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Help, My Church Refuses to Change

A few years ago, there was a pastor who noticed the average age of his church was getting older and their attendance was in decline. Like anyone with a passion for reaching the lost, he wanted to think of a way to appeal to younger people and those outside of church. But he also didn’t want to upset the older generation who had been faithful for years and who honestly paid most of the bills. So, what did he do?

He decided to add a contemporary service to appeal to new people, while keeping the traditional service for the older folks.

And it worked…for a while. They quickly grew from 60 people on a Sunday to 200 people each weekend in just a couple of years.

For the first time in many years, grandparents were seeing their kids and grandkids come back to church. They were seeing people give their lives to Christ and take next steps in their faith.

But there was one problem, at least in many of the older people’s minds. Their kids and grandkids were choosing to go to the contemporary service, instead of the traditional. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t like this because they wanted the family to be together in the same service.

Their solution?

Get rid of the contemporary service that was growing and that their kids and grandkids enjoyed, and go back to one traditional service.

So that’s what they did, even though the pastor tried to convince them otherwise. They still voted for their preferences over seeing lives changed, many of those lives being their kids and grandkids.

Since then, most of those kids and grandkids have left the church. Some have found other churches to attend, and some have given up on church altogether.

The church’s attendance is back down to around 50 people attending, and those 50 people are still wishing their kids and grandkids would come with them to church.

Even though the young people have left, their hymns still remain, and for them that’s all that matters.

To some of you, this may sound like a made up story, but for those of you in rural and small towns, you know this is all too common. Many churches would rather die than give up their traditions.  The same pastor who told me this story is reliving the same story in a new church in a new small town right now.

So, what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? What do you do if your leading a church that would rather die than change? Here are a few options.

  1. You Quit – I’ll be honest, this would be my choice. There’s no way I would be able to handle that type of situation. There are too many churches looking for pastors for me to stay in a church that doesn’t want to reach people. The only exception may be if I have a long history with the church or if it’s my hometown.
  2. You Stay – With a plan to try to convince them to change, or long enough that the majority has died or left the church. This is a lengthy process with no guarantee of success, but it is an option.
  3. You Die Along With Them – Unfortunately, this is an option that I see many pastors take. They give up on God’s vision for reaching lost people, they lose their passion, and they resign themselves to preaching a message and collecting a paycheck. When retirement isn’t that far away, why rock the boat?

Have you ever been a part of a story like the one above? What did you choose to do? Leave a comment and let us know. And if you’re in a situation that you’d like to change but you don’t know where to start, shoot me an email and let’s talk. I’d love to help.

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6 thoughts on “Help, My Church Refuses to Change

  1. Tony

    This sounds like my situation. When I came here I heard we want to change, we want to reach people. After a while I realized what they really meant is we want to change as long as we can hold on to the past. We want to reach new people as long as it’s people we approve of and pay their dues, I mean tithes.

    I tried # 2 and it was heading in the right direction but after only 18months I now see myself in #3. I have lost all passion. I feel like the life, vision and joy has been sucked out of me and my wife. I really don’t advocate #1 unless you have heard from God. We all will face hard times in ministry. But after much prayer and talking with my wife we have decided to do #1. I will be resigning from my church this coming Sunday and will be moving back to my home state on May 20th.

    I have battled thoughts of feeling like a failure, feeling like I’m taking the easy way out, feeling like I’m letting down the young people that are now attending. But I know if I don’t leave I will be eventually letting down my family and myself.

    Also, #1 became an option because we truly don’t fit in super rural ministry. That is what has made this decision easier.

      1. Brian C Wardlaw

        Tony, been there. Done that! Do NOT let the enemy of your soul discourage you and tell you a bunch of lies. Even Jesus went to another city when the people wouldn’t hear His teaching (Luke 9:51-56), and He encouraged the disciples in the same (Matt 10:14). God has a place for you in His Kingdom, so stay faithful and He will place you there!

  2. James

    Church growth and success shouldn’t be measured in quality of its members, but in the quality of the worship of its members. Focus on the ones already coming (without trying to get more to come) and disciple them, so they can go out and evangelize. Let God worry about the numbers. The church should be more of an incubator for believers and not a place to attract non-believers.

    1. [email protected]

      Hey James,
      Thanks for the comment. Here’s my question to you, why can’t you do both? Why can’t you try to reach new people while also discipling the one’s already there. There’s plenty of churches who teach their people to evangelize, then once their friends and family agree to come to the church they quickly feel out of place because it’s “an incubator for believers” and not a place for people who have questions and doubts about faith and God.

  3. Tim Bushong

    I wonder if you’re assuming some ecclesiology here. Regarding visitors, you mentioned how “they quickly feel out of place because it’s “an incubator for believers…”” Well, I guess that word could be used, but it sounds hyperbolic to me. After all, an incubator is there for the [purpose that chicks can grow and mature into big adult chickens…What else is the local Church ordained for, biblically-speaking?

    In the NT, the local Church isn’t mentioned in connection with evangelism, and when we DO see visitors (1 Cor. 14:23) the atmosphere sure doesn’t appear to be geared towards them. In fact, the book dedicated to the running of God’s household (1 Timothy) is chock-full of directions for believers so that they will grow and mature in the true faith.

    Whether or not you have a thumping rock band or Rock of Ages played on a Hammond, I think that whatever you do, it should be unified. One service where everyone has something invested, and also where everyone has particulars that they don’t really like.

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