Recently a Senior Pastor emailed me and told me that his governing board requires all staff to wear suits and ties on the stage. He personally likes dressing up, but wonders how doing so affects outreach. He wondered what I thought about that, and how he should go about changing this practice if he felt led to do so.
Since the question itself touches on so much more than dress, I thought you might like to read my response…
I appreciate the kind words and I’m honored that you’d ask my advice.
First, like you, I like dressing up. When I was at First Christian in Clearwater, FL, all the ministers and elders wore suits and ties. I kinda liked it because once you had two good suits, dressing was easy. And, honestly, I liked dressing up.
Who Is This Church For?
Second, the bigger question that I think your church leadership hasn’t answered yet is, “Who is this church for?” If it’s for the people who are already there, then you can make rules that reflect your own personal preferences and expect people to adhere to them.
However, it doesn’t take too much theological sweat to wrestle with the scriptures and come away with an understanding of church that says the church exists for those who aren’t a part of it yet. Missiologists call this contextualization. 1 Corinthians 9, John 1, and a host of other scriptures talk about how the gospel has to be presented in the context of the hearer, not the culture of the sender and/or preacher. You know all this stuff, so I’m preaching to the choir.
Are We Willing To Become Missionaries?
To me, I wouldn’t make this an issue about dress. This is a symptom of the much larger, more important issue. I tell Senior Pastors that I coach that leaders need to agree on two things:
- Are we willing to act like missionaries and dress/talk/sing like the people we’re trying to reach?
- If so, what do we know about the people we’re trying to reach? Do we actually know how they dress Monday-Saturday, and how THEY would prefer to dress for worship on Sunday?
Once your leaders answer the first question, I’d tackle the second question by doing two things.
Find Out What the Community Wants
First, I would go to www.perceptgroup.com and order up-to-date demographics and lifestyle information for people that live in a 5 to 10 mile radius of your church.
Second, I would do a survey in the community and get at least 200 completed surveys (must be at least 200 to be a “statistically significant sampling”) to the following questions:
- Do you attend a church at least 3-4 weeks a month? If yes, tell them thank you very much and move on. You don’t want their opinion. You want truly non-churched people’s opinions.
- If not, if for some reason you decided to attend church in the next month, how would you and your family prefer to dress?
A. We’d like to dress up in suits, ties, and formal dresses
B. We’d like to dress business casual (khakis, casual dresses, but no jeans or ties)
C. We’d like to dress casually in jeans, shorts, and skirts (and occasionally have our kids show up in their sports uniforms so they can leave church to go to their sporting events)
Once you’ve answered the question: “For whom does this church exist?” and discovered the answer to the question “this is how the people we’re called to reach would like to dress,” the decision is simple. You dress in the way the people you are trying to reach want to dress when they come to church.
If they want to dress in suits, it’s suits.
Business casual? Then that’s how we dress on the stage.
If casually, then that’s the answer.
How To Lead A Culture Shift
If you have a group of leaders who know what the community wants and is unwilling to budge on changing, keep going back over and over again to scripture.
Don’t make it about dress. Make it about theology and discipleship.
I preach from Memorial Day to Labor Day in shorts and casual shirts, not because that’s how I want to dress, but because that’s how people want to come to church. The rest of the time it’s business casual; again, not because that’s what I like best, but that’s how people we’re trying to reach want to dress. Like I said, I’d prefer to dress up. I like it and it’s much easier.
Anyway, that’s how I’d work through the issue.
As you’ll discover, the issue of dress is a symptom of something much deeper, the theological viewpoint guiding the orientation of the congregation.
Is the congregation’s orientation outward or inward?
Once that is uncovered and addressed, making decisions about other things like worship style, service times and lengths, and a whole host of other important issues will become much simpler.
Lead well E.L.
Be bold but kind.