There are many alarming statistics about the current reality of the church in western culture. One study of a major denomination concluded that 89% of the congregations were either plateaued or in decline. Similar realities characterize other mainline denominations. So what should we do? Do we throw our hands up in despair? Do we give up on the church? Do we abandon the existing churches and just start over? I am reminded that Jesus said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins.” (Luke 5:37). Notice Jesus did not say you cannot use old wineskins. He simply stated the conventional wisdom that new wine in old wineskins causes the wineskins to burst. Some might respond by quickly saying “Let’s burst the old wineskins and start over with new ones.” The problem with this attitude is it fails to recognize that when wineskins burst, all the wine is lost.
Let’s go beyond the parable and consider if you can ever use old wineskins with new wine. The problem with old wineskins is found in the expansion that takes place during the fermentation process. Older wineskins are often brittle and not very flexible. One possible solution would be to put less new wine into the wineskin. Leave room for the expansion of the new wine. What that means in church life can be simply stated: don’t try to change too much too quickly. Assess how far you can go without breaking the wineskin.
The reference to old wineskins and new wineskins in this conversation is completely unrelated to worship styles, musical selections or other items of personal preference. Wineskins in this context is about focusing our attention on more basic principles of priorities and purpose as it relates to a church’s missional strategy. “Cultural bias afflicts us all and colors what we believe about church life,” says one writer. Therefore, it is imperative that we not allow our personal preferences to dictate our strategies. Instead, we need a well-conceived methodology based on cultural realities in the field of service.
Brad Bessent, Gospel Unleashed, n.d.