In his book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, Carey Nieuwhof says that one of the reasons why a church isn’t growing is that the church is “more in love with the past than [it is] with the future.”
He says, “This can be true of churches that are in love with tradition and churches that have had some amazing days recently. When leaders are more in love with the past than they are with the future, the end is near. Many churches have frozen in their favorite era. Walk into some churches and it feels like 1949, 1970, 1996, or even 2005. Te songs are dated, as is the approach. It’s as if you’ve unearthed a time capsule. If your church is a museum of 1950 or even 2012, the likelihood of reaching the next generation diminishes with every passing day.”
He gives no further explanation as to why this is true, but I will. In outreach, anyone who connects with the congregation can only be part of the present and the future. It is impossible for them to be part of the past. When a congregation is more in love with its past than it is with its future, the message that is sent to and received by those new people connecting with the congregation is that they really aren’t all that important. The important people were those who were around during the era of the “glory days.”
What that communicates to the new people is this: “You’re wanted here, but don’t make or bring any suggestions that would have us do something different than what was done during those glory days.” People receive this message when they make suggestions to do things in a different way and are dismissed in some way.
And what is the typical result? Eventually, those new people go somewhere else where their ideas will be truly considered in helping determine future direction. And the congregation they left where their ideas were dismissed continues to get older and the numbers continue to decrease.
And that should not be surprising or mysterious whatsoever.