The vast majority of churches are incapable of change.
What kind of change? Anything that challenges status quo really. Racism, mission, sexuality, gender, you name it, institutional churches are never at the forefront of these shifts.
The main culprit: full-time salaried pastors in a consumer culture.
Being paid isn’t the problem. Most pastors I know are underpaid. However, most all full-time salaried pastors work in what is essentially the service industry. We are in a service peddling spiritual wares. In the service industry the customer is king. What they demand you deliver.
Churches are often the same.
The majority aren’t built to accommodate innovation. They don’t expect nor welcome change. The institution is in fact designed this way on purpose. Institutions work to keep things the SAME, not change it.
Within this context congregations expect certain things, and the majority of it falls within the status quo. Someone must provide all of the spiritual leadership/direction for consumption. In turn, some pay a tithe to participate.
I’m characterizing this relationship a bit, but you get the idea.
Here’s the problem: if congregations don’t get what they want, are challenged too much, hear something they don’t approve of, they’ll threaten to leave, and ultimately will.
Gone are those precious salary dollars.
I talk about this phenomenon in my book, Thrive, which I call the “Goldilocks Conundrum“. Pastors need to keep Goldilocks happy by not providing an experience that’s too hot, nor too cold. The “just right” of status quo is what the majority want even when that leads to self-destruction.
The context of the Goldilocks Conundrum was church planting, and how churches have abandoned mission in favour of unchanging Sunday services celebrating the latest Christian bands.
How can you work your way out of the conundrum?
I really don’t think established congregations can even change. I know a lot of bright-eyed leaders who think their own can, but I don’t know many who’ve won that battle.
I think there’s opportunity to start new initiatives at arms length from the institution that are from the onset built for constant change. For example, in Cypher Church, we’ve gone nearly two years with changing the format of our gatherings. Not a subtle shift of hymns one week and contemporary pop the next. It’s salsa dance one, painting the next, spoken word the one after.
The community simply expects change. Any other context would’ve rejected the second attempt.
That’s merely one example.
Yet the problem runs way deeper.
If a congregation would rather die than change, when you can’t even make basic cultural changes to, say, worship style, more important issues will be IMPOSSIBLE.
What makes you think a church can genuinely dig into the work of racial injustice, gender inequality, sexuality, etc.?
Entering these spaces, especially from dominant White contexts, is messy and prone to failure. Any multi-ethnic church worth their salt will attest to the higher levels of internal conflict because they’re actively engaged in reconciliation work. Conversely, White evangelicalism is largely still figuring out what to do with women. Many have already come down with decisions on sexuality. Most aren’t even capable of broaching their racialized privilege.
The reality is most can’t do the work because most won’t. The leaders at the helm can’t afford to lose their job, and subsequently won’t embrace the necessary risk.
Whether it’s out in the open or not, the job of salaried pastors is to keep things mostly the same. Leading people into active deconstruction for the sake of the Gospel isn’t understood as a value, nor are leaders built to even facilitate this change.
So we keep things mostly the same, and the dwindling faithful mostly happy.