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I often run into a church that is in transition, looking for decisiveness on tender topics... should we have multiple worship styles? How can we serve milk for newbies while the regulars want meat? How do we get rid of this horrific TBN-esque pulpit when so many people value it so much?
As a consultant, these are the issues I tend to love the most. The reason I love them, is because I like to dig into the heart of the issue. I love to go beyond the surface "love for old hymns" and ask, "why do 'these' people like 'these' songs?" I am convinced that the answer is almost always deeper than we expect. Older folks do not like older songs simply because the songs are older. To these people, to any people, the worship style they like the most tends to be the style in which they felt closest to God (I am partial to some late ‘80s Rich Mullins myself). Our love for our favorite genre of music is a heart's attempt to reach back to these special times.
We were working with a church recently that was struggling with this change. By listening, we picked up on some interesting undertones. It led us to propose that if someone wants the songs sung today like they were thirty years ago, this person is more than likely struggling with two things when someone tries to bring about change: 1) That their greatest moments with God were in their past (instead of looking to find fresh times with God in their future), and 2) that their inability to learn all the words to all the new songs that we do in our A.D.D. song rotations (and small "very cool" overhead text) just makes them want to give up.
With this in mind, we worked with the leadership to cast vision for fresh experiences with God and to teach them a short list of new songs over several months. When we arrived back at the church 7 months later, the over 70 crowd were as much or more engaged in Tomlin-esque, acoustic worship than the twenty-somethings were.
The lesson learned: it’s not safe to assume the thoughts of any crowd. We have to learn their hearts—what makes them tick on levels they can't even express. And a little warning as well... just because it worked for this church, let's not assume it is the cure for all music transition woes. Looking to what other churches do to make our decisions can be tricky. Let's be like Paul... "become as one to reach one"—spend time with them. We need to let others in on our thoughts and ask them to share theirs. Often, they simply wanted to be asked to be a part of the solution or direction. Let's give ourselves time to get to the heart of the issue and share the burden of change together. Understanding the interests of others is part of our labor of love (Phil 2:2-4).
A factor that is often overlooked by church staff, but one of the most important to a visitor at church, is the Children/Student Ministry. What visitors want to see from Children’s Ministry and the Nursery is twofold—security and genuine care. If their kids have fun, that is the cherry on top. When they drop their kids off, they’re seeking a strong sense that their child will be safe, warmly and sincerely accepted, and seen as an individual child. They want to hear you say their child’s name and see you help the child become part of the group. To them, their child is not just another kid. It’s their kid. They want them to feel special and it speaks volumes if you make them feel that way…but even louder if you don’t.
Not too long ago, I asked some friends who had been looking for a new church how the hunt was going. They responded with how much they loved the ministry of a particular church, but were completely disturbed by how their young children were treated. When they would drop their children off, it was extremely difficult to get the attention of the teacher, and when they finally did, the children were checked in without a smile and “mushed” into the herd. This happened for several weeks in a row, and the same routine happened each time at pickup—only the teacher was not the only one without a smile…the children were equally discontent.
While the pastor preached his heart out and ministry was catered for them, these visitors—who were sure to become workers in the church—could not let their children grow up in that environment. They moved on.
What do your Children Ministries say about you as a church? How are you ensuring that the standards you have in your pulpit clearly exist in other parts of your church?