When Carolyn and I moved into our current house three years ago we knew that it needed significant up-dating to be more suitable to our tastes and more functional for our needs. Little by little we have been making changes that make it increasingly attractive and inviting — to us and others. Swag curtains in the bay window have given way to white venetian-style blinds. Pastel colours on the walls have been turned into rich earth tones. And dark ceramic tile flooring has replaced pale linoleum in some areas; shag carpet has replaced low-cut pile in others. Though costly, we have tried to minimize expenses by combining our own efforts with outside expertise. All together it has been an enjoyable experience even though there is still more to do.
From time to time church buildings need renovation and redecorating too. But there are changes taking place these days in the church that are much more profound than mere physcial ones. The building is one thing, but the need for new approaches to ministry in the church is quite another. The problem is that this matter of renovation in the church is much more complex than simply making cosmetic changes in how church is done. But unless individual churches adapt appropriately to changing times, their ministries will no longer be inviting or relevant.
The changes taking place in the church today are driven to a large degree by the reality of a changing world. An older generation learned to experience church as a highly organized institution that offered a variety of programs for its members and adherents. Formerly there was a huge emphasis on inviting people to come to a building in a central location where church happened. Christians expressed their faith by coming together on Sundays for worship, fellowship, presenting offerings for the sustaining of the church’s ministry, and listening to a message professionally prepared and delivered. But this rather limited form of church is giving way in these days to some very refreshing new ideas and experiences of what church is all about. Those who intentionally study and embrace the changes now taking place are experimenting and seeking expertise to adapt in cost-effective ways.
Evidently a new generation of Christians is vigorously challenging old ideas of church life and ministry. Their mind-set, though highly sophisticated, is geared to less formal approaches to spiritual life and ministry. For post-modern young people the Christian faith is more about living in community under the Lordship of Jesus Christ than it is about individual salvation and future eternal security even though the latter is still important. Church experience is a matter of participating in the community of Christ and His mission which is to proclaim and demonstrate deliverance for the oppressed. Worship with God’s people includes passionate praise, the celebration of the life of Christ, and attention to God’s Word in a variety of ways. But true worship for this generation also includes a commitment to practical hospitality and mission within the community in which the church exists.
So it is that a huge renovation of sorts is currently happening especially among western churches — undoubtedly partially influenced by cross-cultural exposure in the global nature of our world today. Thankfully a strong sense of commitment to biblical revelation continues but there is a movement that is seeking to understand how that revelation applies to our changing world. And in this pursuit there are some exciting new developments that will surely cause the church to grow and expand because it is seeking to be truer to the original revelation and more relevant than ever.
In his book, Church Morph, Eddie Gibbs has documented some of the changes that are taking place in the churches of England and North America. He provides what appears to be a thoughtful and well-balanced report on these changes. His book is part of a growing body of literature that identifies the reality of our changing world and the adaptations that must be made for the church to prevail.