“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, knew something was new and different when she arrived in Oz.  This movie quote has endured for almost 100 years and become one of cultures go to ways to describe when something is just not right.

I get a daily email from Carey Nieuwhof, a pastor and leadership guru.  I follow his blog and podcasts on a weekly basis.  For almost 20 years, I have dedicated some time each week to leadership development.  It’s important to keep learning and growing.   I like to think of myself as a student of culture.  I try to keep up with what’s going on, especially when it comes to our culture and the church/Christianity.  Looking back on 30+ years in ministry, a lot has changed, especially in the last couple of years.  As a Christian and minister of the Gospel, I recognize that Kansas waved bye-bye a long time ago.  One of Carey’s blog post this week was titled, “10 THINGS THAT DEMONSTRATE THE WORLD YOU GREW UP IN NO LONGER EXISTS”.  You can view the post here.

Carey shares in his post that Beloit College has a “Mindset list”. It comes out every year and often makes the news.  The list is designed to get college faculty (and others) into the headspace of the entry class of mostly 18-year-olds. Essentially, it’s a tutorial on how much the world has changed since the people who will be teaching that class were in college.  Here are a few random snippets from the Class of 2019 mindset list (the entering students are on average 18 years old):

  • The Lion King has always been on Broadway.
  • They have never licked a postage stamp.
  • Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa have never been alive.
  • Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.
  • Hybrid automobiles have always been mass-produced.

Every generation gives way to the next generation and the next and the next.  There is a reason we call the differences between generations a “generation gap”.  There is a gap in our understanding of each other, and our place in the world.  We think and do things differently.

Here is Carey’s “TOP 10 THINGS THAT DEMONSTRATE THE WORLD YOU GREW UP IN NO LONGER EXISTS” with a short explanation of each.

  1. CHURCH ATTENDANCE IS NOW A FRINGE ACTIVITY:  Means it’s marginal or secondary.  For most of our culture, church isn’t even on the radar, even in Andrews.
  2. “ALL WELCOME” MEANS NOTHING:  Having a sign that says “all are welcome” really doesn’t men much to our culture.  Personal invitation is still the #1 way to get people to come to church.  “Word of mouth” is still the best advertising tool.
  3. REGULAR CHURCH ATTENDANCE IS IRREGULAR:  Culture has changed so radically in the last decade or two that even committed Christians aren’t in church as regularly as they used to be. (Here are 10 reasons why.)
  4. A BAND, LIGHTS AND HAZE ARE TRADITIONAL:  Even current “contemporary” worship style is outdated.  Style of worship still matters, but not as much as a church that is inviting, welcoming, serving its community, authentic, and communicating effectively.  See more below.
  5. THE SHOW NO LONGER CAPTIVATES:  Means pretty much the same as #4.
  6. YOUR CHURCH MEMBERS FOLLOW A DOZEN MINISTRY LEADERS WHO ARE NOT YOU.  Basically, many prefer watching other churches and pastors online.
  7. GOD HAS BECOME GENERIC:  According to research and a recent poll, those who identify as Christian or church attenders has fallen below 50% in the US for the first time.  Just 10 years ago it was 70%.  What people define as Christian and what constitutes genuine Christianity may be two different things.  It’s all relative, one religion is as good as another.  You can even mix and match.
  8. PEOPLE DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY’RE CONVERTING TO:  8 and 9 really go together. Post-Christian people have very little Christian background from which to draw.  They may have never been to church, know very little about the Bible or Christian Theology.

Some of the things on this list may not surprise you.  Our culture has gone through a few decades of people leaving the church.  We’re moving in real time away from a generation of people who are done with church to a generation that doesn’t know church at all.  We may think of that as an obstacle, but perhaps it’s an opportunity.  It gives us an opportunity to reboot and rethink the way we do church.

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”  1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV

The Apostle Paul understood that flexibility was necessary to “win as many as possible”.  He became “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”, and it worked.  Let’s be honest, the church doesn’t necessarily have a history of flexibility.  One of the major complaints about the church from our culture is that we are too rigid, hence the need for flexibility.

I have been in ministry for over 30 years and I’m not saying that I have it all figured out.  There isn’t a magic pill or bullet out there that we can use to get more people into our church.  Believe me I’ve looked!  From my experience and understanding of culture, there are a few key ingredients that every church needs to have a shot at effectively reaching its community and non-believers:

  • Practical communication:  Preaching and teaching that is authentic, real, and relevant to people’s daily lives.
  • RADICAL hospitality and service to the community.
  • Shared Ministry:  Volunteer Training and deployment.
  • Creative worship experience:  Useful, exciting, and enjoyable.  People need reasons to come.
  • Laser focused on passing the baton to the next generation.
  • Healthy Online Presence:  Streaming Services and Social Media.
  • Willing to take risks: “You don’t know till you try.” “By all possible means”- Apostle Paul.

Our current form of worship and discipleship may be very useful and make perfect sense to us, but chances are it doesn’t to those who have chosen not to check us out.  We have to give them more reasons to check us out than not.  Andy Stanley talks about the church being more irresistible.

I just want to be clear that I’m not talking about watering down the Gospel or preaching a false doctrine just to fit in.  Paul didn’t do that either.  He was faithful to the Gospel, and flexible enough to communicate effectively with different groups of people.

Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, writer, and theologian in the 1600’s said, “We need to be able to bring people to the place where they wish Christianity was true and then show them that it is true.”  What we say is important, but how we say it, live it, or “show it” is equally or more important.

Happy Easter!  Hope you have a great weekend!

Love y’all!

Robby Morris
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management
Andrews UMC