Recently, I read a local church notice board with a mixture of amusement and sadness.
At the top of the notice board was its headline: “Presenting the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ in a relevant way to a changing world.”
This was followed by a list of its activities: “Sunday: 10:30 – Morning Worship; 6:30 – Evening Worship; Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade; Luncheon Fellowship for Seniors and Ladies’ Fellowship.”
I was amused, because, to all intents and purposes, this was a very traditional church. I was saddened, because the church was unaware that it was living in a time-warp.
True, they had made changes to their worship – instead of singing hymns, they are now singing songs – but in no way is this church relating to the culture around them.
In fact, their style of worship is probably even more impenetrable to people not familiar with the standard “evangelical” style of worship of endless repeats.
If this church wants to live up to its headline, then it certainly has to change.
Recently, I was sent a link to a Rotary seminar. It featured a young Australian management consultant giving a pep talk to Rotarians.
The context of this talk is that Rotary clubs, like many churches are, are in trouble, for they are growing old. The average age of a Rotarian in the United Kingdom is 73.
If Rotary is to survive, then it needs to change radically. This was the point of the video clip.
The management consultant began with a quotation from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but those most responsive to change.”
He then went on to argue that if Rotary is to survive, it must remain relevant – and to remain relevant, Rotary clubs must recalibrate their purpose, they must re-engineer how they do things, and they must reposition themselves in the marketplace.
The same is true of churches today: We, too, need to recalibrate, re-engineer and reposition ourselves if we are to be responsive to the challenge of change.
Otherwise, we will not survive. As has often been said, the seven last words of a church are: “We never did it that way before.”
To go back to the church with its unhelpful notice board, it needs an outside management consultant to come in and make them aware how out-of-touch they are with the real world.
For although they still have a relatively good congregation, with people of all ages present, they are not making any major impact on the community around them.
The people they are baptizing, for instance, are mostly from church families.
Somebody needs to come along and “rub the bruises sore,” and help them see that instead of fulfilling the Great Commission given to us in Jesus, they are actually only operating according to the norms of a certain type of church culture.
They need to “recalibrate” and put their church back to its “factory settings.”
To return to Rotary and its troubles, my Rotary club had a major “falling-out” last year (does that ring any church bells?) and lost half its members.
Fortunately, I was not part of the “falling-out,” but nonetheless, as the incoming club president, I have the task of rebuilding the club.
One advantage I have is that the club knows that it has to grow if it is to survive, and so hopefully will be open to the changes I will propose to make growth happen.
I find it helpful to quote Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary: “Rotary must be evolutionary at all times – revolutionary on occasions.”
I also like to quote Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
I believe that if my club is to grow, we need to focus not on meetings, but on projects as we seek to fulfill our headline of “service above self.”
I have developed a growth plan that involves growing together, growing more, growing in service and growing in influence – and a detailed strategy to put the plan into operation.
I wonder, are there any parallels with church?
Paul Beasley-Murray retired after 21 years of ministry as the senior minister of Central Baptist Church in Chelmsford in the United Kingdom. He is currently serving as the chairman and general editor of Ministry Today U.K. and as the chairman of the College of Baptist Ministers. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including “Living Out the Call,” a four-volume series on pastoral ministry. His writings can be found at PaulBeasleyMurray.com, where readers can register to receive his weekly blog post. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission.