Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”, Part 3: Chapter 1


I’ve known Hollywood for nearly a quarter-century. We were roommates in college for a couple of years and kept in touch, mostly via Christmas cards or a yearly phone call. Then came e-mail and blogging and social networking and now there’s rarely a week we don’t communicate.

Anyway, he’s a deacon at his church and their board decided to walk through the book together. I needed something to read on a rainy Sunday (and Monday) so I thought it’d be fun to work through it with him. I’m glad I decided to do this, too. The book has my brain engaged big-time.

MacDonald decided to write the book as a work of fiction (after several failed starts and stops, realizing that there are already tons of books out there on church-change). He and his wife are the only two “real” people, and he creates an ad hoc committee of sorts, about 15 or so long-time New Englanders at a church of about 200. The characters are speaking for a broad range of what I’m guessing are actual comments he’s heard over the years regarding change and churches.

Our church has high ceilings.
Our church has a large foyer and very wide hallways…of which people will visit and chat, sometimes even getting caught up for a good 10 minutes after the service has started.
Our church has lots of natural light and big, clear windows and glass doors.
Our church has nametags pre-printed so people can grab theirs when they come in.
Our church has an informality about it: Lots of folks in jeans and comfy clothes.
Our church has a blend of contemporary music and classic hymns (but most arrangements of those are modern).
Our church has basketball goals in the auditorium.
Our church has chairs, not pews.
Our church has a big cafe where people can get coffee, tea, and hot chocolate before and after the service.
Our church has a cry room where you can go if you don’t want to put your child in the nursery but you still want to “be in” the service.
Our church has communion using crackers and grape juice out of big brass tins we pass around and we can serve communion to 400 people in about 10 minutes.

All of it was planned. There were committees. Who had meetings. Who brought plans to groups of people. Who made adjustments. More meetings. More plans back to groups of people. Who okayed the plans.

And all of it was based on what we valued 10 years ago.

And our students, many of whom have grown up in our church really don’t know of a corporate worship environment any different than this.

And, well, almost everything on that list would’ve made my grandmother cringe.
And, well, almost everything on that list would’ve made my mom happy.
And, well, almost everything on that list would’ve been modified by me to some small degree.
And, well, almost everything on that list would’ve given our children a basis to begin questioning as they make their faith their own.

Why can’t it be darker? Can’t candles and incense set a more worshipful tone?
Why can’t people get to church 10 minutes early and come in and be solemn to prepare their hearts for worship? Can’t they visit after the service?
Why can’t we take the time to learn people’s names instead of using the nametags as a crutch?
Is it possible we’ve all gotten a little too informal?
Why can’t we strip worship down instead of large, polished praise bands? Why can’t we write our own songs?
Why don’t we have a dedicated space for worship if it’s the most important thing we do?
And, if worship is the most important thing we do, why would we want coffee, tea and hot chocolate in there?
Why don’t we want our babies in the service if we’re a big family? And, well, babies cry sometimes. Why give them a separate room?
Why can’t we take communion out of a common cup and walking an aisle? Maybe have a sit-down dinner and a full-blown communion service instead of trying to get it done within a time frame?


I hear you.

There is room for both.

Neither is “wrong.” They’re both personal preferences.

But what I got from chapter 1 was the idea that the current middle-age generation gets offended when their “values” are questioned and practices unembraced…when that’s precisely what they did to the previous generation! Here’s a conversation the author uses to illustrate this reality to one of his fictional churchgoers:

“They [programs and styles currently used in their church that the older generation put in place] were things our generation made happen in our best days. But now another generation wants to make things happen. And we have to figure out how to accept this and rejoice in their vision. In a sense they’re doing what we did to our parents. You don’t think for a moment that our mothers and fathers liked all the stuff we changed, do you?”

…We have to figure out how to release this church into the hands of others and do it with enthusiasm. And that means we’ve got some thinking to do.”

What I find interesting is that the older generation pushes back pretty hard on things the younger generation wants, when the reality is that they wanted the same freedom to make changes when they were the younger generation!

We should’ve expected it.
We should’ve seen it coming.
We shouldn’t resist it.

But we do.

To our peril, if we go too far.

So, the question today, patrons, is whether or not we really want to do the thinking…

…and the implementation…

…required of us to give the next generation their shot.