Archive for October, 2014

Culture Shifts

October 30, 2014

People who spend a lot of time observing our world often remind us that the culture around us is continually shifting. Most of us don’t need to be reminded of that. We see it every day. There are days and ways where we are more aware of it than others, and we can articulate some of the shifts better than others, but we do know that the world is changing rapidly around us. The real question for us is how do we adapt to these culture shifts? What kind of changes do we need to make, how we can run good experiments, and how can we do it before it’s too late? Unfortunately, there are many examples of organizations that either did not adapt or adapted too slowly.

At one point in time, Kodak was the undisputed leader of the film industry. At their peak, they owned 90% of the market. But, then the world changed. Everybody started shifting to digital photography, but Kodak didn’t. Film was their big cash cow and they were too slow to change. Eventually they went bankrupt. They went from being the industry leader to being out of business, because they could not make the shift.

At one point in time, Pan Am was the largest airline in the world. But, when the industry de-regulated, they didn’t adapt. They were too slow to change, and they eventually went out of existence. Pan Am is no more.

There was a time when you couldn’t drive around town without seeing lots of Blockbuster video stores. Their goal was to have a store in every neighborhood, and in some places, it looked like they succeeded. But, part of their business model was the people would have to pay late fees if they returned their movies after the due date. Then, Netflix came along. They didn’t charge any late fees. They said you could keep the movie as long as you wanted, and send it back when you were done. They would also mail it to your house or apartment, so you didn’t have to drive anywhere to pick it up. Other companies started offering on demand movies on your TV or streaming them on the internet. Blockbuster was too slow to adapt. Now, they are out of business.

Newsweek used to be one of the major news magazines in the country. But, they were slow to shift with the culture to the internet world. People started reading the news online every day. By the time they got their Newsweek, the news was already old. People had read those stories before. Newsweek went out of business.

The church is in the same boat. The culture around the church is shifting dramatically. The church has been slow to change and adapt. Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend weekly Christian worship services. 80% of churches in America today are plateaued or declining. 9 churches close every day. Many of these were slow to adapt.

We are seeing the end of the attractional age of the church. 50 years ago, many churches could succeed on the Field of Dreams model of church – if you build it, they will come. If you provide good quality religious goods and services, people will come and find you and they will stay and become committed. And that worked for a while. It does not work anymore. This approach is too passive and reactive. It is waiting for people to come to us. But, many people are no longer looking or coming. The church must move into the missional age. The church must become more proactive and move out beyond its walls, get involved in its local community, and get involved in people’s lives, building relationships, and caring for others in Jesus’ name.

Organizations that have successfully shifted with the culture, are not those that have sacrificed their central beliefs, their core values, or their main message. They have not thrown out their historic identity and become chameleons – changing anything and everything to become just like the surrounding culture. They have remained true to their calling, true to scripture, and true to the historic faith passed down to us. But, they have learned to adopt new strategies and new communication methods. They have gone back to the past and revived ancient spiritual practices and re-learned the gifts of hospitality and service. They have learned to think and to act like missionaries. And they have learned to shift their own church culture in the process.

In 1 Chronicles 12:32, it says that the leaders of Issachar understood the times and knew what to do. That is what the church of today needs to do, as well. In the Book of Acts, we see how the Apostle Paul and others began going on missionary journeys to other cultures. They learned to relate the good news of Jesus Christ in different ways so that people of that society could understand its meaning.

We have the same challenges today. This is both a scary time and an exciting time. It is scary because we know that if our churches don’t adapt, they could die. We know that if we are too slow to change, we may miss our golden opportunity. But, it is also an exciting time as people are becoming more creative, more innovative, and running more missional experiments to discover how to witness to their faith in Christ. New forms and new styles of ministry are emerging in some of the most surprising places. The Spirit of God is doing something new in our midst. If we have eyes, we can see it. If we have ears, we can hear it.

The culture shifts don’t have to destroy us. We can learn to adapt without sacrificing our core beliefs. Our best days don’t have to be behind us. Our best days can still be ahead of us. If we journey with the right tools, and if we journey with the right people, we can get to an exciting and meaningful place, and we can play an important role in the mission of God on earth today.

For more information about making a culture shift in your church, please go to


Living Missionally

October 1, 2014

Culture shifts are difficult for organizations to make. In particular, organizations that place a high value on their history find it very challenging to make a shift in their culture. One such organization that values its traditions is the church. There is good reason for this. Many churches have a long history. Many churches have a long history of good deeds, helpful contributions, and a significant impact on their local communities. So, it is no wonder that they value their past. They have good reason to do so.

But, what do you do when you fall on hard times? What happens when more of your people are looking in the rear view mirror than through the windshield? What if most of your people are looking at what is behind them instead of what is in front of them? Then, something needs to change. It has been said that, over time, organizations shift from being a mission to a movement to a museum and then to a morgue. How do we learn what it means again for the church to live as a missionary community with an essential purpose for its local context?

One way is to go back to our roots. One way is to go way back in our history, look at the early days of our movement, and discover how the church got started and what people were doing at that time. Over the years, many church cultures shifted from doing mission to supporting others in mission. We gave money and sent missionaries overseas to do our mission work for us. One of the unintended consequences of this was that those of us in the “sending” churches no longer saw ourselves as missionaries. We forgot that we are also “sent” people, sent into our own local communities to live as witnesses for Christ. We all know that when you don’t exercise your muscles for a long period of time, that after a while, you forget how to use them. For many people in the American context, we have spiritual and missional muscles that have atrophied from lack of use. We have forgotten how to use them. This means it is painful when we begin to stretch them again. What to do?

In response to this situation, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved an initiative called Living Missionally at its June, 2014 meeting. While affirming and re-affirming their historical commitment to world missions, this initiative lifted up the need and the call for every Christian to go beyond the walls of their congregations and increase their engagement in service and witness to their local communities.

The rationale focused on three main issues of the needed culture shift that are addressed in the book Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, edited by Darrel Guder.

1. The first culture shift that the church must make is to move from being a church with mission to a missional church. Most churches will articulate a commitment to mission and have a mission program. If they are large enough, they may have a specific pastor or staff person devoted to mission. Many support overseas missionaries or contribute to food banks, homeless shelters, or rescue missions. In this construct, mission is seen as one of the many activities and programs of the church. But, the purpose of the local church is not to be a “vendor of religious goods and services” with mission merely being one of a myriad of programs. Rather, doing mission is central to what it means to be the church. The church at its core must be missional. Everything it does is not because the church of God has a mission but because the God of mission has a church. Everything we do is because God has invited us into His mission on earth. All Christians have a calling and a vocation to participate in the mission of God.

2. The second shift that the church must make is in regards to the very definition of what it means to be the church. The church was designed to be a body of people sent on mission. In other words, the church was intended to be a missionary community. Thus, the church is not only a group that gathers for a worship service. It is not just a social club that builds relationships. The church is also a group of people organizing together so they can serve the community around them more effectively. The purpose of gathering together is to be sent. Darrel Guder says, “The public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending. The community that is called together is the community that is sent. Every occasion of public worship is a sending event.” To be a missional church, the worship is driven more by what must happen after the service. They do this through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues. To do this effectively, the church must know its neighbors and understand what things they care about.

3. The third culture shift the church needs to make is to move from talking to doing. In some churches, people think if they have gone to a meeting, that they have done the work. Not so. I know one church where people like to gather to talk about issues, but they don’t want to actually do anything about them (seriously). We are called to reach out to our communities through acts of witness and service to demonstrate the love of Christ to our friends, families, and neighbors. What does this mean practically? The Living Missionally initiative suggests taking some the following steps:
a. Determine a number of volunteers and volunteer hours that they would commit to their community and fulfill that commitment for the year,
b. Adopt a community in need of refurbishing in the U.S,
c. Actively engage youth and young adults in volunteer opportunities,
d. Support young adults and others called to serve in God’s mission in the U.S. and abroad, or
e. Re-present Christ in their everyday lives through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues.

Living Missionally means stepping out in faith. It means engaging in missional experiments, being creative and innovative, and trying new forms of ministry. It means not being afraid to fail and not letting our fears hold us back. It means building relationships with people, listening to them, and discerning how God might be calling us to respond. Living missionally is not something that can be done in a sanctuary or a church building. We can be encouraged in our gatherings to go out and live missionally, but that is only the beginning. Living missionally is the realization that all Christians are called and sent. We all have gifts and talents that God wants to put to use. We are the sent ones. All of us can make a difference in the world in which we live.