Nostalgia is the first step in church life toward congregational death.
“Nostalgia is an exile mentality. Fulfillment is contingent on the ‘once upon a time’ remembrances of yesterday. ‘I remember when’ stories become commonplace in organizations during nostalgic days. The golden days are remembered fondly. From an organizational perspective, nostalgia signals the beginning of a trend toward a lack of trust, unstable relationships, and an erosion of commitment to present programs and ministries.” – Robert Dale, To Dream Again, 105, 107
Many of our churches were born in the 50s and 60s, raised in the 60s and 70s and came to maturity in the 70s and 80s. They have gone through a midlife crises and are now in their waning years. Churches tend to follow the human life cycle in their years and stages. They go from energy, growth and excitement to tired, lethargic and impotent and eventually to death all in about the same number of years of a human life.
Are we convinced our best days are behind us or ahead of us? I think many of us are afraid to answer that question because we believe it is the first but we wish it could be the second. Why is that? Could it be that we idolized the era of our youth, just as aging people in decline often do? Could it be that our nostalgia for our glory days is an obstacle to our future? I think so. What do you think?
The past was rigid. We know that there are things we could do today, even should do today that we don’t because we believe it would dishonor those great people who went before us. But consider it like this for a moment. If those people were born when you were born and experienced what you experienced rather than being born 40-50 years prior (when they were actually born) they might well see things just as you do. We can reconnect with their pioneering spirit without having to also reconnect with every specific thing they believed, especially those aspects of their beliefs that were just as much a product of their day and culture as some of the things we deal with today are.
The future is too important to be held hostage by the past. If you feel nostalgia setting in let it be a red flag that decline is either already going on or is imminent.