Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
June 24, 2001

Growing churches offer more and more choices to people

Churches that want to grow must find ways to offer more and more choices to people. The churches that resist change and keep on doing what they have always done will soon be dead.

Though change is difficult, the alternative is worse.

Why is this so? There are several reasons which we can ponder.

One is the nature of the world in which we live. People have choices. People like choices. Free enterprise thrives on choices. Our economic system demands choices. Choices save life from dull monotony.

Take food for example. There was a time when you could go to the grocery story and buy a head of lettuce. Now it baffles the mind to see how many varieties of lettuce are laid out before us. In earlier times if you wanted a loaf of bread, you chose between white and wheat bread. Now we have a dozen or more choices of bread, in a variety of shapes.

I grew up with a distaste for raw onions. Then I discovered sweet onions. Having a choice I can now enjoy onions on a sandwich.

Once a car was a Ford or a Chevy, with few other options. Now there are dozens of different models of cars and trucks from which to choose. Most people are more concerned about a vehicle’s miles per gallon than about its make and model.

So our lives are filled with choices, and like it not, people think like consumers when it comes to religion. Few people move to a new community looking for a certain denominational church. They look for a church where they can feel accepted, and what that church offers their family. Churches exist in a competitive market and people evaluate them by the "goods and services" they offer. While that may not sound very spiritual, it is still true.

When it comes to worship, churches that want to grow are learning how to offer several types of worship services instead of only one. Church consultant Bill Easum has described four types of worship services occurring in churches today:

  1. "Spiritless Traditional" is the type brought to America from Europe. Outsiders consider it dull, lifeless, and boring, yet 80 per cent of all American churches fall into this category. What should alarm pastors is that over 50 per cent of the people who grow up in these churches do not stay in them.
  2. "Spirited Traditional" is similar to the first but different in that enthusiasm and vitality are added. Relevant sermons are preached with passion. Sadly, few than 10 per cent of churches use this form of worship.
  3. "Postmodern" is a new type of worship designed to reach unchurched people with a clear message in a language stripped of the usual church jargon. This service employs many new forms of technology, but very few churches offer this type which some describe as a "seeker service."
  4. "Praise" is the type now frequently called "contemporary" worship. What gets my attention is that about 90 per cent of growing churches use this style of worship. The key element in praise worship is music. Often a team of singers lead spirited congregational singing, and music is provided by a "band" of instrumentalists rather than an organ or a piano. Multimedia often enhance the worship experience.

Worship attendance at Trinity is up by about 150 since we began offering a "praise" service last January. While some people still prefer our other two types of Sunday morning worship services, many others have affirmed our decision to begin the new praise service. What is important is that people have choices and are allowed the freedom to make those choices according to their own felt needs.

Right now our church is considering other "changes" that may help us reach more people. Change is never easy. Change disturbs our comfort zones. But I remember that my mother one day switched from a wood-burning stove to an electric stove and she was glad she did.

Churches that are willing to embrace change and find new ways to offer the old message of the gospel will stay alive while other churches wither and die.

William Booth, who began the Salvation Army, was once criticized for playing drums on the streets to attract people to his meetings. He responded by saying, "I would stand on my head and play a drum if I knew that by doing so I might win one lost soul to Christ." In his day Booth found a new way to minister to the poor.

Booth’s followers continue his work today but they keep finding new ways to improve their ministry to the needy.

Embracing change, without losing the integrity of its mission, is absolutely necessary for the church that intends to stay alive and grow in today’s world.