Monday, September 22, 2008

Reaching People under 40 while Keeping People Over 60

That’s the title of a book by Edward H. Hammett and James R. Pierce (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007) that many congregations will find helpful. Hammett is part of George Bullard’s Columbia Partnership ( ) and Pierce works with him in seminars and workshops.

As I work with congregations, I always tell them that what is needed for effective ministry in the 21st century is not a quick fix program, but a culture shift in the way a congregation thinks of itself and the world around it. (Recommended reading: Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, John Wiley & Sons, 2005) A congregation’s culture is “The way we do things around here.” It springs from the congregation’s worldview, which is “What we believe around here.” It is the “default setting” for everything it does. A program may change the default setting for a time, but once the program is finished, the congregation goes back to the default setting of business as usual.

Changing the congregation’s culture doesn’t occur overnight or without conflict. Tom Friedman in his new best-seller, Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How it Can Renew America, made an interesting comment: “There has never been a revolution where no one got hurt.” America On Line recently published a list of “Memorable Companies that have Vanished”
( They included companies lost in the “retail revolution” like F.W. Woolworth and Montgomery Ward; those lost in the transportation revolution like TWA, Pan Am, and Eastern. As I write, there is a financial revolution going on that is shaking the foundations of our capital system. Who thought Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG would have fallen in one week? Someone probably did, but no one listened.

Hammett and Pierce make it clear that the church, too, is going through a revolutionary time that requires examination of the church’s culture in relation to God’s mission to the world. The key question the authors ask is “ Where does a person’s need for personal comfort end and a person’s commitment to the costliness of the gospel begin?” Sometimes in a revolutionary time we may need to lose in order that the Kingdom may gain. The authors write: “I love the church, but we church people are killing many of our churches to preserve our comfort. My challenge for you: Are you trying to preserve the church for yourself and your generation, or are you trying to do church in a way that reaches out to a new generation?”

Don’t expect a comprehensive theology of mission from this book, and if you are Lutheran, as I am, you will need to look beyond the obvious Baptist illustrations and theological talk, But do expect a good overview of generational differences and a fair briefing on societal change. The focus of the book is on creating a church culture that can be a “win-win” for all generations and for the Kingdom of God. The strength of the book is that it emphasizes the need for cultural change and not simply programmatic change, yet through some marvelous stories, insightful discussion questions, and practical examples, it speaks to those who also think in programmatic terms.

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