Wineskins Archive

December 16, 2013

An Afternoon with Rick Atchley and Chris Seidman – Part 3 (Sept-Dec 2010)

Filed under: — @ 3:18 pm and

By Jay Guin

Jay: Now that you have instrumental services, has that had a significant impact on your ability to convert and work with the truly unchurched as opposed to the dechurched or transfers from other denominations?

Chris: In our experience over 8 years, if you were to look at us from year to year, we’ve had some years that are better than others. One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s still the basics: Are you going to work on integrating them into your community of faith? Are you going to follow up with people investigating Jesus in your church culture? Are you going to pour yourselves into them? I mean, that’s the bottom line.

Adding the instrumental service did make a difference in our members being more willing to invite others to church. They realized, “You know what? — now that we have an instrumental service on Sunday, I’m going to bring my friend to this contemporary service.” Even parents say, “My kid hasn’t been in church in 15 years, but I’m going to bring him to this service.”

I think it did more evangelistically in terms of our own people feeling like they’ve got another venue here that might provide a better chance to bring their neighbors living on their street who don’t understand the a cappella tradition or who are bothered by “How come y’all never have a piano?”

Please understand – I don’t necessarily equate inviting people to church with sharing the good news of Jesus. It helps put one in a position to hear the good news of Christ, though. I have found that it’s very helpful for a believer to have a local church to believe in, belong to, and partner with when it comes to that believer reaching someone he orshe loves.

The bottom line is, I found it did something in the spirit of our people, helping them feel like they had a different alternative to invite people to, to experience God, and to encounter the body.

From 2002 to 2007 we saw an increasing number of baptisms every year and then we dipped a little in 2007 to 2009. When we multi-sited, we spent so much time getting our act together internally and infrastructure-wise, that we’re just now re-emerging on the other side with a renewed focus on the mission beyond ourselves.

Rick: I would say the same thing. Simply having a band doesn’t mean that soon you’re going to be overwhelmed with unchurched people. It did two things that are related.

Number one, it has encouraged our people to be more confident in inviting friends, because they don’t have to prepare their friends for an experience that will seem odd to them.

Chris: Or to prepare for a question over lunch for afterwards.

Rick: Our outreach ministers who do most of our evangelistic conversations say the same thing. It has removed a discussion that we were tired of having, so we can get more quickly to the discussion about Jesus. We took one of the speed bumps out of the way so that we could get to the discussion about Jesus sooner.

Chris: It’s like salt and a good meal. You have a good meal, and nobody talks about the salt. A lot of people ask, well, do people really talk about the music? No, especially if it’s done well — like a good sermon. If a good sermon is done well, people don’t just go on and on about how great the sermon was, but they’re going to be focused on what the message did for them. They are going to be focused on the content and the subject.

But if the salt is missing several weeks in a row, it becomes the conversation to have before the conversation about Jesus. By that time, you really get yourself tied in knots.

We found we were trying to tell people “Hey, we’re not about traditions here. We’re just about Jesus. Then these people would call us out later on: “Well, okay, you say <i>a cappella</i> music is a tradition. How come y’all have never tried anything else?”

“Well, it’s just who we are; it’s our heritage.”

Instrumental music is part of the fabric of our everyday lives. Nobody drives around listening exclusively to music of an a cappella genre in the car. Movies and television shows aren’t done with a cappella soundtracks, etc. With pretty much anyone outside our heritage, the music question would come up. We got weary of spending time and energy tangled up in this kind of conversation after we had already acknowledged that either form – a cappella or instrumental — is strictly a preference.

Rick: I’ve had dozens of awkward conversations with first-time guests in the foyer: “Why are you doing it that way?”

I’d say, “It’s our heritage.”

They’d respond, “So you wouldn’t have a problem with doing it another way?”

“Well. Not on paper.”

And the guest would put you in this awkward place. We are not bashing a cappella music. We’re simply trying to remove speed bumps so we can get people to talk about Jesus with us.

Chris: Rick, one of the things I’ve found is that the instrumental services have made us a little stickier as a church in terms of the people that come to faith. I’ve found that, since we’ve done it, we’ve tended to hold onto people who’ve come to faith for a much longer period of time.

It used to be that someone might come to faith, but after a while we’d hear the word “more” — and sometimes it was something as simple as the member looking for a different worship environment. We weren’t providing that. They’d say, “You grew me up in the Lord. You taught me the basics of the gospel. You even told me that what you’re doing is only a matter of tradition and preference, but it’s just part of your heritage. Well, hey, no offense, we like your heritage but we’re going to go!”

And so we became a little stickier as a church with those who had come to faith in that regard, and that was something I didn’t anticipate.

Jay: How does a congregation avoid becoming one of those churches that adds an instrumental service and then loses half their members and never recovers? What are the mistakes to avoid? How does an eldership make sure they handle this in a way that doesn’t have people fleeing out the doors?

Rick: I don’t know if there is a cookie cutter model there. Every church has a history, and there are so many issues that make every church different.

One thing is the church has to have a long history of knowing the gospel. They’ve got to be grounded in grace. If you have a sizable or even a minor part of your church who still see salvation as an ecclesiological instead of a Christological matter, you’re going to get serious push back.

If you’ve got people who still feel that their relationship with God depends on how we do things at church, then this is not going to fly — and you can’t get there because you did a series on grace. There’s got to be years and years of teaching the gospel — because we have sweet, sweet people, like my dad, who had tapes in his head of earlier lessons teaching to the contrary that were hard to erase even though he’d heard a better gospel.

That’s the first thing that I would say to a lot of churches is, if you’ve got decades of a legalistic gospel or a gospel based on how we do church, and if you change preachers and three years later you add instruments, you had better anticipate resistance. <br>The second thing I would say is your leadership has got to be united on this, because the people will quickly figure out if they are not, and they will move in to divide. When we had the historic meeting of the elders deciding whether we are going to do this or not, and when we left the room, and it was 22 to 0: we’re doing it.

Third, you’ve got to explain, not just that it’s biblical, but that it’s prudent. In other words you’ve got to ground it as a strategy for being more fruitful, more consistent with what we’re trying to accomplish — because a lot of things are not wrong to do but not wise to do.

You’ve got to ground it in the mission, and I think that’s where a lot of churches fail — they don’t let mission trump fear or tradition or history or heritage. So you’ve got to ground it in the mission, saying, “We’re sold out to mission.”

Fourth, after you’ve done all that, you have to listen and say that we’re available to talk to you. We created avenues where I would do the teaching, and we would say, “From 2:00 to 5:00, your leaders are at the building and available to talk. We’re not hiding from you. You come, and we will talk you through this. We will give you personal attention while we’re doing this — but we’re not taking a vote. The decision has been made.”

Now, one other thing that was important for us is, before I ever did the teaching to the whole church, we met with about 200 influencers in our church, and I did the teaching. And again, it wasn’t, “Can we do this?” We were asking them to help us because people come to them. There were some people in there who we knew would not be on board initially, but they were influencers.

Rick: It was within days of when we told the church. We didn’t do this and say, “Now, y’all keep this a secret.”

Chris: We did a very similar format. We’re a small groups church, and so we met with all our small group leaders, all our ministry leaders, and all our deacons. I did two weeks’ worth of teaching with them, and then we did the next two Sunday nights where they met with me and the elders and just responded to the teaching.

So that’s a month’s worth of dialog, and yeah, word was already beginning to get out. But by the time I stood up and began speaking with the church, we already had 100 or more influencers who had already heard the teaching.

The influencers responded well to the teaching, and their responses informed how I would talk about it also. It was good for me. I made some tweaks after speaking with the influencers.

By the time I spoke to the church, all the small group leaders had heard the material once, and then they heard it when I shared it with the church. That way the members could speak with them and not just us.

I can’t say enough about how important that was. But you know what? It’s a calculated risk because you let the cat out of the bag with them. But I think it’s a risk worth taking. I really do, because you’re going to need the help.

Rick: I believe we met with our key influencers on Saturday morning, and on Sunday, I announced it to the church. It was that quick. And then after I announced it to the church, for the next three weeks we had a combined Bible class to discuss it further.

I asked the church, “Before you say ‘I’m opposed’ or before you start talking, give me a chance to teach. You owe me that. If you have a problem, here’s a chance to come talk to us. Don’t go talk about us.

Rick: There are some major disasters out there in Churches of Christ who’ve tried this where it blew up and was horrible. I don’t know all the reasons, but there are also some major success stories. So the issue itself doesn’t predict what’s going to happen.

The music question itself is not a big issue. But for me personally, the freedom question was. I could no longer personally live with the dissonance, because I felt a little bit like Paul in Galatians 2, where by eating only with the Jews, Peter was continuing to allow them to think something was wrong with the Gentiles when it wasn’t. I couldn’t live with that anymore.

So the instrumental service became a big deal for the sake of exercising the freedom needed to be fruitful for the mission of God.

I would disagree with those who would say, well, it wasn’t a big deal. I’m talking about the bigger principle. Do we deny or subjugate freedom for the sake of the mission? I couldn’t live with that anymore.

Jay: Freedom that can’t be exercised isn’t freedom.

Rick: That’s right; that’s exactly right. I know we lost 200 members when we made this decision, but I remember about 1,000 former members of our church at churches all around who had left earlier, who said to me (and it was a strange compliment), “Thank you so much, Rick, for introducing me to freedom in Christ. Now I’m leaving your church to go pursue it.”

Chris: I told Rick one time before they added the instrumental service, “Brother, in some ways, you are your congregation’s worst enemy. You are declaring the beauty of freedom in Christ and the need for a church to be willing to change its methods from time to time for the sake of the call, and this compelling picture is awakening people’s hearts. You’ve set them free with an understanding of the gospel that tells them to pursue it — and they can no longer pursue it in your own territory! Ironically, you are doing such a great job declaring clearly what the gospel is, you were also opening the exit door for the body of people you’re leading!”

I love your comment about freedom, Jay. The beauty of taking a hybrid approach when it comes to having a cappella and instrumental services is that it allows people who are accustomed and more edified that way to engage in worship in an a cappella environment, to continue to do so. But it also enables the church to experiment with an alternative environment for the sake of potentially reaching a wider segment of people.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

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