by Joani Schultz
Change is scary.
What’s happening to the church as we know it makes a lot of us nervous. Even downright fearful.
All this change reminds me of the summer youth group canoe trips we used to take. We’d load up vans of teenagers and together navigate all kinds of water. The exhilarating experiences—and campfire-worthy stories—mostly came from paddling through the rapids. We’d fear, cheer, and then celebrate our canoeing accomplishments—sometimes not believing we’d come through the bubbling waters alive.
Fast forward to me sitting with church leaders ready to lead and manage change. In preparation for paddling through the rough waters of church change, we watched clips from the documentary When God Left the Building.
In the film, Steve Sasson, the inventor of the digital camera, talked of the Eastman Kodak Company’s demise. Without realizing it, he told a modern-day parable for the church. He articulately recalled Kodak’s climate of fear and unwillingness to address the changing culture.
Notice the changing culture.
Kodak failed to notice the way young people were using pictures. No longer were photos used to memorialize an event; now photos were used to instantaneously share with their friends.
“They were using pictures differently. And we failed to see that.”
Embrace using “church” differently.
What if, in this parable, we replace “pictures” with “church”?
If “church” only feels like we’re “memorializing” an event, we’re missing the boat.
“Museums can be fascinating places to recall a bygone age—to stop for a moment and remember the impact of certain things, people, and events in our lives. But that moment shouldn’t be the only moment we experience week after week. Our faith needs much, much more.”
We know church isn’t an hour on Sunday morning we check off our to-do list. But our culture acts that way. We know church isn’t just about studying the Bible and what happened thousands of years ago. But our culture sees church as more “then” than “now.”
We need to see church differently.
What if the church, the body of Christ, acted more like our digital cameras? Our culture uses cellphone cameras like air. Imagine our faith as relevant, breathing, alive, and ever-present as Jesus.
What could be more exciting? There are more pictures today than ever! The number of photos has exploded. As the church, our relationship with God could be lived as an ever-present, instantaneously shared relationship reaching more people today than ever.
So, what does that look like? I adapted a few practical ideas from our book:
Be the Church Differently
- Trust the Holy Spirit and expect God to show up. We grip too tightly to our own agendas in sermons and Bible classes. Ask more questions. Wonder. Then thank others for their honesty even if/when they say something we struggle with.
- Listen. Don’t assume. The next time you’re tempted to say “I know why people avoid church or fear change,” bite your tongue. Kodak thought it knew why people took pictures. Something changed, and it wasn’t willing to listen.
- Envision what you’ll gain. Don’t let fear of loss overshadow potential gain. Yes, it can be scary to make changes we need to make. But that can’t keep us from moving forward. Kodak’s fear of losing what its film empire had built superseded what it could’ve gained (leadership in digital photography).
It’s shocking to learn Kodak invented the digital camera—and then locked it away!
God’s incredible love for us in Jesus can’t be locked up because we won’t change. Through massive cultural changes, Jesus continues to believe in us. Remember what he said to Peter (whose name means “rock”)? “Upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18).
If you’ve never experienced the beauty and power of canoeing through the rapids, you’re in for a treat. Embrace the change; don’t fear it. God promises a great ride!
Psst…you might also enjoy these articles about leading change in your church.