5 Shifts Churches Must Make To Stay Alive

In Faith by Frank Powell6 Comments

The ability to shift and change directions comes natural to certain people. Barry Sanders. Lebron James. Wes Welker. Me (when I play against the pre-school kids). I love watching shifty guys play. Now imagine this. Barry Sanders has no defenders between him and the goal line. A clear path. Then he starts juking, spinning, and shifting. What?! “Stop shifting around Barry. Run straight.”

Shiftiness is only valuable when not doing so results in problems. A defender in your path. A car in your lane. Otherwise, it is absurd to do anything but continue going straight. But when an obstacle stands in your path, failure to shift or change results in something less than ideal.

For years, this was the church. We had the breakaway and the only thing we needed to do was run straight. No reason to shift. We were the center of culture. People came to us. But today, the church has moved to the periphery. There are now obstacles in the way of our mission, and without shifting we will be tackled before we reach the goal line. We are now the vehicle that is dangerously close to striking an obstacle. We need to shift.

But today, the church has moved to the periphery. There are obstacles in the way of our mission, and without shifting we will be tackled shy of the goal line. Here are the facts:

The next generation is the largest in history (estimates of 80 million), and roughly 3 out of 10 claim no affiliation with Jesus.

The fastest growing religious group in our culture is…”none.” (there is a great article about that here).

Take a look at these words that were presented to non-Christians as potential descriptors of Christianity, along with the percentage of people that affirm them (you can find these stats in James Emery White’s book, The Rise of the Nones).

anti-homosexual (91%)

judgmental (87%) 

hypocritical (85%)

too involved in politics (75%)

insensitive to others (70%)

It is time to pump the breaks and turn the wheel. The church is in desperate need of a shift. So, I want to propose five shifts churches must make to remain relevant and alive in the years to come.

1.) From shouting on the mountaintop to immersing in the culture.

I wrote about this in previous posts, but some things need to be repeated. And repeated. You get the idea. The days of the church trash talking the culture from the mountaintop are done. The days of us standing in the distance while the hurting and broken come to us are over. The church no longer has this luxury (if luxury is even the right word).

It is time to stop yelling and start embracing. It is time to stop condemning and start loving. Too many disillusioned church leaders yell at the evil culture and wonder why their church isn’t attracting non-Christians.

Instead of telling homosexuals and drunkards they are going to hell, we need to get to know them. And here is the madness in all this…what I am proposing is not revolutionary. This was the ministry of Jesus. He went to people. Jesus didn’t huddle up and wait for people to come knocking. He went to them and instructed his disciples to do the same.

Churches that remain relevant and alive in the years to come will realize they must come down from the mountain. No one is listening. Once the trek down is complete, these churches must immerse in the culture and show the world the transforming love of God relationally.

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It will be messy. It will be hard. It will be time-consuming. Better leave your three piece suit at home.

2.) From old to young.

The shift is taking place now. A new generation is seeking a role and a place at the table. And, sadly, many people are resistant to this shift. Yes, the next generation has problems. Those are well documented. But if a problem-free group of people is what the church is expecting, let’s all agree to shut this thing down now. Stop wasting one another’s time.

Here is the reality. No one will be here forever. If older generations don’t invest in younger ones, the church will be dead in this country by the time they are gone. The next generation can’t lead without the wisdom and guidance of those ahead of them. We need you older generations. Step up. Show the next generation how to lead. Prepare them to take the keys to the church after your departure.

We need you older generations. Step up. Show the next generation how to lead. Prepare us how to take the keys to the church after your departure.

Churches alive and relevant in the coming years will be celebrate passing the baton to the next generation. These churches must create space at the table for the next generation now. It is time for the church to stop saying “future of the church” as it relates to the next generation. The future is now.

3.) From cruise ship to tugboat.

In a culture rapidly changing, to be anything but mobile is nothing short of a death sentence.Dave Clayton
Cruise ships are immaculate. They are enormous. But cruise ships are almost impossible to turn. Flashback to the Titanic. Glacier…not able to maneuver around it…tragedy. Many churches today are similar to cruise ships. We have built immaculate buildings on large campuses. Meanwhile, we reside in a culture that is constantly shifting and changing. So many churches have so much invested in their building it is impossible to entertain conversations about changing or getting away from traditional church settings and programs. We must meet at the building because half of our weekly budget goes to fund it. This is a problem.

Meanwhile, we reside in a culture that is shifting and changing. Many churches have so much invested in their building it is impossible to entertain conversations about changing or getting away from traditional church settings and programs. We must meet at the building because half of our weekly budget goes to fund it. This is a problem.

Many churches today are similar to cruise ships. We have built immaculate buildings on large campuses. Meanwhile, we reside in a culture constantly shifting and changing. Many churches have so much invested in their building it is impossible to entertain conversations about changing or getting away from traditional church settings and programs. We must meet at the building because half of our weekly budget goes to fund it. This is a problem.

But what about a tugboat? Small. Powerful. Maneuverable. The churches that stay alive in the years to come are the ones who work to become smaller, not larger. They will work to get away from a single location. Why? The world is constantly shifting and the church needs to be able to shift too.

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Tugboats do this well. Cruise ships do not.

4.) From defending traditions to proclaiming Jesus.

The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st-century world.Mark Galli
Hop in a plane to North Korea (that’s not possible) or parts of China and the middle east. While there, make a note of how many people are talking about which denomination has the Scriptural stranglehold over everyone else. You probably won’t here many of those conversations. The reason is lives are on the line, and meaningless conversations have no space in their day. It is about Jesus, and getting his name out to those around them.

The truth is nothing other than Jesus transforms lives. Nothing. So, conversations aside from the transformative power of the gospel are extra. Traditions are extra. Denominations are extra. Jesus is essential.

Churches relevant in the years to come will adopt this type of mentality. They will stop trying to defend their position and traditions at the expense of spreading the gospel. Their denominational preferences will fall if it means more people are transformed by the gospel. They will preach the cross because the cross changes lives.

Everything else is extra.

5.) From serving in the walls to missional outside the walls 

I am not the missional expert, but I know this…missional is NOT giving somebody a list of volunteer opportunities in the church. For years, when someone was baptized or a new family moved in, the first question was, “How can we get them involved in our church?” The focus has been involvement in the life of the body. This is good, and the church should not completely abandon volunteering in the church.

But let’s go back to the culture. Non-Christians are not coming to the building anymore. So, here is a legitimate question, “Are we creating sideways energy by trying to plug new members into the life of the church and not the life of the culture?” I contend we are.

[Tweet “It is sideways energy to plug new members into the church and not into the culture?”]

Churches relevant in the years to come will train members to be missional. These churches will align passions and gifts with the work of God in the world. They will expand involvement outside the church walls. Where gifts align with making God known to the world…sparks comes that will ignite the world for God’s glory. Find your gifts. Find your niche. Then light the world on fire.

Find your gifts. Find your niche. Then light the world on fire.

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Are there shifts or changes you think the church needs to make moving forward? Leave a comment below.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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