Understanding the ‘Glory Days’ Mentality in Churches
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Recalling a memory, recounting a time or moment when something funny or crazy or unexpected or awesome happened in our lives? Or maybe we think back to college or high school and think about how easy and simple life was then. I have heard statements like this over and over again, “my college years were so fun,” “I wish I was in my 20’s still,” “life was easy back then- no bills, no responsibility, etc.,” “back in my day….” There is something seemingly innate in us as humans to look back and reminisce and think about how great it was “back then.” And sometimes it really was great, wasn’t it? Maybe you were the star athlete, maybe you were popular, maybe you didn’t have the responsibilities and stress that you have now.
When I dwell on this idea, although my wife doesn’t laugh at it anymore because I always quote it to her, I’m reminded of the movie Napoleon Dynamite and the scene in which Uncle Rico is talking to Napoleon. He says, “How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?…Yeah…Coach woulda put me in the fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.” If you haven’t seen this movie yet, Uncle Rico is probably in his 40’s, and makes tapes of himself throwing footballs. While this is comical, and while I may not know many if any people in my own life as drastic as Uncle Rico, I still here this sentiment when I talk to older adults, to parents of my students, and even to some of my friends. Heck, David Dunn even has a song on the radio right now with this very idea called “I Wanna Go Back.”
And this same mentality (like all mentalities) pervades and seeps into church culture as well. Doesn’t it? Any change I have made in my four years of being at my church has been compared to what we used to do. And if people don’t like the new change, they rebel, they opt not to come, and they say it’s because they like the thing we used to do better.
The church that I am serving started as a church of a couple families, which grew to about fifty families, and grew to something like two hundred or three hundred people. Then, right about that time or right before that benchmark, the city in which our church building is located exploded and grew like crazy. The church was uniquely positioned to receive and benefit from that growth. The church went to four, five, six, seven, nearly eight hundred over the course of about ten years. The church had to change in functioning and operations, staffing, leadership, facilities, etc. in a fairly short amount of time. So, in our current church, there are members who have been part of our family for a week, some who have been here for year, some who have been here ten years, and some who have been here since the church started.
Understandably, we hear comparison of our current structure and format to the old days (We have two services out of necessity due to space, but we hear about how it’s hard to get to know people because we’re not all in the same service). There is truth to that. And even though I’ve been there for nearly four years now, I would say that I know maybe 30-40% of our church. However, there just isn’t a way, logistically, to have just one service. Whenever the size of the congregation changes, and whenever you reach new threshold, you have to function differently. Not to mention that you also have to keep up with trends and needs of the current day (i.e. reduced attention spans, technological advances, etc.).
I want to make the point here that the “Glory Days” mentality does not come solely from the senior saints of our congregation. I have heard it from adults who are my age or a little older, many of whom are the children of those handful that started the church. Thus, it’s not just the old people. It’s all of us. In fact, I changed up an activity for our Christmas Party this past year, and one of my students and key leaders in my ministry was bent out of shape about the fact that we were doing a different activity. Luckily my wife is awesome and called her out and lovingly told her that she sounded like “the old people that students often complain about that don’t like change.”
So, the challenge, is to work to help walk people through the transition. I have learned how hard and difficult a task this can be with both parents and with students. But as leaders and pastors, our role is to walk alongside people, especially in the midst of change and transition. What I try to remind myself of is that I need to give people a good “why” For any change or transition that I am leading or walking people through. If I can provide a good why, people are more likely to adjust to it well. So, while some may choose to reminisce about the “good old days” or the “glory days,” I want to help them understand the impact they can have today, now, in the present and not the past.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.