Culture Shifts

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

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