Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why Churches With Pipe Organs Will Soon Be Condos

Once, I was consulting for a church. They wanted to get more young people in the doors (who doesn't?). When chatting with a group of young people who currently attended the church, one person piped up (get it?):
I came here because I really enjoy the sound of a pipe organ. I couldn't find anywhere else in town that had such a great one.
I told him he was the only person in the world with that viewpoint under the age of 30.

You won't find pipe organs in many places today. You won't find organ music in many songs, either. Suffice it to say, the organ as a sought-after instrument is fading. So what do churches do that have invested millions into a grand pipe organ?

After all, you can only put a pipe organ in a building. It's not portable (like a guitar or keyboard) and hasn't seemed to have stood the test of time in terms of appeal. In other words, a pipe organ locks you into a time and place, leaving a church unable to be versatile enough to offer meeting space and theological ideas that appeal to a rapidly changing world.

That's why I'm all for churches that don't want to build a building. That's why I'm all for nonprofits that do want to collaborate with others to extend their reach. When you lock yourself into an ideological framework, you become bound by external parameters that constrain – instead of grow – your business, movement or revolution.

It's when the movement becomes the establishment.

It's like what Seth Godin says about beauty.

I'm a third of the way in to The Black Swan. The lesson so far: We don't know much. Events and things happen that are completely unexpected and forever change the way we work and think. But since we can't predict the future, can we at least be ready for it when it crashes into us?

My advice to new organizations is this: plan for surprises.

I didn't go after a book deal, pitching to publishers day and night. My first book happened by accident. So did the entire concept for CoolPeopleCare. Most of my speaking engagements (check the right sidebar) happen because people find me. I strive to keep my life and schedule and dreams flexible enough to accept valuable opportunities as they occur.

Come up with a vision statement. Dream big and have a goal of where you'd like to be. But, make sure anything you write down is malleable enough when hit with the hammer of opportunity, able to morph and bend until the previously impossible is as real as that time you hit your thumb when trying to hang that picture.

Most churches that have pipe organs are old, in (possibly) redeveloping areas where trendy condos just might take root. For many churches, the pathway to sustainability of their organization will be to get rid of the very thing that made it competitive in the past. I believe that many organizations could be well positioned for short- and long-term growth if they'd shed their previously held dreams and instead embrace a dynamic and flexible type of vision and organization.

Sell the church and toss the pipe organ in for free. Then, take your money and get some real work done. You only meet in that building a few times a week – is that worth the investment?

Get rid of your revenue stream that's holding you back. Yes, you say you sell widgets, but your widget isn't that great. However, you've figured out a way to better price widgets across the board, so it's time you offer that as a consulting idea to better widget companies.

Your nonprofit does the same thing that two others do in town and they do it better. Stop competing with them and join forces to serve more people together than any of you did apart.

What's holding you back? Your building? Your letterhead? Your embroidered golf shirts? Too bad. The intangible – that great idea you had – would be awesome if you hadn't planted your feet so firmly in one area that now makes movement in any progressive or meaningful direction impossible.

The future of organizations will be in their ability to change.

Previous posts about change:

Comments (13)

o man you'd piss off a lot of people i work with and attend church with if they read this blog...

Are they over 60 years old? Just curious...

Nope, we're not over 60 years old. And I've attended several churches with decent sized groups of young adults who WANT to sing traditional hymns, hear an actual sermon by a seminary-educated minister, and even like a pipe organ now and then.

But I agree with the point about being willing to change. :)

Great! I'd say that those churches are doing well in terms of evaluating their programs and meeting needs. I hope they carry on with their engagement, so as needs change, so can they.

It's just dangerous to commit to a style when styles change so often.

Your judgmental generalizations is what bothers me. I know that what you have said is very true for some, maybe even most congregations. However, it is completely inappropriate to say that "he was the only person in the world [that really enjoys the sound of a pipe organ] under the age of 30." You cannot say how everyone under 30 worships most effectively.

Also, you say "Your nonprofit does the same thing that two others do in town and they do it better." What bothers me is that you have decided what is "better". Not everyone worships most effectively in the same environment. A service that allows you to worship "better" does not neccesarly allow the person next to you to worship "better." Perhaps it should be defined what is "better" worship.

Under what authority are you telling people how to worship? Or what worship is better? Some people (even some under 30) prefer to worship with a pipe organ. Perhaps not in the social circles with which you choose to associate, but they are out there. There are churches thriving with the use of pipe organ.

This article is a perfect example of what has made the "worship wars" as hostile as they have become. It is when people like yourself tell others how to worship. You cannot make a judgment for all congregations, or for all people under 30, or which worship is better.

I'd define "better" in the nonprofit context as meeting the greatest amount of needs by most efficiently maximizing resources. Most case studies involving nonprofit mergers have shown that the new combined agency can meet more community needs.

I'm unfamiliar with "worship wars," but I assume it's the kind of thing that makes me skeptical of whether or not churches are really doing the greatest amount of good in their communities (and while I'll probably never call a regular "church" home again).

You are right in that everyone worships differently. And again - kudos to churches that have packed pews and pipe organs. They're rare, but I acknowledge they exist and applaud them for knowing how to meet the needs of a lot of people.

I'll sum it up with this: I'd hate for a church to miss an opportunity for real ministry (feeding people, community organizing, job training) because it doesn't have space or resources to do so because they committed to a style of worship, a fitness movement (church gyms, anyone), or self-serving accessories.

As I said before, I agree that in many churches organs are outdated, and a waste of resources. However, your article, particularly the title, does not reflect your belief that some churches which use organs do effectively minister to people.

You are entitled to your opinion, as am I. However, by presenting your opinion as fact is simply a disservice. You would be wise, in the future, to present opinion as opinion, and fact as fact.

Also, you would be wise to avoid generalizing a diverse community, such as those under 30, or speaking as though you know what is best for every congregation.

You are dead wrong about pipe organs. I am 28 and I love the pipe organ, and I know a lot of people under 30 who do. Not all people under 30 who go to church are into that praise band stuff; some actually still like the tradition of organ and choir with classical instruments. So you really need to quit using the pipe organ as an illustration for being stuck in the past or tied to a building. Not all people see it that way, and it isn't true. And churches with pipe organs will NOT soon be condos! If that were true, why are there thousands upon thousands of functioning and and active churches with pipe organs that continue to be used? Organ music may not be the only form of sacred music around anymore, but it still exists and is celebrated and offered to the glory of God every day.

These facts do not mean churches are adverse to progress or are all stodgy and conservative. It just annoys me when people generalize church music into two camps and think one way is the only way or the other is the only way. And whatever you're getting at, whatever this illustration is for, it really isn't valid or true concerning pipe organs.


Thanks for your comment, and I'm glad you like the pipe organ.

Again, my post was not about church music. Rather it was a post about the ability of churches to change. My conjecture is that many are unable to change willingly, and therefore will have to change by force. And that is rarely pretty.

If your church thrives on organ music, great! It knows what it does best and continues to do it. I wish it well.

You are dead on about this. I am 25 and can tell you that for 90% of people my age and younger you could just sell the organ to raise money and they couldn't care less that it was gone.

Except you can't sell old pipe organs if you try. No one wants to buy them.

The church I attend transitioned to contemporary music about 7 years ago. They tried for five years first to sell the old pipe organ and then to just give it away and there were no takers.

It was torn down and sent to the dump late last year when the Sanctuary was remodeled to make more and more useful space for the worship band.

No one under 40 raised a hand to stop it. In fact they provided the labor to get rid of it!

Yeah, right on about being locked in a time and place! My church keeps talking about this guy Jesus Christ. He keeps coming up, and I'm like "enough already"! I mean, he lived and died 2000 years ago. Let's move on to some fresh ideas. That way churches can be more flexible and grow. I could "pipe on", but I think you get it ;)

I think you have some good points...however I think you can have a pipe organ and praise band, the key is flexibility. We have a praise band, a gospel choir, a traditional choir, handbells and a pipe organ and people love it....the key is just being flexible and not throwing out all our history but adapting and embracing new things as well! I'm 27 and I LOVE the pipe organ...in fact this Sunday my praise team ended with the classic Shout to the Lord and I ended the service with an awesome version on organ. Plus, alot of brides want organs when they get married...why throw it out?

I love those pipe organs, they look like part of a big intergalactic ship, and the sound is so cool.