UNITY & How to Maintain A Church’s Unity as It Multiplies & Diversifies

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10-24/15.

A student once shared a very common dilemma.  I’ve attached my response to help students, colleagues and clients struggling with diversifying a church while maintaining unity (and to explain how unity does not trump multiplication).

Here is what the student wrote:

As I helped the church see the need for change to reach younger generations we began to reach a younger crowd. Young people who had left the church were returning. At first it was just my presence of being a younger person myself. As we grew we had to make some difficult decisions about were we were intentionally headed. We didn’t want to neglect the older folks nor the younger folks either. We ended up making a decision to have two services that would meet each of their needs but some of the older more established people didn’t like the idea. Some comments were, “we’re dividing the flock” and “shouldn’t the young people (new people or unchurched) come at 8:00 a.m. instead of the traditional people.” We were running 135 people and could only sit 150 while our parking lot held less. Unfortunately 30 people left the church. I was crushed that so called mature Christians couldn’t sacrifice to see more people reached for Christ and grow in Him. We already had Wed. nights that was traditional, and Sunday nights that was traditional, and Sunday morning was traditional. I guess for some giving the younger folks 1/4 of the ministry focus was asking too much.

Here is my response:

Thanks for sharing a powerful, but unfortunately all too typical story when you said, “as we grew we had to make some difficult decisions about were we were intentionally headed. We didn’t want to neglect the older folks nor the younger folks either. We ended up making a decision to have two services that would meet each of their needs but some of the older more established people didn’t like the idea. Some comments were, “we’re dividing the flock” and “shouldn’t the young people (new people or unchurched) come at 8:00 a.m. instead of the traditional people.” “We were running 135 people and could only sit 150 while our parking lot held less. Unfortunately 30 people left the church. I was crushed that so called mature Christians couldn’t sacrifice to see more people reached for Christ and grow in Him. We already had Wed. nights that was traditional, and Sunday nights that was traditional, and Sunday morning was traditional. I guess for some giving the younger folks 1/4 of the ministry focus was asking too much.”

I don’t think the entire fault lies with those who left, but in the way we “grew” these older generations to understand today’s cultural differences.  Many of these older Builder Generation people grew up in a less diverse, more uni-cultural world.  Thus, they feel like their way of life is ending (it is) by this generational diversity.  We must show them that the message of Christ is, as Charles Kraft says, “supra-cultural,” meaning Christ’s message is not a culture, but is above culture (Christianity in Culture, 1979).

The key to keeping the older generation is to help them see they are a “culture” and that young people are a “culture” too (e.g. the “youth culture,” “counter-culture,” etc.).  Too often Builder-aged people can’t see why young people need things differently, unless we help them see that it is like learning a foreign culture.  If you don’t learn about the foreign uncomfortable for them.

Thus, step one is creating mutual respect.  But, you have to explain it to them in terms of a “culture,” or else they won’t get it.

And, then you just do like a missionary does.  A missionary comes to our churches, shows pictures of the people and their customs, and shares testimonies from these people.  This helps those of alien cultures (USA for example) to understand better the culture of the Two-thirds World.  So, have regular testimonials etc. from the youth culture at your Builder service (you must begin to do this, or risk losing even more).

Secondly, we must have quarterly unity services.  Not services where services are combined because of a low-attendance Sunday, but where we join together to celebrate our diversity.  These unity services must happen at least once a quarter.  Again, pattern this after a missionary service, where the missionary may bring a youth choir to sing in the cultural language and dress.  Remind the Builder Generation that to expect this culture to become like them is analogous to Colonialism, where empires tried to make people like themselves.  We fought wars against Colonialism, including the Revolutionary War and World War II (against Japanese and German Colonialism).

With these two steps, cultural-acclimation and unity-gatherings, you can keep a church diverse, yet united.  If we don’t we will wind up with a church divided and uni-cultural.