Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”, Part 7: Chapter 4

Reminder: I’ve been working through this book with my old college roommate, Hollywood. His church is going through it, and I thought it’d be fun to go through this book about a fictitious New England church realizing that they’re “aging” and struggling through the aspects of what that is and what it looks like so it doesn’t die. Anyway, these are the thoughts this book provokes as I go through it…and it won’t hurt for you to read the earlier entries on this

Chapter 4 piggybacks on a statement of MacDonald at the end of chapter 3, “I had one goal for this evening. To get you thinking about exactly what you’re thinking–about what kills churches. But there’s something else that kills churches, and no one’s mentioned it.”

That’s the backdrop for a discussion the fictional small group has about the necessity of a church to constantly “reinvent.” He uses the examples of the early church moving from the Temple to people’s homes, and from “professional” ministry to individuals using gifts. He also touches on the American auto industry moving from horse-and-buggy to Henry Ford mass-production of automobiles and how the entire culture had to adapt.

At the end of the chapter, he quotes the character Yvonne, who’d opened the group in prayer:

“Well, I prayed that God would give us the power to listen and learn, and I for one feel that prayer has been answered. I have to tell you all that I’ve let my age speak too loudly to me. There’s something here I have to deal with. I’m beginning to realize that I want the church to be a place of safety and comfort. But Jesus was saying to those disciples that serving Him would be a life of danger and discomfort. Somewhere along the line I forgot that.”


He said it.

Ultimately, one thing that can kill a church is to allow for comfort and safety to rule the roost.

And, I think he’s right about the need to reinvent. As I’ve said before, student ministry is a place of almost constant reinvention. I mean, every year about 25% of the group graduates and 25% get promoted into it. The dynamics change at least yearly. The maturity level of the group is unstable. To keep up, you have to reinvent.

For example, this year, we noticed that while we had a very mature senior group, we had a somewhat immature group in the underclassmen. Our Sunday School class method wasn’t working for younger teens. So, we decided to replace the amphitheater style of seating we’d been using with round tables for small group discussion and relationship building. Interestingly, it failed.


So, in December, we went back to the old style…and then tried something new: Allowing those underclassmen to lead the middle school ministry as we teach through elements and styles of worship. This is causing them to grow more quickly, because they have to study more and be involved in the process. This, in turn, is helping our student ministry Sunday School class–using the older method, but with teens who have a new mindset.

Think of that: 2 reinventions in 4 months. Yet, we’re growing not only spiritually, but also numercially at a rapid pace, even in the springtime (a very poor time for most ministries to grow).

Even Madonna reinvents every 2 or 3 years. I mean, she went from the material girl to the “material mom” to spiritual diva to serious artist (and I’d suggest her song “Ray of Light” might be the very best she’s written, and she wrote it in her 40’s). We’re watching Miley Cyrus do it now. Filmmakers. Authors. Steel industry executives.

You gotta reinvent or you will die.

Seems obvious to me.