An Afternoon with Rick Atchley and Chris Seidman – Part 2 (Sept-Dec 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

By Jay Guin

Jay: If you had to do over again, what would you have done differently?

Rick: I’m a leader of the church. I should have been more energetic in making that conversation come about sooner.

The second thing I would have done differently is I would not have started on Saturday night. I would have started on Sunday morning. It is still the time when the most people think it’s time to go to church.

If you’re doing it to reach people who aren’t in church, do it at the time they are most apt to try to come to church.

Saturday night created one more barrier to cross. First, we had to cross the instrumental barrier, and then a year and a half later, I had to cross another barrier, whether we do it on Sunday. When we did it on Saturday night, we could take everything down and members could walk in on Sunday and the instruments aren’t even there, but we can’t do that anymore.

Jay: What advice to you have on handling the announcement to the congregation and the transition?

Rick: If you saw or heard the “Both/And” sermons, they all started with an affirmation from someone who carries a lot of weight here. One or two of them were elders or former elders.

But as far as the announcement itself, I made it. I did the teaching, and then the elders made themselves available three straight Sundays from 2:00 to 5:00. We never had more than 6 or 7 people a Sunday come up and visit. But the statement that it made was good. It did help some people. It just helped some people to feel heard.

Chris: And, Rick, you also had, what at that point? 16 years under your belt with your congregation?

Rick: Yeah, it would have been 16 years. You know, credibility doesn’t transfer. I don’t care how great a preacher you were somewhere else, it doesn’t transfer.

After 16 years, I’d earned the right to be heard with an open mind. People knew I wasn’t faddish. They knew I had a devotion to the book. It was huge that I was trusted as a fair and competent handler of the word. I don’t think committees can communicate vision to a church as well as a single voice can.

Jay: Time frame from the time you guys decided to do this until your first service?

Chris: Let me answer that because I want to piggyback on what Rick said.

I was little bit different from Rick. In November 2001 I brought a proposal to the elders for the education of the church in 2002. Then September 2002 is when we launched the service.

We spent November 2001 walking through the plan, and then in February and March 2002 we met with the staff. By April we’d met with the lay leaders, and then May was the announcement to the church. Four months later we started the service.

Rick: I first spoke with the elders in the summer of 2006. I said it’s time to have the conversation. We are a church bleeding on both sides. We’re treading water, and we’re all getting tired, and so let’s have the conversation.

So they agreed to have it and asked me to lead them in the teaching. So I did the teaching in October. We fasted and prayed for two weeks, with the understanding that at a certain point, at the end of October, a decision would be made.

We announced it to the church in November. We did the teaching in December. We started the first of February.

Our sense was, and I felt pretty strongly about this, don’t make this announcement and say, now, next year at this time we’re starting. If you’re going to do it, say here’s the plan and here’s when it starts. It can’t be in two weeks, and it doesn’t need to be in nine months. You’re just giving people time to second guess.

All of that was understood. So within three months of the announcement, we had our first service.

Jay: How did your congregation react to the announcement? How many members did you lose?

Chris: We didn’t lose as many as I anticipated. When we made the transition at Farmers Branch in 2002 and then even when we became a multi-site church in September 2007, we had a good segment of the church that was 60 years of age and older. In both situations, when we added the instrumental service in 2002 and when we multi-sited to another campus, they said, “You know what? It’s not for us; it’ll never be for us; but we understand why you’re doing it.” And they were supportive of the decisions, and that was a great blessing.

I believe when you sow mission and talk mission, many people will grab hold of that, and they’ll grant leadership some latitude to try some things — and it’s important to have that latitude because it is a steep learning curve anytime you do something new, and it was for us!

Rick: He’s right. Our most gracious members were the very oldest people. The age range we lost was the 40 to 60 year olds. Among the 70 and up group, we didn’t lose anybody.

Chris: Great point.

Rick: And part of it, I think, is that you reach a certain age and you begin to realize what matters and what doesn’t. A part of it is, when you reach a certain age, you start to realize, even if I don’t want that experience, I am willing to help start it if it will reach my children and my grandchildren.

And so a lot of people here, not just with their attendance but with their money also, support an experience they don’t personally prefer because they know the people they want to reach.

I wish I could say that most churches’ passion for the lost is a tremendous motivator. I haven’t always found that to be true — but passion to save your kids is a phenomenal motivator, and it is, in fact, an easier argument to make, maybe not a more biblical argument, but it’s an easier argument to make than the other.

Chris: Some of our families who were most resistant to these moves ironically weren’t in the 65 to 70 years age range and older. It was the ones in the Boomers age range and a little bit younger — and the number one objection was, “What am I going to tell my parents?”

And I didn’t see that coming. I thought it would be the 70 years of age and older — whose parents were gone — but no, it was the 35 to 55 age range who had their resistance up: “What am I going to tell my parents? That I’m going to a church now that sponsors this? You’ve just made my world more difficult!”

And that’s when we got into more mission conversations. So that was some shepherding that kind of surprised me, because I thought it would come from the age group beyond the Boomers.

Rick: We lost 200 people. Now the attendance records don’t reflect it. We immediately began to see an increased attendance.

Jay: Two hundred out of how many at the time?

Rick: Probably on our roll — 4,000 to 5,000.

We had spent some time with a very well-known church consultant named Carl George. He strongly endorsed that we make this move. He said there’s this big huge elephant in this room and in most progressive churches across this state, and he said you’ve got to get it on the table. And I agreed with him.

I think the mistake many of our churches are making is we’re asking people just to tread water in the middle, and we’re losing people on both sides. I think elders ought to come out and say we’re landing on this bank or this bank, just so the church will know.

Carl said, “Be prepared. You will lose 10% of your membership and 20% of your offering.” You know, he’s a very wise man and that is probably a very accurate expectation most of the time, but I told our elders that’s not going to happen here. I felt like I knew our church and that we were ready for this move at several levels.

We did lose 200 people, but our attendance never showed it. We didn’t lose anything in our offerings. Our offerings have gone nothing but up. The last two years have been the best years ever. Even with this economy our offerings are up.

The 200 we lost came in three distinct groups. The first group was a small part of our people who said, “I think what you’re doing is sinful and wrong,” and that group stunned me because I thought, “Have you not heard me preach for 16 years? If you heard what’s been said in this pulpit, how can you still believe that?”

It just reminded me that there is an element in every church who will play “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and as long as they don’t see it, they’ll pretend they never heard what you’re really saying.

A second group left because of relationships. They were the group that said, “You know, we don’t really care but we have gone to lunch with so and so after Sunday morning church for 25 years, and they’re leaving, so we’re going to go to church with them.”

There’s a third group that we didn’t anticipate, but we should have. I call them the “You’ve made Christmas difficult for me” group. They have extended family that is really upset now that they’re bringing their grandbabies to this church, and they can’t go home to East Texas now for Thanksgiving and have an argument.

I’ve got some people who come here regularly until mom and dad come into town, and then they go to another church and they don’t even tell mom and dad about our church.

Chris: There was a segment of leaders for whom this wasn’t a big deal at all. Their attitude was, “Why are we talking so much about this?”

They’d say, “Chris, you’re focused too much on the assembly. We need to be spending our energy talking about how to live out there.”

I would say “No, the reason we’re having to talk about it so much is because of where we’ve come from and to honor our people and give us a chance to shepherd their hearts. But by no means are we not paying attention to how we’re living Monday through Saturday. This is just the season we’re in.”

The younger members and new members from outside the heritage will need to be reminded, “You’re part of a body that has a long heritage, and we’ve got to honor a number of people in the body, and they’ve got to have some time to think about this.”

Jay: How would you counsel members who are struggling with the church’s decision to add an instrumental service?

Rick: You know what? In most cases patience and love win out. It did in my family. I was raised in a legalistic, sectarian church. We didn’t know it. That’s just what they were, and my father had a hard time with my being here — but he’s completely changed in 20 years.

If he lived close to here, he’d come here in a heartbeat. Part of what you say to struggling members is what I said to him. I said, “Dad, you raised me in a tradition that said follow the Bible and the Bible only and that what you think the Bible teaches trumps all the traditions and creeds of men. So, Dad, by being the son you raised, that’s what I’m doing.” I gave him credit for my decision.

Chris: Rick’s dad often visits Farmers Branch. I’ll probably see him tonight at the Vista Ridge campus on Saturday night — and I mean the instruments at that campus are loud! And there he is, out there worshiping in the middle of it all. He’s really sweet to me. But that is an example of love and patience winning out.

You know, I grew up in a church of about 100 people, and it was very traditional, in the heart of Austin. They poured their lives into me. I don’t know that I would be preaching today were it not for the love for the Word they instilled in me. When visiting with people who were anxious about how they would be perceived and what their family would do to them, I was able to go into that area in my own life because I had some of that experience.

Love and patience wins out a lot, and so it’s really important that we as leaders be very patient with our people — because part of me wants to go, “Bro, you’re 45 years old — talk to your folks!” But the other part of me says, “Man, I also understand what it is to have a relationship with people who are generations beyond me and my family and who have long-held traditions who don’t have the energy to think about changing their opinion.” So you live with them and love them and love one another.

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4<

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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