Is Your Church Still Trying to Live in a World That No Longer Exists?

Oct 20, 2022
 

Is Your Church Still Trying to Live in a World that NO Longer Exists? And if so, what should you do about it? Let’s talk about it in this episode of the More Than a Pastor Show.

Hello my friend! Welcome to the More Than a Pastor Show. I’m Rich Avery, your host. Our goal here is simple. We want to help you take your skills, experience, and ministry know-how and leverage them into sustainable income outside of the church, through a business or side hustle that’s right for you. So you can serve God and provide for your family, no matter what.

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So, is your church still trying to live in a world that no longer exists? If so, what should you do about it? That’s what I want to talk about today.

This all started with me when my friend John Stange of Platform Launchers sent me the link to a blog post by Thom Rainer of ChurchAnswers.Com. The post was entitled, 10 Reasons Why Church Search Committees are Struggling More Than Ever.

Rainer begins the post by explaining,

The pandemic is not the reason pastor search committees are struggling, but it did expose and exacerbate the problems. In fact, we at Church Answers see more pastor search committees struggling to find a pastor than at any time we can recall.

We understand that many of you may search for pastors by other means than a search committee. You could have an appointment process, or you could have another group, such as elders, seeking a pastor. These ten reasons are often present regardless of the polity or the process.

Then he runs through his list of 10 reasons why churches are struggling in the pastor search process.
I won’t take the time to read all ten of them here. But I will read the last two, which I think illustrate a huge problem for the church in America right now:

9. The year 2019 has become nostalgic for churches in general and for pastor search committees in particular. It really has not been that long since 2019. But many churches look at the last pre-pandemic year with longing and nostalgia. Most churches don’t have a realistic perspective of how 2019 really was, but they long to return to that year. Search committees thus seek a pastor who can restore the attendance, programming, and the number of guests back to pre-pandemic levels.

10. Many churches don’t realize that they cannot afford a full-time pastor. I recently met with a pastor search committee that had not been able to move forward for over a year. I asked about the compensation package for the pastor. The amount they gave me was below the poverty line for a family of four. Additionally, they offered no benefits. When I responded that the amount was absurdly low, one search committee member said they were counting on his wife working. Churches must be realistic about this issue. It might be time to look for a bi-vocational or co-vocational pastor

 Many churches are still trying to live in the past, in a world that no longer exists

As I read through Rainer’s list, I noticed a common theme that’s very relevant to the More Than a Pastor community, and our mission to help pastors grow their income and build financial security.

And it’s this: Many churches are still trying to live in the past, in a world that no longer exists.

As a result, they maintain unrealistic expectations for both the church and their pastor. And they are unprepared for the changes that are coming their way.

Do you remember the Narnia movie, Prince Caspian? There’s a moment where Caspian, the rightful heir to the throne of Narnia, has to flee for his life.

Caspian was the son of the king, but after his father’s death, his uncle Miraz ruled as regent because Caspian had not yet come of age.

A tutor named Cornelius taught Caspian in the ways of Aslan and old Narnia, preparing him to one day become king.

But when Miraz’s wife became pregnant, Cornelius realized Caspian’s life was in danger because Miraz had eyes on the throne for himself and his own son.

Fearing for Caspian’s life, Cornelius sneaks him out of the castle and sends him away for his own safety.

After giving several words of instruction, Cornelius’ final word to Caspian would turn out to be a prophetic warning: “Everything you know is about to change.”

Indeed, the changes were already in motion, he just hadn’t realized it yet.

Everything You Know is About to Change

I believe the same is true for the church in America today. Everything we’ve known about how to “do” church and “be” the church is changing. Rapidly.

And I don’t mean just because of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, 2021, 2022, and…

No, long before the first person in America was infected with COVID-19, our nation was already being affected by certain social, cultural, political, and economic forces which had begun to disrupt the “traditional” or “institutional” church model we’ve known over the last century.

COVID just helped to speed-up the process.

So here, I think, is where we find ourselves today:

  • A recent survey showed that a large percentage of millennials believe the church is irrelevant to their lives, and that it is actually NOT a positive force in American society. One of the biggest reasons is the way they see Christians speaking and acting with regard to political candidates and social issues. Sadly, many Christians don’t sound very Christian-like when it comes to politics, and have placed their allegiance in politics before the Kingdom.
  • The phrase “toxic church” should be a contradiction in terms, right? And the idea of a toxic church culture should be unthinkable. Sadly, the church is not immune to toxic culture environments. I think we all know that, and have heard about…or maybe even experienced first-hand, environments that weren’t healthy. Stories of toxic church culture, the mistreatment of women in the church, and sexual misconduct by church leaders…along with cover-ups by their boards, are so widespread that many now believe it is baked into the church, and no church leader or institution can be trusted.
  • Every generation has had its activists, and causes it cared about. But the Millennial and Gen Z generations are activist generations. They are super passionate about social issues like immigration, the environment. But at the top of the list, you’ll find racial justice and LGBTQ. A 2021 survey by Springtide Research Institute showed that half of young people ages 13 to 25 surveyed said they don’t think that religious institutions care as much as they do about issues that matter deeply to them - like racial justice and LGBTQ. This translates into a low level of trust in the church. And the bottom line thing to know about Gen Z is that they refuse to align with institutions they don’t trust, or that don’t share their values.
  • In an age when many are questioning their faith and the validity of certain doctrinal positions, many leaders in the church have been more known for their debate and demonization over dogma than exhibiting the gentleness and respect Christ had for the marginalized and vulnerable. This has pushed many away from the church for now, and for some, maybe for good.

So, to sum it all up, I believe we’re living in an age where the church of Jesus Christ is no longer seen as relevant to our culture, a safe place for people to belong, or a positive force in society. 

This surely must grieve the heart of God.

So what does all this change mean for the future of the church? And what should we do in response?

I think the continued erosion of trust in the traditional,“institutional” evangelical church, among people of all generations, but especially among Millennials and Gen Z , will affect every church and pastor.

For many, it will mean a sustained decline in church participation and giving. This will leave churches struggling to survive on the traditional church funding model of tithes and offerings. Some will have to close. Others will be forced to make hard decisions regarding their biggest expenses: their facilities and staff.

But please hear me… I’m not saying this is the end of the church in America. Far from it. Because I still believe, as I’m sure you do too, that the church is still God’s redemptive agent in the world.

But perhaps this is the end of the traditional, institutional church as we’ve known it?

Maybe God wants to use this season to deinstitutionalize the church, bring it back to something more organic and missional, and maybe even use this to foster a revival and renewal in our culture?

So what can we do?

I think these words from moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer are instructive for the church today:

"In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

 

I’d like to suggest that what the church can take from Hoffer’s observation is that, when we stand in the face of change, we can take one of two postures: that of the learner or the learned.

The learned already have the answers.They’ve learned how to react to change based on the training they’ve received in the past.They continue to see the world through the lens of their previous experience.

The learner is curious, interested, and adaptable.They’ve learned how to anticipate change, not merely react to it. And they help others learn to anticipate and adapt as well.
So for the church to be a learner, I think we need to become more curious about our culture, and more humble in how we engage with our community.

We need to understand the times we’re living in, anticipate what’s coming next, and learn how to live and act as a result. Sounds pretty much like the Men of Issachar that we read about in 1 Chronicles 12, doesn’t it?

I think if we’re going to reach a culture that increasingly doesn’t want anything to do with the church, we’re going to need to create fresh expressions of church that don’t look like traditional churches. And we need to equip pastors who don’t look like typical pastors.

This may mean that the church of the future meets in homes more than traditional church buildings. It’s more organic and missional. Most of its income is given away vs. being used on facilities and staff.

The church of the future is probably less tied to a denomination or association, because it cares less about the labels and dogmas that have divided people, and wants to foster that beloved community where all can truly belong.

The church of the future is led by a co-vocational pastor who feels called to serve God in both the church and the marketplace. The pastor’s income is derived mostly from their marketplace job, or even from their own business or other streams of income.

So what are some ways you can begin now to anticipate the change that is coming to our church and community, and adapt your strategy accordingly? Here are four great next steps:

  1. If your church is still dreaming of a return to 2019, it’s time to accept the fact that neither your church nor the world are going back to how things were before COVID. Because changes have long been coming even before COVID.
  2. You need to define reality. It’s the job of every leader. To clarify where you’re at right now, understand where things are headed in the next 1-3 years, and discover the best strategies to help your church navigate the changes.
  3. Begin searching for alternative revenue streams for your church. Look for ways you can repurpose your facilities, your land, and other assets in ways that generate long-term income for the church.
  4. Create a plan to transition to a co-vocational staff model over time. Free up more of your time so you can pursue income outside the church. Explore the best ways to leverage your ministry know-how into sustainable income through your own business or side hustle. Not sure if starting a business is right for you? Get my free assessment guide aptly called “How to know if starting a business is right for you. In it, you’ll discover the 12 SIGNS that you might be READY to LAUNCH your own BUSINESS. And Learn the THREE most important THINGS EVERY pastor needs to BUILD and GROW a SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS TODAY. Download your free copy today at morethanapastor.com/biz.


So do you think I’m right about where the future of the church is headed? Or am I all wet? I’d love to hear your feedback. You can send me an email at [email protected]

Well, that’s it for today’s show. Before we go, would you do me a favor and hit like, share, or subscribe if you haven’t already done so. Also, what topics would you like me to cover on a future episode? Please let me know.

Until next time, remember that you are more than a pastor. Saying yes to God’s call doesn’t mean you have to say yes to feeling stuck, broke, or unfulfilled in your life and ministry. Let’s work together to help you create the life, impact, and income you were made for.