Is your Church Culture Stuck?
One of my favorite 80's movies is Blast from the Past starring Brendan Fraser. The story is about the Webber family. The time period is set in the early sixties (the cold war era) when there was constant talk of nuclear fallout. The dad spends months and months preparing a fallout shelter, believing a nuclear attack is inevitable. In the movie, a plane accidentally crashes into the Webber’s home, which causes the dad to believe the end of days have arrived; in his mind, it’s the beginning of nuclear war. He quickly takes his pregnant wife to his souped-up fallout shelter. The entrance led them several feet underground to a fancy, high tech living quarters that had everything they needed to survive for years. The impenetrable massive steel doors were armed with time locks that, once engaged, could not be unlocked or overridden for thirty-five years. No worries of anyone getting in...or out.
The family is safely secured in a comfortable, accommodating shelter while the world above, unknown to them, continued as normal. During the first year, the mom gives birth to a baby boy and names him Adam. During their thirty five years in the shelter, the world above drastically changes, while the Webber’s life remains frozen in 1962. The family passes time watching black and white films and kinescopes of television programs with a projector rigged to look like a television. Pretty high-tech stuff for the sixties. Then finally in 1997, the timer releases the locks. Adam finds himself immersed in a society where his language, dating skills and understanding of life in general is outdated and irrelevant.
Today many churches in America, especially churches 500 or less, have behaved like the Webbers. They built their own fallout shelter. Many of them have steeples with nice stained glass windows; while others have bell towers and wooden pews; and others have leaned towards the contemporary look with modern music and cool lights. Regardless of their design, the purpose is the same as the Webber’s fallout shelter. To protect themselves from the sinful poison outside in the world. Their doors aren’t on timer locks, but that’s ok. Infected people rarely show up anyway, and if they do, they don’t stay.
These churches are safe and predictable. If they are challenged to change, they’ll push back. They’ll call anything new a spiritual compromise. They’re loyalties lie more to their past traditions than the risen Savior. Their practices and rituals, regardless of how outdated or irrelevant, are guarded at all costs, even if means not reaching unchurched people. They are culture stuck, hiding in a decorative fallout shelter, while the people outside, who are far away from God, walk right by them. When they do attempt to reach someone, they have about as much luck as Adam Webber trying to land a date in 1997, using his 1960’s dating techniques. Fat chance.
When a church becomes culture stuck, they are no longer relevant to the people they’re supposed to be reaching. I am not insinuating that showing up in skinny jeans, tee-shirts and flip flops will change lives or bring unchurched people into your church. Wearing skinny jeans, especially in southern small towns like mine, could get you beat up. This is not merely a language or dress code issue; this is a heart issue. Whether we like to admit it or not, the world has changed, while many churches remain hidden in a fallout shelter. Think about it. In the 1950’s it would not be the least bit weird for an unchurched person to walk into a service and see everyone in suits, ties and dresses. Adam Webber would have fit right in. More than likely, he would probably be dressed the same. He would probably have on the same clothes he wore the night before, on his date. That was the culture for most our country. It made sense.
Reaching people of this generation and the next, requires us to embrace the culture of today and leverage it for the gospel without compromising the gospel. The gospel must remain unchanged and untampered with, that’s a no brainer. We must be willing to do whatever it takes, short of sin, to reach people for Jesus. This means we have to be willing to come out of our shelters and remove the obstacles that may be keeping the unchurched from showing up on Sunday, and even more importantly, causing the ones who do show up not to come back.
How do we get the culture of our church unstuck? How do we maneuver through culture change without losing our values and vision? I wished I could tell you that changing the dress code was the instant fix, but it isn't.
Here are three things that I believe will place you on the journey of getting your church culture unstuck:
- Complete a church health assessment; see where you really are. What is the heart of your leaders? Who are you reaching? How many are you reaching? How many are staying?
- Review your messages and sermons. Are they inwardly focused? Do they promote evangelism? Are they relevant?
- Assess your facilities. Review your order of service. Talk about your connection points for new people. Look at each of these through the lens of the unchurched and ask, "Do our facilities make unchurched people feel comfortable? Does our order of worship make sense to me? Are my next steps simple to take?"
Get your team together and discuss these questions.
Learn how to get a Health Assessment from The Unstuck Group