In a recent Christian Chronicle article, it was noted that Churches of Christ in the United States had elected to omit 21 congregations that have added an instrumental worship service, but several other congregations with instrumental services had been included by accident.
I figure this means we have at least 25 congregations with an instrumental service, and yet I’ve only heard about Richland Hills and Quail Springs. Richland Hills’ decision became well known, I’m sure, because it’s the largest of our congregations (not to mentioned Dave Miller’s book declaring them damned), and Quail Spring became famous because of the ads run in the Daily Oklahoma declaring them apostate.
The method Richland Hills used to make the transition is pretty well known, due to the now-famous series of sermons by Rich Atchley called “Both/And” in which the decision was announced. Quail Springs chose to announce their decision one year before putting it into effect, and yet despite the substantial lead time lost many of their members.
Now, instrumental music is hardly the only controversial decision an eldership might make. Even very conservative congregations lose members or split when, for example, some within the church disagree with a decision to allow a divorced and remarried couple to place membership. Churches have lost members over a decision to allow a man to serve as elder after his wife has died, among countless other issues.
And so I’m wondering what approaches to presenting a controversial decision to the congregation have worked to preserve congregational unity — and which have not? I’m not interested, at this point, in how to preserve unity with other congregations in town — just how to hold a congregation together when the elders feel compelled — or have no choice but — to make a hard decision. What experiences do we have from which others can learn?