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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Insiders and outsiders

To embrace relevance, mainline churches need to let go of survival

Here's my hunch. Everything for me rises or falls on this bet. I'm putting all my eggs in this basket: The turnaround of mainline churches will happen when we in those churches care as much about those outside the church as we do those inside. To embrace relevance, we will have to let go of survival.

That's it. That's all I've got. If I'm wrong, fire me now. I'll die on this hill.

What does this mean? My theory is that mainline churches have ceased to be relevant to the culture because insiders trump outsiders every time. All decisions, even little ones, are made for the benefit of those inside the church. Insiders trump outsiders.

CorbisTake hymns, for example. Musical decisions aren't made considering what will attract spiritually hungry outsiders but what will please the card-carrying, bill-paying membership.

Time and time again church leaders receive heat from insiders upset about this or that because they are trying to re-create a childhood church experience or simply have a rigid idea of church. Leaders cave in to these insiders because they control the purse strings.

Insiders are inherently change-averse. People don't like change, especially those who have status in the church.


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