Those who follow Jesus embody fluidity, adaptation, and collaboration. It’s what we call the third-culture way. Adaptable to changing circumstances. To challenging cultures. To complex crises and problems. If there’s one quality that matters most to the fate of the church in the twenty-first century, it’s adaptability.
––From Dave Gibbons, The Monkey and the Fish
––Quoted in Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains
If I was going to describe the churches I’ve served for the last 35 years, “adaptability” is not the first word that would leap to mind. Loving? Yes. Friendly? Yes. Faithful? Yes. Generous? Absolutely. But adaptable? … Not so much. The seven congregations I’ve served have all been deeply devoted to the traditions passed down to them, and, typically, deeply suspicious of nearly everything that falls under the heading of “new” or “different.”
That’s not a criticism, you understand. It’s more of an observation. Keeping beloved traditions alive can be an act of faithfulness all by itself. And personally, when it comes to resisting change, I’m about as good at it as most people are. Frankly, “different” becomes harder to take as we go along. It requires more effort. It leads us into unfamiliar territory. It can feel threatening. So, it’s no surprise that we tend to hold on to what we know as a sort of bulwark against change. Believe me, I get it.
When I think back to my youth, I remember singing “The Times They Are a Changing” with a certain gusto. It felt like the hymn of a new generation, back then. But though the times have indeed changed, what we do at church has largely remained the same. We’ve made a virtue out of necessity along the way, claiming that we are holding on to a sacred trust that society was going to come back to eventually. But that strategy doesn’t appear to be working terribly well. We are blessed to still have a vibrant, active congregation with healthy resources. But we are not attracting the next generation. Much as we might rather not, the time has come to embrace adaptability.
For instance: One of the dominant suggestions that came out of our all-church meeting back in October is that we form some kind of Public Relations Team. It’s a good idea. In the past, we never really had to spend much money or effort on letting the larger community know who we are or what we do. Simply opening the doors on Sunday morning was enough to bring in a steady stream of new people. Now, many of those we would like to have join us, don’t know us. We are not “in the public eye” as we once were. And not knowing us, they would have no way of knowing the terrific church we are; that we welcome everyone as a matter of covenant; that we do not get involved in politics or tell people how they should be voting; that we are actively involved in caring ministries that span the whole city; that we offer a terrific worship experience. In short, that we have open-minds, open-hearts, and open-hands.
So … we need to tell them, and we need some help to do that. We need to identify people who are experienced and creative in working with various types of media, who will be willing to help us share our FCC story in ongoing ways. And, we need to think seriously about what these efforts will cost, with an eye toward finding ways to fit those costs into our budget. If you have suggestions and/or would like to help, I would like to hear from you. This isn’t the way we have always done it, but it is a step in the direction of the “one quality that matters most to the fate of the church in the twenty-first century.” Adaptability.
Yours in Grace,