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New wineskins - I hate change!

By Steve R. Mills

The world is rapidly changing. People born at the beginning of the 20th century have gone from horse and buggy days to the space age, from an agrarian culture to a high-tech society.

The church must change to meet the challenge, not by changing biblical principles or compromising the gospel, but by changing methods, structures, and strategies. Change is essential if churches and Sunday schools are to minister effectively. Often change is difficult because we confuse methods with principles. We must hold to our principles, yet find new methods for a changing world.

Jesus scolded the religious people of His day for trying to put new wine in old wineskins. God is doing a new thing in churches which are willing to put aside preconceived ideas, traditions, and limiting structures.

Gordon MacDonald, sharing a discovery that he and the leadership of his church made, said, "The congregation's structure should always reflect the culture of its people and conform to whatever will help it accomplish the objectives God has presented for the congregation."

In dealing with changing times, those who know God must understand their times and adapt to meet the challenge.

How has our world changed, and what are the trends facing the church today?

Leith Anderson in his book, Dying for Change, lists 10 trends that the church must understand and deal with in order to be effective.

1. Mobility. People have fewer family ties and more shallow relational and societal roots. Church is no longer where you join and stay for life, but rather a "way station" along the journey.

2. Coloring. Immigration and the high birth rate among "persons of color" will continue. Black, Hispanics, Asians, and other non-whites are increasing in population, while the Anglo population is declining. Experts predict that by the year 2000, whites will be a minority population in California.

3. Graying. There are more Americans over 65 than there are teenagers. While the youth population is declining, the over 65 age group is expected to increase over 75 percent during the next 40 years. This group will hold increased power and clout, both economically and politically.

4. Women. It is expected that 61 percent of women will work outside the home. Currently 55 percent do. This may account for the difficulty in finding volunteers. More single and working mothers means they are committed elsewhere and unable to be as involved in the church as in past generations.

5. Pluralism. Our society has become increasingly tolerant of all kinds of ideals, beliefs, and rights. This has moved us away from moral absolutes to moral relativity. Many Americans do not have clearly defined convictions. Right and wrong have become subjective and relative.. Each one does what is right in his own eyes.

6. Shifts in Segmentation. Our society used to be segmented into lower, middle, and upper classes. Today the segmentation has been expanded and is determined more by age, gender, race, education, income, marital status, ethnic background, and so on. No longer do people go to a church because it is geographically close to them. They may drive to a different community if the church -"fits them better." Our society is consumer-oriented and market-driven. People pick and choose what meets their desires.

7. Short-term Commitments. Americans place high value on self, personal fulfillment, and independence. People don't want to do anything to limit their options. Also whenever a society experiences rapid change, mobility, and an emphasis upon self, long-term commitments are nearly impossible to obtain. Thus the church finds it difficult to recruit teachers for any length of time. Classes that once lasted 4 to 13 weeks are crammed into 1 day seminars. Task force assignments are more acceptable than long-term board assignments.

8. Decline in the Work Ethic. The primary goal of college freshman 15 years ago was developing a meaningful philosophy of life. Today it has switched to making money. Young people today are more interested in material success than in serving others. Tardiness and sick-leave abuse are increasing. Job fulfillment is a greater motivator than job security or high pay. People used to be satisfied with doing a good job regardless of the remuneration. Today people want remuneration and personal advantage.

9. Conservatism. Younger Americans are more conservative than their parents. However they may be politically conservative and morally liberal, or they may be religiously conservative but politically liberal. The plurality of our society has created a generation without a holistic, integrated, or cohesive worldview.

10. Cocooning. For some time, the trend has been back to the home as the center of life's activities and relationships. Home entertainment centers and home exercise equipment are popular purchases. The family is closing itself in, distancing itself from strangers, more inclined toward privacy. Shopping is done by phone, direct mail, and TV shopping networks. This directly impacts the church. The Sunday night and midweek activities are often viewed as competitive with family activities. People's privacy must be respected in evangelism and visitation efforts, or the church may lose more than it gains.

Not all of these trends are good. In fact, some are directly opposed to biblical principles and a truly Christian lifestyle. However, we must start with where people are and challenge them to a committed, devoted life unto God.

How will you respond to the needs of a changing world? Will you be an old wineskin, screaming, "I hate change!" If you want to be a new wineskin, there are some things you can do:

  1. Prayerfully seek God and His Word for a new vision.
  2. Study your church and community.
  3. Identify and learn about unreached people.
  4. Plan an effective strategy for reaching them.
  5. Make the changes necessary to reach them.

The world is looking for practical answers to real questions, lasting solutions to serious problems, and relevant responses to major issues. You and I can provide these if we will change. God will pour new wine into new wineskins to meet the needs of our generation.

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