchical priesthood.
        As important as they were in their day, they were only shadows of the coming kingdom of God, which we now inhabit. Those who walked in the spirit understood that, and those who walked according to the flesh did not, and exchanged the shadow for reality. By the time Jesus arrived, the shadow had morphed into a juggernaut, and in very short order, efficiently killed and buried the Reality. Jesus is the real temple, and buildings are still shadows, though you wouldn’t know it if you look at the landscape, and study church budgets and bulletins. Israel couldn’t free themselves from their edifice complex, because they had been operating in the shadows for so long that they didn’t recognize the reality when he showed up. So God arranged the diaspora, and gave them no instructions about citizenship, buildings, priesthood, tithing, sacrifices, scripture, missions, slavery, women in ministry, The gender gap, politics et al. it was quite a few years before the new Jewish Christian converts figured out that salvation was for everyone. It seems Jesus forgot to write the handbook before he left. But not to worry, we’ve written it, many many times.
        And, we resurrected the temple, the priesthood, the order of worship, the robes, The scribes and doctors of law, the schools of Pharisees, tithing, the law, the prophets. And not to be outdone by Israel’s incestuous relationship with Herod, we’ve created our own Imperial line of Kings In the world Council of churches, the national Council of churches, and myriads of other councils of churches, and their children and grandchildren.
        Please understand why I’m writing this way.
        We learn what we live, and if we want to learn something new, we need to live anew.
        That’s what Jesus did for us when he replaced the old covenant with the new covenant, shadow with reality, we keep going back to the shadow every time he tries to get us to go back to being pilgrims. Just imagine The upheaval and arguments and worry and fear that must have engulfed the early Jewish converts when suddenly they found themselves without their shadowsthat they had become so comfortable with. They knew Jesus, but that’s all they had. They had to start over and it’s quite likely that there was a lot of discussion about building their own temple, starting their own priesthood, and resurrecting the tithe, and even going back to the temple. They were so used to the shadowthat the argument over circumcision nearly destroyed them. And God let them go through it in agony, in the dark, so that they would learn to be pilgrims again. he revealed some of what we now know to be the full Gospel, but not all. They had Jesus like Israel had God during their time in Egypt. they were captives of another nation, without citizenship or territory,and that was their discipleship program for entering the promised land, so that they would not mistake the shadow for the reality. Personally I suspect that the short route through the wilderness we find ourselves in, is to quickly leave Egypt, which the New Testament calls Jerusalem, spiritually, where also our Lord was crucified. and we know he was crucified in the city of Jerusalem, by the shadow priesthood, who presided over the shadow temple, which had served it’s purpose but no longer realized it. In other words, the only way out is through the wilderness.
        imagine what would happen if a dozen churches across the spectrum in any given location abandoned their edifice security complex,sold their extraneous possessions and gave them to the needy, especially the household of God, and imagine if they burnedtheir robes, and dropped their titles and all brethren became children together sitting at Jesus feet, whereverthey happened to be on any given day.
        We lived that life for 30 years together and though we are all no longer together my family and several others continue.
        Buildings and meetings and positions and programs and budgets and gender do not factor into our form because our function is as a family, and a family of families.
        God divinely replaced the old testament institutional form with a new testament family, placing himself in Christ squarely at the head of our family table.
        I dare say that our current church form, which clever men have crafted from the ashes of the Old Testament temple edifice complex, is presided over by Popes & tens of thousands of wannabe Popes in the protesters system, otherwise known as Protestants. Let’s face it,we have collectively usurped Jesus place at the head of his table either by seeking leadership disguised as servants, or tolerating a systematic, generational, millennial coup.
        To wrap up, it’s my prediction that if this generation doesn’t take the short route from Egypt to the promised land, then will have to take the 40 year route walking around in circles, until the next generation gets their turn to part the waters of Jordan, which is a shadow picture of death to self corporately.
        So I suspect if we won’t give up our temples, they’ll just have to be taken away from us by our loving, long-suffering, lonely heavenly Father.
        And judging by the numbers of millennial’s who are voting with their feet to be churchless, i’d say the diaspora has already begun. And I may as well mention the other major exodus recorded in Scripture for our learning, because it’s actually more apropos to our exact position at this time. Though it was real for them it’s a shadow instruction for us.
        Its the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem after their captivity, where in a small remnant had become sick and tired of the wilderness of worldly pleasure and longed for the reality of their lost home, though they knew that it would possibly cost their lives to rebuild it.
        They courageously left their comfort zone, and families and nation and knowingly returned to a desolate and hostile home.
        They begin to rebuild but eventually succumbed to discouragement and fear and the enemies threats, and lowered their eyes from the vision of building God’s house to build their own houses a.k.a. churches. The prophet Haggai reminded them of their forgotten mission and told them to go up the mountain, gather wood and bring it back down to build the Lord’s house. He convinced them by telling themas the oracle of God that all of their work thus far was like a bag filled with holes that they had brought to God, and God had rejected it. Haggai ask them if it was the time to build their own houses or the house of the Lord. It’s an eternal question for every generation. We have not dreamed of and cannot envision what God would do if we would collectively leave our Babylon of comfortable religious pluralism, and return to build his house with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. Like the rebuilt temple of the Babylonian exile’s, as recorded in Haggai, the glory of God would fill this latter rebuilt church more than the first one was.
        Accordingly, we should look forward to God’s greater presence in our midst and not look back to what our forefathers had as a model in the early church. As wonderful as it was it was for their time.
        And in our generation we can have the Shekinah presence of God come into our land, if we will make the hard choice to stop building our house and build His.
        many blessings dear brethren. Greg

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