Whether we like it or not, the community we serve is always in a state of transition. So our churches should also be in a constant state of transition.
Is it worth it? This one question will arise in your head each and every day as you transition. The answer depends on how willing you are to fight for the transition. Is it worth it? If goal is to reach the lost and that is the goal you want to accomplish, then yes, it’s worth it.
The church will lose some members during the transition. Many times those who choose to disengage from the church will be people that have been believers for a long time, maybe even a part of the inner-workings of the church. How does this affect the church? Finances will be impacted, and this is a hurt that ripples throughout the church. When a group of the establishment leave and take their tithe with them, new believers will often not fill in the financial gaps quickly.
Another effect of transitioning from the church to the unchurched is one that hurts pastors and leaders more than anything else: the gossip. I have been called a false teacher, a charismatic (a label that actually doesn’t bother me), a bad pastor, and a weak pastor. These labels are just the ones I am aware of. In one meeting, someone actually looked me in the face and said they did not like me or the job I was doing, nor did they agree with the direction the church was going and how could God be happy with it. At least this person confronted me personally. Get ready. The criticism will come.
People will also say odd things about your church. First Anna has been called a Jewish cult (this one makes me laugh). I talk a lot about the Old Testament and often preach from the perspective of the Jews since that was the audience Jesus addressed. And we use matzah bread when we take communion.
We are criticized for the worship music, the sermons, the ministries, the people on the worship team (gasp…We have a divorced person who sings!). We’ve even allowed a non-Baptist to preach in our church.
Among the gossips, do you know what the common denominator is? If you have been in ministry long, the answer will not surprise you. The theme among gossips is they tend to be in the church. This realization shook me when I first discovered most churches have a group of people who can be quite mean. I felt like my ideals of ministry were less attainable when I had this realization.
The saddest and most frustrating part of the criticism is that it is rooted in fear. Once fear is entrenched in the lives of people, it is like an infestation that is extremely difficult to remove. What are some of these fears that the churched people have? They have a fear of losing the past (often called the “good old days”). They have a fear of losing stability. With the community changing, the church becomes the one stable point. New people threaten this cherished stability. They have a fear of the unknown. What will the unchurched do to our church if they start coming? “What happens if we continue doing this?” was a frequently asked question last year when more unchurched people started attending First Anna. My answer: “What would happen? More salvations, outreach, healings, and freedom. What’s not to like?” Because we like to be in control in all aspects of our lives, the unknown offers no such control. And we love to control our churches.