Shifts Taking Place in the Church

The following is taken from Peter L. Steinke, Congregational In Anxious Times (Alban, 2006), 75.



Interesting shifts affecting congregations include:

  • People are less interested in an intellectual approach to faith and increasingly drawn to an experience of faith.
  • Authority in the congregation is shifting from vertical dimension (top-down) to the horizontal structure (network, teams).
  • People are attracted to churches that offer certainty more than to churches that offer information or knowledge.
  • The visual is replacing the verbal as a major revenue for communicating the message the church wants to convey.
Published in: on April 7, 2008 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Adaptive Change vs. Technical Change

Churches constantly face a changing culture.  As the culture changes so does the church.  The church changes its form of communication, its ways of evangelism, its ways of living out the gospel, and its structures.  Notice what it does not change – teachings, sacraments, beliefs, etc.

The church not only faces a changing culture it also faces a changing environment.  Many churches were once built in a subdivision or a specific part of town and for the most part these churches reflected the location in which it was located.  However, over the years the neighborhood changes and thus the church must learn to change with the neighborhood.

Take for example The Friendship Church of Christ.[1]  The Friendship Church was born and established in a predominately white, middle class section of town.  Over a span of forty years or so the neighborhood changed to a low-income, Spanish speaking neighborhood.  As the neighborhood changed sadly the church remained a white, middle class congregation. 

Two seminary students a part of the congregation decided that they would start a Saturday morning activity and class for the low-income families.  Fliers were distributed, doors were knocked upon and invitations were given for all the children surrounding the existing church to join in an activity and Bible class for two hours every other Saturday.  This ministry flourished and grew to include a Wednesday evening activity and class for the children.

However, this influx of low-income, Spanish speaking children disrupted the ethos of the existing the church.  The existing church was comfortable with its own well-behaved children and with its traditional style of Wednesday evening.  As Wednesday evenings became disrupted several families quit attending on Wednesday nights. 

What this church is facing is the opportunity for an adaptive change.  An adaptive change is possible when the church is in constant interaction with its environment and neighborhood and is able to adapt to changing circumstances.  Thus, the Friendship Church is in a position to adapt to a changing environment, a low-income, Spanish speaking environment.  The adaptation is not easy, does not have quick-fix answers, will disrupt the current structure(s), and will most likely include frustration and conflict.  But, in order for the Friendship church to be a witness, the adaptive change must take place.

There is another method of change that can take place, however; a technical change.  The technical change will mean that the current practices, thoughts and mindsets will continue to be present.  In a technical change the environment or culture will not play into long-term change, nor will it be part of forming and shaping the church.  A technical change will mean that current structures and organization will continue to be present.

The problem with the technical change is that it does not allow for the culture, neighborhood, or environment to form and shape the church’s ministry.  A technical change means that the church will continue to use an outdated structure and thus its ability to reach its environment will be drastically hindered.

For example, if the Friendship Church continues to use a white, middle-class approach to reaching the low-income Spanish speaking neighborhood its ability to proclaim the gospel will be dysfunctional at best.

As I think of our situation here in Newmarket, Ontario we are dangerously on the brink of discovering and wanting to implement technical change.  I am seeing a clearer picture that we will continue to be a middle to high end congregation, remain worshiping with a 1960s mindset, and of course talk about and implement 1970s methods of evangelism.  There is great danger that we will not let our culture, our neighborhood, or the environment form and shape the church’s ministry.

God help us as we fight against the urge to remain the same and expect the neighborhood to come to us and adopt our church culture.  God help us and grant us the ability, desire and courage to let the culture, neighborhood and environment shape our ministry so that we can be live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[1] Name has been changed.

Published in: on November 20, 2007 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

What Kind of Church . . .

We as a church are beginning a dangerous, yet exciting journey.  It is a journey that is exploring the question, “What kind of church does God want us to be in this neighborhood?

For the past two Sunday’s I have introduced this journey while laying down the biblical warrant for this journey.  We as a church (all churches) are called by God.  We are not called by God to sit in a building and hide, we are not called by God to serve only club members; rather we are called to be the body of Christ.  A look at Jesus reveals that he was very much a part of people’s lives (not just the religious folks who showed up at the synagogue on Sunday morning). As Matthew says he lived and walked among the diseased, the broken, the hurting, the sick and demon possessed.  It is high time that the church became the true body of Christ to the world and not our own club members!

As we have begun the beginning stages of our journey living with the question, “What kind of church does God want us to be in this neighborhood?” several responses are coming to the table.  First I am seeing people say that this is a great question to ask and they are anxiously and more than willing to explore this question.  I see others sitting in the pew wondering why this young preacher is asking this question.  It’s almost as if these people are sitting with their arms crossed waiting for this series of lessons to be over so that we can get back to serving the club members!  What a shock it will be to everyone when this series never ends!

Some Implications
As I have been preparing myself spiritually, physically and mentally for this journey several implications are being realized.  First, the idea that this will translate into numerical growth is flawed.  Our goal in this journey is to serve the neighborhood in the name of Jesus and than invite people to be disciples of Jesus as we live beside them and mentor them.  Sure this means that numerical growth will be achieved, but it is not our first priority!

A second implication is that we are going to have to change.  We have developed a mentality that the minister and all church programs or activities are designed for “club members.”  As a church we have strung ourselves too thinly and so we are going to have to rethink our time, energy, programs, activities, etc.  This means we are going to be rethinking our Sunday activities, our Wednesday activities and everything else that falls in between.

 Will We Survive?
I don’t think I have realized the full implications of this journey and I don’t believe I will.  One question I keep asking myself is will the church survive this journey?  I feel that this journey has the potential to push those desiring for club member benefits to another church down the road.  I feel that this is going to push some marginal individuals and families away because they possibly don’t realize that we, the body of Christ, is called to serve the world.  Yet I also feel and believe that if this journey is not taken our community of faith is dead!  If we don’t discover the kind of church God is calling us to be in the neighborhood we will continue to serve ourselves and when our matriarchs and patriarchs of the major families in our community die off the children will be left to take the reigns, and when they die off the church will close its doors!

My Writings (Blog)
Over the next couple of months I am going to try to write weekly about my journey with the Newmarket Church of Christ and our desire to live with the question, “What kind of church does God want us to be in this neighborhood?”

Here is what you can look forward too:

  1. What I am teaching – there will be attachments of my sermons and classes.
  2. Interviewing the neighborhood
  3. Struggles along the journey
  4. Where is God in the midst of this journey?
  5. Changes we as a church are facing



Published in: on September 11, 2007 at 10:11 am  Comments (1)  

A Lame Answer, But A Starting Point

My last entry has caused some discussion because I think we realize this is pretty frightening stuff I am suggesting.  It is very frightening because we are talking about moving away from a very established and entrenched idea of (1) our interpretation and view of scripture, (2) our idea of what church is about, (3) our view of evangelism and how evangelism should be done, and (4) a few other areas as well. 

One comment that was posted said how can we help our churches through this transition without giving them a collective heart attack.  A great question and so here I attempt to give an answer (knowing that the answer is lame and needs to be given more thought).

We have to teach history.  We have to show our heritage who Alexander Campbell is and what he believed.  We have to show his view of scripture and also show his interpretation.  We must then ask if this is how we should view scripture and how we should interpret the Word of God.  This I suspect will generate some very interesting conversations.

  1. We have to be a model for our churches.  Our churches must faithfully see us live with scripture and as we live with scripture they must see us not use it to give answers, but to help scripture change our lives.
  2. We have to show the relationship between eschatology and ethics.  Sorry if this sounds too theological – I will eventually write on this to explain this more.
  3. We have to ask a very serious, challenging and church changing question.  Our churches need to be forced to ask and answer, “What kind of Church does God want us to be?”  Asking this question will force people to examine scripture differently, will force people to look at the Spirit differently and will inevitably lead us away from a blueprint model.  Asking this question will also show us that we haven’t reached the final destination; we are only a signpost pointing to the fullness of God.

This is only a start of how I think we can help our churches make the transition.  Indeed this will be a very difficult road to travel down.

Published in: on August 24, 2007 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Acting Our Way Into A New Way of Thinking

I love canoeing.  There is just something about paddling down a quiet river with only the mosquitoes and black flies disturbing the quietness of the moment.  As I paddle down the river the beavers slap their tales as a warning, the ducks and birds fly away and I see the odd fish become startled from my moving shadow.  The river seems as if it will never end, but then to my horror around the bend a log jam blocks the path and I can’t get through.

This is how ministry is sometimes.  The church is moving in one direction.  The leadership teams, the volunteers, the staff and even the lay people are moving as one but then to our horror a log jam is blocking the road.

I feel that this is also a picture of my ministry thus far.  For awhile when I had an eldership we seemed to be paddling, but in different directions.  Once we all got turned the right way and were heading in the same direction it seemed that all would work out.  Unfortunately what I didn’t realize was a log jam was forming that would block the path.

As I am living with the log jam and trying to navigate a path (well, looking for God to navigate a path so that I can follow) I am noticing that something isn’t sitting right with me.  It seems that I have been trained and somehow believed that if I can only teach another class in order to help the congregation think of a new way to navigate the log jam than we will be able to continue on our journey of faith.  What I am trying to do, as Alan Hirsh has said, is “to think our way into a new way of acting.”[1]  I am sitting on the bank of the river teaching the basic and fundamental principles of removing a log jam. 

What would happen if something completely opposite took place?  For example, what would happen if we acted our way into a new way of thinking?  Thus, instead of first teaching the basic and fundamental principles of removing a log jam I/we begin to remove the logs one at a time while learning the basic and fundamental principles.  This is a more hands-on approach.

In my last piece of writing I talked about how we have lost touched with our neighbors.  In order to help the congregation be a better neighbor I could probably could give a class and preach on what it means to be a neighbor.  I could talk with people over a cup of Star Bucks coffee about being a better neighbor and I could probably plead, urge, beg, and get down right nasty with the congregation telling them to be a better neighbor.  If I did this then I would be helping us think into a new way of acting.

Another option arises; I could help us act into a new way of thinking.  Thus I could solicit some key leaders and we can organize a couple of activities, like a strawberry social for the condominiums and lead the congregation into the condominiums, thus helping the congregation act into a new way of thinking.  It is one thing to teach and tell people how to act; it is another to provide tangible opportunities and experiences so that learning can be incorporated into life situations.

This idea of acting our way into a new way of thinking touches all aspects of ministry.  For example, help the congregation act in prayer, giving, reading of scripture, a life of serving, forgiveness, justice, etc., and eventually as they act (and of course hear some teaching) they will eventually begin to think differently. 

If we are going to help our churches become missional in nature and if we are going to help our churches shed the Constantine mindset it is going to take more than just teaching another class and more than allowing the congregation to hear another sermon.  It is going to mean helping the congregation act in a new way and as they act in a new way they will eventually begin to think in a new way.

[1] Alan Hirsh, The Forgotten Ways (Brazos, 2006), 122.

Published in: on May 14, 2007 at 12:54 am  Comments (1)