An Inconvenient Truth
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2014 Feb 24
You are a church that is not experiencing the growth you desire, particularly among the young and unchurched.
You have a solid constituency, but they are older and, most definitely, churched. They are good people, giving people, serving people, but they like the church the way it is.
You know, as a leader, that times have changed. Culture has shifted dramatically. Unless you reach the next generation, the church will simply get older and smaller, year by year, until it is a shell of what it once was.
But if you attempt to implement some of the things you know could make a difference, you run the very real risk of alienating your current base of support. The people paying the bills, serving in the nursery, and leading your teams.
So you feel stuck. If you don’t change, you fear a slow death. If you do change, you fear a quick death. Either way, you die.
So you look for the silver bullet. You search for the solution that you can seamlessly weave into the life of the church that will solve all of your problems but keep everyone currently attending happy.
There’s only one problem.
It doesn’t exist.
It never has, and it never will.
The reality is that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you’ve always been.
(That might be worth re-reading.)
I’m sure you’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. But countless churches reflect this exact mental illness. If you want things to be different, you’ll have to do different things.
And when you do, expect resistance from the people who liked things the way they were. But you won’t be able to leave things the same and do things differently.
As Jesus said, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ” (Luke 5:37-39, NIV)
I’m sorry to say this, I really am. I know what lies before many of you as leaders as a result, but here’s the truth:
You must change or die.
If you change in the substantive ways you probably need to regarding style and strategy, you will lose people. And it may take some time for the results to pay off, ensuring a very difficult period in the life of your church, and your life as a leader.
But you must change, or die.
It’s an inconvenient truth.
But it is truth.
James Emery White
On this, see James Emery White, Rethinking the Church (Baker).
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones, is now available for pre-order. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.