At a Saturday night tent revival, the preacher announces, “Anyone with needs to be prayed over, come forward to the front at the altar.” Leroy gets in line, and when it is his turn, the preacher asks: “Leroy, what do you want me to pray about for you?” Leroy replies: “Preacher, I need you to pray for help with my hearing.”
The preacher puts one finger in Leroy’s ear and places the other hand on top of Leroy’s head and prays and prays. After a few minutes, the Preacher removes his hand, stands back and asks, “Leroy how is your hearing now?” Leroy says, “I don’t know, Reverend, it ain’t ‘till next Wednesday.”
This story illustrates that sometimes we think that we are addressing people’s needs and completely miss the mark. Cultures change, business trends change, demographics change, and even the way we conduct church changes with the passing of time. Each generation has its own uniqueness and challenges. This is true in any organization, business, or church. Today we will use a church as an example, but the same applies to any business or organization.
Pastor Mel Mullen of Red Deer, Canada, recently shared a message at a conference I attended. He called the message, ‘The Frustrated, Dying Church.’ Mel doesn’t mince words. For many years his church and church movement in western Canada has been one of the largest and influential in Canada.
Mel knew even though there were significant signs of life and success in his church, his church was dying. Troubles were ahead, and he could sense it. The main issue was he and his church were getting older. The demographics of the church had changed. One day he walked into his staff meeting, looked at his mostly under 35-year old staff, and thought to himself, ‘Can a mostly-under-35 staff grow a church of 35 and older?’
Mel is one of those intuitive leaders who embrace change when necessary. He decided he needed to do something outside of the box. The next week he walked into his staff meeting and made the following pronouncement. “Today our church will change forever. I will no longer ask you to build a church for my generation. I will help you build a church for your generation.” Think about it. As parents, we live our lives for the next generation, so why not adjust to the next generation?
Mel went on to ask his vibrant, youthful staff some strategic questions. “Where are we, as a church, effective? Where are we not effective? How do we reach the next generation? Is the way we are presenting the Bible effective for your generation?" They interacted for months on this. They evaluated, rediscovered, re-branded, and retooled the whole church. After all, you transition churches and larger organizations slowly.
The younger leaders came up with a new slogan: ‘We are a small church with lots of people.’ They adopted four new core values; engaging the culture, living in authentic relationships, empowering and releasing potential in others, and being driven by compassion. These values could apply to all generations, but they are living out these values in a way that connects with the next generation. They created space for both young and old. They have changed their language, communication style, presentations, environment, and church culture. The results have been over the top.
How many of the old guard left after these changes? None! They had been praying for growth and God answered. It just came in a form they didn’t expect. There is something for everybody with a youthful flair. The church transitioned from feeding spiritual giraffes to engaging current culture purposely and effectively. They didn’t change the essence or values of the church. They just updated and anticipated.
This reminds me of a conversation between a wife and husband. She asked, “Will you love me when I’m old and gray?” He replied, “Oh probably, I’ve loved you through all the other shades too.” Remember the story we started with? They listened first, and then addressed what really needed addressing and connected the message with the audience. This changes everything!
Maybe it’s time we assessed our lives also. What do we need to change about ourselves? Remember, and I am speaking metaphorically here, you can’t save the damsel if she loves her distress.
Ed Delph CCC July 16, 2018