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3 Truths About The Accelerating Pace of Change and Leadership

accelerating change

When was the last time you had a productive conversation about the pace of change?

In many businesses, that conversation happens all the time. In church world….it rarely happens.

Instead, church leaders will talk about how hard it is to change and how slow the pace of change is. Other they bemoan the reality that their church will never change (here are 7 signs that’s likely the case at your church).

What if there’s far more at stake in the conversation around change than you think?

Like irrelevance, for starters.

What’s the fastest path to irrelevance? Simple. Don’t change.

Why are change and relevance connected? It has everything to do with speed and currency.

Rick Warren said it well in his Tedx Talk: when the speed of change around an organization is faster than the speed of change within the organization, the organization becomes irrelevant.

Here are 3 truths about the accelerating pace of change and church leadership.

1. Culture never asks permission to change. It just changes.

Ever notice that culture never asks permission to change? It just changes.

In the last decade and a bit, think about the change we’ve seen.

Long distance calls used to cost money. Now they don’t.  Weekday minutes were expensive.  Evening and weekend minutes were cheap. Remember telling your friends you’d call them after 6 p.m. or on Saturday? Now that’s irrelevant.

Payphones are gone. So are video stores. Record stores are almost extinct except for vintage vinyl places. Ditto with phone books, and even calling 411 (anyone remember when you used to call a number for information?).

What do all of these changes have in common? None of these changes asked for anyone’s permission…they just happened.

One of the reasons change will continue to be hard is because culture never asks permission to change. It just changes.

2. Culture will change faster than you

So let me ask you…what’s changing faster, the culture or the church?

Exactly.

The pace of cultural change has accelerated significantly in the last few decades for at least one key reason: everyone moved online and all delay was taken out of communication.

Social media has accelerated the pace of change even further, because trends catch on almost instantly now.

Think of fashion and design. Trends come and go faster than you post a selfie.

But it’s more than just preferences that are changing. Netflix killed video stores. Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi industry. Amazon and online shopping are making retail malls look like ghost towns.

As a result, culture is changing faster than many organizations, let alone churches.

So what’s the point here? Great question.

It’s simple: self-awareness.

Many churches have implemented some level of change and proudly proclaim themselves as up to date and current.

The truth is, the church might no longer feel like 1968. Instead, it feels like 1996 or 2004.

The church is contemporary compared to what it used to be, but it’s not at all current with the culture.

Add to that the reality that the change was painful enough that the leaders don’t want to change any more.

Want a quick test to see how current your church is? Check the copyright dates on the songs you sing most. Many ‘contemporary’ churches are at least a decade behind.

Then check the average age of your musicians and worship leaders.

I know, not a fun exercise. But it simply reveals this: what you think is contemporary isn’t.

Why am I picking on music?

Two reasons. First, it’s a universal language. It’s an incredible bridge to culture or a barrier against it.

And second, you spend somewhere between 30-50% of your Sunday morning services on music.

In all likelihood, if your music is out of date, so is your church.

3. Leaders who don’t understand the culture will never be able to speak into it

I fully understand that more than a few readers of this post will feel their blood pressure rising and anger growing.

After all, what’s the goal of this all? To mimic culture? Aren’t we supposed to be in the world but not of it? And isn’t the church an alternative to culture.

Well, the goal of the church is not to mimic culture. Our goal is to lead people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But those people live in a culture that we often don’t understand.

And here’s the hard news: leaders who don’t understand the culture will never be able to speak into it.

You become like the older adult who can’t communicate with anyone under 40 because you only call people, never text, don’t do social media and think all of that is unnecessary.

Or you become like the carriage maker in the age of the Model T who can’t understand why no one wants to hitch wagons to their horses anymore.

Leaders who lose touch with the culture won’t be able to reach it.

So What Do You Do?

So what do you do if you find both you and your church out of touch and ineffective at speaking into the lives of people living in 2017?

A few things.

1. Become a student of culture

My personal musical tastes don’t exactly run as current or mainstream as a 25 year old any more. But every month I’ll jump on Apple Music or Spotify and listen to a current Top 40 playlist to listen just to hear what others are listening to.

Ditto with film and TV. Staying on top of culture by growing sites like Entertainment Weekly or even People can help you stay on top of what’s current. Sure, they’re not exactly the literature of champions, but if you don’t understand the culture, you’ll have a harder time reaching it.

2. Surround yourself with younger leaders

Wise older leaders surround themselves with younger leaders. Personally, I love being around young leaders. They bring a fresh energy, perspective and joy to life and leadership that I value so much.

In addition, people under 30 are cultural natives. They get trends because they make them.

Having young thinkers, dreamers and leaders around your table in leadership and having them a part of your life will keep you fresh and in tune with what’s happening.

Better yet…let them lead.

3. Don’t freeze

The biggest challenge with change is most of us think at some point we’ll be done.

That’s just not true.

Most churches stop changing at some point. Walking into a church, you can usually smell a year. Some churches smell like 1977, some like 1989, others like 2010. You smell like the year you stopped changing. Churches freeze in particular years because the leaders stopped innovating.

So…don’t freeze. Keep morphing. Keep changing. Stay current, and you’ll always be able to speak to the culture.

What Helps You Stay Current?

Want more on change?

I wrote about how to lead change in my book, Leading Change Without Losing It.

I wrote about the cultural and strategic issues churches need to engage to grow in my latest book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow. I even created a Team Edition video series for Lasting Impact so you could discuss it with your staff, board or team.

So…what helps you stay current?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

13 Comments

  1. Gene White on June 24, 2017 at 10:20 pm

    I must say I disagree with some of your premises, especially about music. The purpose of hymns is to sing into the heart of the people the Biblical truths of scripture. The selection of hymns should tie in with the readings for the day and the sermon. Contemporary “praise songs” rarely achieve that status.

    Yes, the above is the format for a liturgical service that has meaning, depth and relevance. Yes, it isn’t contemporary and guess what it doesn’t need to be. One of the fallacies of trying to be “contemporary” is the loss of historical context and bringing the “world” into the church and to make folks comfortable right off the bat. The church is not “of the world” really, it is “in the world” and counter-culture to the world, and those who are just checking out your great band are not going to be uncomfortable, but they should be. They have to be open to change in order to embrace historical Christianity, not some watered down version that is a mere shadow.

  2. Stephen Bedard on June 17, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I want to amen the comment about how in the outside church culture, older music is still popular. Some of the most popular radio stations play the best music of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. When I was leading a youth group just ten years ago, I was amazed at how popular Led Zeppelin was among the teens.
    Instead of limiting the worship set to songs written in the last 5-10 years, why not do the best songs from all generations and do them well? That’s my observation as a student of culture.

  3. Susan on June 17, 2017 at 6:36 am

    I am not a pastor. I want to help the younger generation to come to Jesus. Reading your blog is helping me to understand that I have to keep up with the culture. I go to a church I think stop in the 70’s. I feel stuck and I am not getting what I need for my growth in the Lord. correct me if I am wrong where I go to church everyone is related to one another or friends. I see favoritism going on. All the elders are daughters or son’s of the pastor. This makes it difficulty for me because I see a lot of manipulation going on and hidden pride and putting people down with humor during a sermon. I have a hard time with this because I was raised in a very strict southern baptist upbringing if I did anything wrong I would go to hell. I had a spirit of religion. God has opened my eyes to it. I need some help here. I need some advice. I sense in my spirit to leave and go some where else. But my husband disagrees. Anyone out there can relate. For me I do not like mega churches because I sense that Satan can hide in them. Thank you for you blog and keep up the good work.

  4. Devaun Walker on June 14, 2017 at 12:01 am

    Great post, Carey! At that fine intersection of cultural relevance and Biblical truth is where the Church will find success. Think about the parables Jesus told: those were culturally relevant stories that people resonated with to understand what it meant to be in relationship with God and still go to work in the mornings. So too are we creating worship experiences that resemble everyday life so that we may learn how our day-to-day can be acts of worship. We can’t expect an unchurched person to “get it” if we don’t provide enough for them to stand on. Faith is hard. Reminding yourself of that and taking steps to stay relevant in engagement is the best way to present the unchanging message of grace to a consistently changing world. As I’ve heard it before, “we need to marry the mission and date the model.” Stay current! Thanks for sharing this.

    Devaun Walker
    Ashley Ridge Church

  5. Tony on June 13, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    I agree with the sentiments of the article. The church needs to move on and stay relevant by becoming “all things to all men.” Of course, there are lots of variables. For instance, in our small country town, as much as we’d like it to be otherwise, everything isn’t cutting edge. Also, with regards to music, although I largely agree with the article (otherwise we’d be doing mainly hymns each week), there are some qualifiers. 1) Small churches generally have worship teams composed of who is available, and can’t afford to be picky about the ages of those involved. We’re blessed as a church, largely because we have a bunch of available young people. But also because we have a senior pastor (me!) and a youth pastor who are musical and able to pass on those musical skills to those young people who are interested. 2) Some songs never go out of date, regardless of the copyright date. For instance, Amazing Grace is one of the best known songs in the world, not because the church has made it famous, but because a lot of famous people have sung it too, as well as its having been used in movies, on TV, in talent shows, at public events, etc. And the song is almost 300 years old! 3) Even if the copyright date is 2004, when a song is introduced to a church, provided it’s a good song, it might as well have the current year next to the copyright symbol. A great song is still a great song. And genuinely great songs have a much longer shelf life, both in and out of the church. Witness all the classic songs of the 50s, 60s and 70s that young people today still love. 4) A wide range of musical styles is acceptable to the young people of today. For instance, I am perpetually amazed that today’s young people like country music, a musical style which, in my not-very-unbiased opinion, was dated from the day it was invented. But numerous young people still like it. There’s room to move here. But let’s try our best to relate to the community around us.

  6. Annie on June 13, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    This is about style, fashion, trend, modes, technology, cultural relevancy (religious secularism). Nowhere is mentioned Jesus, bible, repentance, faith, love of God, biblical relevance (He is the same, yesterday, today and forever; that’s in the bible btw). Jesus was not relevant to his generation. He challenged it with the word of God. This piece here is why the Western church is in trouble. Who cares if your faith is rooted in Christ as long as you are relevant with the world.

    • Adam on September 22, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      Actually, Jesus very rarely used the “word of God” (which back then was a very small portion of the Old Testament). He related with people through their current cultural experiences and parables, which were a form of entertainment then. So Jesus was, you know… culturally relevant…

      If we don’t seek to be culturally relevant, more people are going to hell because we didn’t adapt to the culture (like Jesus did) to understand and ultimately reach them. This is not at all talking about “religious secularism.” The Pharisees probably thought something similar of Jesus.

      • Annie on September 25, 2017 at 10:32 am

        When our culture embraces sin, and forces us to do likewise to be “relevant” with them, then I think relevance is misguided at the least. Jesus reached out to his generation without embracing their sin and their hypocrisy. He confronted them with both. He exposed them by parables and stories which was common in those days. Interestingly, He used scripture to the Pharisees, but plain speaking of sin to the common folk. But He never compromised. His purpose in coming was not to be relevant but to expose sin, and redeem the lost by His death. He came, as He said, to reveal Truth. I am ever thankful that the Gospel is relevant in every culture, every time frame, and for every human being that ever lived; without compromising one iota.

  7. Vince on June 13, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Makes sense to me as reaching people (who don’t know Jesus) requires being relevant (so that engaging can happen).
    Thanks for your thoughts/writings/podcasts.

  8. Curtis Hinds on June 13, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Hey Carrey. Absolutely love love love your podcasts and blogs (I’m sure you get that allot). I just wanted to add strength to your success by saying that I often notice a number of spelling and grammatical errors in your blogs. Do you have anyone that helps to proof your writing? If not, I would be happy to volunteer to do that for you if needed.

    Once again keep up the great body of work. What you are doing is fantastic.

    Curtis Hinds
    Catch the Fire Toronto

  9. Me Anonymous on June 12, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    In regard to the comment “In all likelihood, if your music is out of date, so is your church.”

    Even though the 20sumthins want only songs with a 15 minute shelf life, what passes for CCM these days is not as new as you think. You may not be aware that a HUGE chunk of CCM these days is lifted from Edge (of U2 fame). Don’t believe me? Confirm that with any of your cookie cutter youthful guitar players.

    Welcome to the American Idolization of church folks. Submit to the agenda or get out.

    Well, I got out.

  10. Joanna on June 12, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Hey how about we stop having a secular mindset and thinking God’s ability work is conditioned by our ability to keep up to date. It’s not about what we are doing it’s about Him and what he is doing. I’d rather be in a small church that”s full of people who are growing in spiritual maturity than a large church filled with people who are only there because the music and sound system are right. If you really want to be a successful leader, stop trying to be successful. It”s not about you, your ministry or your church, it”s about true surrender. When you do that then you. If your a leader whose surrendered and obedient it doesn’t matter who does or doesn’t think your successful. Your successful on God’s eyes and that’s all that matters.

    • Greg Walker on June 12, 2017 at 5:45 pm

      Stop trying to be successful? What should we try to be?

      Perhaps you are conflating “successful” with “popular”? But if we have properly defined the purpose of our churches as making disciples that make disciples, shouldn’t we be putting all of our energy into being successful?

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