Warning: The following is one of my
all too infrequent soapbox vent moments. This one is about church. So, if you are up for that sort of thing, read on. If reading someone else’s annoying brilliant declarations makes you squirm (as it often does to me, a non-lover of other people’s opinions), I invite you to peruse my blog for something less opinionated.
First off, I am going to say that I love my church. And I love church in general, with all its flaws and faux pas. For a little more than a year, we have been going to a great church that was planted by the church where J and I met and were married. I will honestly admit that we kind of avoided this church plant initially because my parents go there, and it just seemed lame to plop down there without looking around for our own place. We’ve been to several different types and styles of churches in the last 9 years of our married life, but for now we’ve settled at this one for many of its wonderful qualities, one of them being because it doesn’t seem to have change addiction.
What is Change Addiction? you ask.
Change Addiction is a phrase that I’m pretty sure J and I coined as a way of describing what seems to happen to a lot of churches lately, and has happened in several churches we’ve attended. Basically this is the pattern.
1. Church gets a new program, idea, staff member, or series that energizes congregation.
2. New people come to church as a result of the adrenaline rush and “energy” caused in #1.
3. Church feels awesomely growing and thriving as a result of 1 and 2. Programs and people are even added to accommodate influx.
4. Growth plateaus or even drops as the people who came in #2 are starting to assimilate into the church, and seeing beyond the “energy”.
5. Church starts to get panicky because the honeymoon phase of #1 is over.
6. The church decides to phase out programs, ideas, staff members, or series in order to start the whole thing over. (Return to #1 and Repeat until the end of time.)
As a type of reaction against some of the dry, crusty, changeless churches of 30 years ago, today’s churches are changing faster than people can learn the great empowering acronym. (Some combination of 3-6 of the words Grow, Teach, Reach, Serve, Connect, Link, Network, Give, and Go in a relevant order. Did I miss one?) Many newer churches these days just aren’t content to stay the same for any length of time and they aren’t obligated to a lengthy tradition or hierarchy. The thinking seems to be that it’s just not okay to be small or medium, be struggling and mediocre at times, or be occasionally unchanging. There is a great fear of being irrelevant and static.
You want coffee bar? Tea Bar? Is it chai now? You like smoothies? You name it. We’ll get it.
Even if a lack of measurable change in people or finances means that the church is creating a more faithful, stable, devoted congregation, the church seems to have heard the message “CHANGE IS GOOD” much too loudly. Is this horrific ecclesiastical puberty an inevitable outcome of a church going from “birth” to “maturity?” I don’t think so.
Thankfully, I’m currently in a church that, though certainly not perfect or without its growing pains, seems to be wrestling well with this transition. Yet, I just feel many congregations are stuck in a ceaseless adolescence, constantly insecure and paralyzed with the desire to be popular. Maybe they would say they are just trying to reach people, but in many cases, it is more than that.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these churches are necessarily being sinful or evil or failing to teach God’s Word. On the contrary, I think many of these churches are committed to God’s word and their communities. The sad and damaging consequence occurs when, in spite of the good– even Scriptural intentions, the interminable cycle of change becomes a whirlwind that damages people and relationships in its path, sometimes driving them to another church, but sometimes driving them away from church all together.
If CHANGE ADDICTION in churches drives people away from church or contributes to people avoiding church, then it is a BIG, SCARY problem, right?
Of COURSE, I am generalizing to make my point, but J and I realized that the uneasiness that we felt in these types of churches was a worry that we, or are group, or our pastor, or our ministry, or our giftedness, or our friends would be phased out. We didn’t feel safe. I think we were worried we couldn’t keep pace with the cycle of change.
Without really seeing the cycle, these churches suggest that one little occasional hit of change will cure any and all angst within the body, but the need to recreate the energy and adrenaline and affirmation of the growth creates an addiction. And then the constant change, in and of itself, creates angst.
We stayed, probably for longer than we should have, watching people and friends be spun off by the cyclone of change. We didn’t want to seem like or be accused of being church hoppers. So after about 3 cycles of this at one church and 3 cycles of this at the next church, we recognized that these churches had CHANGE ADDICTION. It wasn’t going to stop. It was going to go on and on, 1-6, 1-6, 1-6.
Now, this may be very offensive to some people and sound like I’m advocating NO CHANGE or a “head in the sand” approach to the realities of an ever changing body, but that is not my intention. Some change is good and necessary, but constant change is indicative of a larger issue.
According to scripture, the church is a relationship with God, someone who is unchanging. As such, there are bound to be good times and bad times in alternation, like in a marriage, especially as we persist in being sinful little prats and He persists in being holy and forgiving us. To extend the metaphor, think of this. After the honeymoon phase of a marriage, couples often experience some hardship, right? But if a young newlywed came to you for counsel when things were rough, you probably would not advise him or her to institute massive changes in order to correct the hardships of their new marriage. In fact, most of us would probably say something akin to “Hunker down. Be patient. You’ll be fine after a little more time and perseverance and get-to-know-ya.”
That’s why I hope and pray that many churches will resist the temptation to give in to the great allure of CHANGE ADDICTION, just tweaking one more thing to start that inevitable adrenaline rush and influx of new people in love with the “energy” of the place. We need to hunker down. We need to ride out the dry times and look for the unmeasurable signs of change.
Now maybe if there is NO KIND of growth or change then it’s time to shake things up, but let’s remember, God is timeless and patient, yet His mercy and faithfulness are NEW every morning, so we don’t need to get on a treadmill of Change Addiction to keep up with Him.
Do you agree? Disagree? Please let me know what you think, but please DON’T name actual congregations in your comments. Be vague or create a pseudonym. If you think you have friends who could contribute to this conversation, slap this up on your Facebook.
Cheers. Tip-toeing down soapbox now.