Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Church or Country Club

At a meeting with a local church group one night someone said that some people in the community referred to them as the “Country Club Church.” There was a general gasp of disbelief around the room. How could anyone think of them as a country club when they knew that they were not like that? We don’t have a lot of money.

That got me to thinking about how much many of our churches, especially the older ones, are like country clubs in many ways. When I was younger and in management I played golf at a local country club with my boss and spent some time at the clubhouse. While I was not a member we often ate lunch in the clubhouse after a morning round and would chat with other members of the club. I would listen to the older members criticizing the younger members for things they wanted to change about the club. Why would you want women and children hanging around your club? The menu was fine the way it has always been. You don’t need any of that fancy stuff on the menu. That only raises your expenses and it costs enough to run the club now. There is no reason to change the way we have always run this club. Look at what a great place we built here 40 years ago.

One day I picked up the paper and read that a group of young guys were putting together the money to build a new country club about 7 miles down the road. The guys at lunch would laugh and talk about how ridiculous it was to put in those swimming pools and more tennis courts. And they would never get anyone to go to that fancy clubhouse and eat at the fancy restaurant they were building. The apartments and condos that were being built beside the clubhouse would mean that there were women and children running around the club. Who would want to belong to a club like that?

A group of people got together and invested about 7.5 million dollars in the new club. There was a general sense of excitement when the club opened and people began to join. It quickly became the place to take business associates and guests if you wanted to impress them. That was where the younger professionals started hanging out, doing business and making new friends. It became the talk of the area and membership grew. I noticed that there were some of the older members from the old club joining too.

Back at the old club members started to notice that there were less and less young members joining the club. Their kids were joining the new club if they still lived in the area. And they didn’t have connections with the new people moving into the area because they were too established in their world and didn’t know how to reach out to the younger generations. I began to hear complaints that their sons didn’t come to the club anymore because they went to that big fancy new club down the road. Didn’t these kids understand how important it was to maintain some tradition?

It wasn’t long before care for the facility started to decline. The golf course began to show some wear and there wasn’t the same amount of help or service available. At the end of the year, the assessment to meet the budget each year began to grow and the need for more year end funding made it difficult for some members to justify their membership. Some began to leave the club because they couldn’t afford to meet the financial needs of the club.

Finally some member began to try and update the club. They added items to the menu, invited wives and family to more events. They even built a women’s locker room and began allowing women to eat in the clubhouse at lunchtime. But now there was not the money to meet the expectations of the younger people seeking a country club. Membership continued to decline and there was not the time or the people with the energy to make the needed changes. Eventually the club was sold to a man that opened it as a public golf course and restaurant. The old way of life had ended and it was a sad day in the community.

As I thought back on my days of being around the country club I realized that in many ways churches can be just like that old club. We want to hold on to our traditions and any attempt to bring about change is a threat to our way of life. We sit around a ridicule those that are younger and “don’t understand” and then watch as they go to other churches. We often think that they will “grow up” and return to our church. Have you noticed that is not happening? Look around your church and ask how many families in your church are multi-generational. I think you will be surprised to find that even in churches with large congregations that there are a limited number of families with more than two generations still in the same church.

We don’t like to admit it but younger people tend to think differently than we do and the young people of today are less likely to “grow up” and begin to think like we do. We can look at one or two things and say that is all we need to change and the young people will start coming back. We can continue to expect that young people will one day “grow up” and act like us. The truth is, we need to begin addressing the needs of people of all ages now. We need to think outside of our comfort zone, ask what is really important to the Kingdom of God. Jesus took the Jewish community so far out of their comfort zone that they wanted him killed rather than face change. There was a way that God had told them that you connected with God and if you couldn’t do it that way you didn’t belong. Did God also create the environment in which all of the changes in the world have taken place?

We are going to have to make some very difficult decisions in our churches if we are going to be vital in ministry and the making of disciples for Jesus Christ. Will your church be known for its relevance to the community or will it become like the country club that choose to pretend that the world around it was not changing?


Anonymous said...

Jeff, this one is a keeper! I think I am going to print it out and post it on my office door.

Andy Spore

Anonymous said...

Jeff, Remindes me of the story by Charles Swindoll of the life saving station in "Growing Stronger in the Seasons of Life". To be sure we need to get back to the 'heart' of the Kingdom of God and figure out what He is calling us to be about. After all it is not about us, it is about HIM.

garzoli7 said...

My belief in Country Club churches is that they are well built and have many members with the same economic base and are very intimidating to any one who needs to be discipled. I also believe these churches are not welcoming to those not 'like them". fRANKLY, I don't care of there are 3 generations in the same church, because of our mobile society. I just hope that they are attending a church that can reach out to the community and make a difference and accept a diverse congregation. This often in not the case.

garzoli7 said...

Mu opinion is that many small and large churches do not welcome people who are different, and would like to keep 3 generations in church, without thought to evangelizing those around them.Churhes often move "up" if the neighborhood changes, instead of ministering and evangelizing there. Yes, we need to tend to our flock, but at risk of dying off?

JLS2020 said...

After 3 years of membership, we left our local congregation because of its "country club" mentality. We had the same Senior Pastor for 42 years; he controlled everything himself, and the lay leadership let it happen; shame on him, and shame on them We learned of an unwritten "code" that someone had to be a member there for at least 4 years before they were allowed to serve on any governance committee (Finance, Nominating, Personnel, etc.). The congregation tended to be old, as a lopsided percentage of members were retired. So, most committee meetings were held on weekdays when working people couldn't make it. This effectively kept younger members from serving. So, we left the "good ol' boys clique" country club church. 'Praying for the Lord's leading to a congregation that will allow us to serve God and others, and where there are no barriers to using our talents for God's glory that get thrown in our path.