This Feels Like Grandma’s Church


While shopping for a new home, you checked out a three-bedroom ranch most recently owned by a 90 year-old grandmother who had lived in it for over 40 years before her death. It was priced to sell by her children who indicated the home needed a lot of work.

Once on site, you couldn’t have agreed more. The shrubs around the front of the home had been growing wild, concealing a front door that had not been used in years. The garage looked like the next strong wind would blow it down. The garden in the backyard had not been planted in years. Once inside, you noticed that not much had changed since the grandmother moved in with her late husband back in the 70s. The living space was compartmentalized into small distinct rooms, including a small kitchen and one and a half baths. The kitchen included a dishwasher on wheels and the dining room an air conditioner in a window. The musty damp basement was difficult to access and of little use except for laundry. Noticeably absent was a room to gather before a big flat screen television and any form of outdoor living space.

But you bought the place seeing, as those before you, a great home to raise your young family. Before moving in, however, you gutted the first floor and reformatted the current space, added a “Family Room” and an outdoor patio, renovated the garage, and landscaped both the front and back yards. In short, you updated the space so that it no longer felt like a home built fifty years ago.

During my first visit with a new client, one the leaders of the church asked me to share my impressions of their 100-plus-year-old church. I said, “It’s lovely but it reminds me of my grandmother’s church.” Having grown accustomed to their space, they weren’t sure what I meant. So, I began to describe a few differences between “Grandma’s Church” and a contemporary church, that is, between a church doing life in the 1970’s and one doing the same in the 2020’s. A day or two later, however, I thought my answer to that question inadequate. So, I put pen to paper and developed a list of the typical differences between the two churches, between the 1970’s church of my then 40-something year old mother and the 2020’s church of my 40-something year old daughter.

You’ll notice that that the following table does not include foundational principles, such as a congregation’s theological convictions. Jesus Christ doesn’t change. So, like Grandma’s house, they remain the same. You’ll also notice that the elements in the table need not be influenced by the age of your campus. Your congregation may worship in a 19th century sanctuary but do life in a 2020’s church.  Finally, you’ll notice that the table lists preferences, not principles. As preferences, they reflect intentional or unintentional decisions made by congregations, decisions which leave a distinct impression on those who visit them.

You will also notice that the table begins with the biggest change between church life in the 1970’s and church life in the 2020’s, that is, Ministry Context. Technically, this difference is a given, not a preference. In the 1970’s, the culture of most communities scattered across the United States was deeply influenced by Christianity, the default faith of the nation. This naturally meant that the mission field was somewhere outside of this country. Some label this as Christendom. In the 2020’s, remnants of Christendom remain, mostly in small-town rural America throughout the Midwest, South, and Southwest. However, most people now live in a post-Christian culture where the community surrounding the church is a mission field. Some label this Apostolic Times as it mirrors the ministry context of the apostles. The critical decision facing local congregations is whether or not they accept this change of ministry context.  

All this leads us to the big question: What impression does your church want to leave with visitors who join you for worship? Would you like them to leave saying, That felt like Grandma’s church or would you like them to leave thinking This feels like it could be my church.


  1. Matt Mekkes on July 29, 2020 at 4:35 pm

    Thank you for naming the tension and giving language to the differences.

  2. Ben Bowater on July 29, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    This is a very helpful concept. Thanks Sam!

  3. Will Hope, DMIN on August 17, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    Pure Gold! I have worked with Sam with churches in transition in four different states and he always comes forward with cutting-edge insight. For any church wanting greater effectiveness in connecting the Gospel with your post-modern community, this blog is worth careful consideration.

    • Sam Hamstra on August 17, 2020 at 5:45 pm

      Will, thanks for your kind words.

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