Back in Time: 5 Signs Your Church is Stuck in 1985

Carl Barnhill

I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I’m also a huge movie buff and have an embarrassingly large movie collection. My favorite movie trilogy of all time is Back to the Future. As I write this post in my office there is a framed poster of the first movie and on a shelf there is a Lego Delorean with some other movie memorabilia (So I’m a movie nerd, pick on me, I don’t care).

Back to the Future has everything- comedy, action, drama, sci-fi, great music, memorable characters, and flux capacitors. The impact these movies have had on our culture has been a phenomenon. Tons of catchphrases from “Where we’re going we don’t need roads”, “Hello? Think McFly, think”, “Great Scott!”, to “This is heavy”. Nobody looks at a DeLorean the same way and people still wonder what might happen when their car reaches 88mph.

Today marks a significant point in the history of these movies.

Today, October 21, 2015, is the date Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to the future.
The future has arrived.

Much has changed since 1985.

This is true in the church as well.
The Gospel will always be effective and will never change but how we deliver it to people must change if we want to reach people living in 2015 and beyond.

I’ve been serving in ministry for the last 15 years. I’m also a pastors kid and have been in church world all my life. As I travel speaking and training production teams at churches of all sizes, if I’m real honest, sometimes it feels, in some churches, that I’ve gotten in a DeLorean and traveled back in time 20 or 30 years.

When it comes to creating experiences at our churches, I believe that sometimes we can still be stuck in methods that may have been effective years ago but may not be as effective in the year 2015.

Here are 5 signs that you’re church may be stuck in 1985:

1. If You’re Not Using Current Technology and Media to Share Your Message… You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

If you are still using Pinnacle Studio 1st Edition for editing or Prologue SundayPlus and Windows Media Player as your presentation software….
If you don’t have screens or the screens you do have are still SD 4×3…
If you still deliver your content by cassette tape or even CDs…
If you use robotic security cameras for IMAG…
If you don’t know what IMAG is…
If you are using PCs in your Control Room or Booth…
You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

Your church should be using current technology and current forms of media to share your message. What do I mean by current? If you’re using something that’s more than 3-5 years old either from when you purchased it or from when it was new in the marketplace, you might want to look at updating or purchasing new gear.
– I would recommend Adobe’s Creative Suite for your design and post-production.
Premiere Pro for Video Editing
Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for Print and Graphic Design
AfterEffects for Motion Graphics and Compositing
– I would recommend ProPresenter 6 to be your presentation software.
– I understand that converting your facility to HD is very expensive, but I would at least spend money on getting 16×9/widescreen screens and work to moving to full HD as soon as you can.
– We live in a digital world. Songs are downloaded via iTunes, movies are streamed via Netflix. Cassettes and CDs are out. DVDs are on their way out too. And don’t think Blu Ray is the next step either – digital content (meaning no discs or tapes) is here to stay. Push content to your audience via the internet – iTunes, Dropbox, phones, tablets, etc.
– IMAG is an abbreviation for Image Magnification. It basically is short form for “camera shots on screen”. If you’re going to do IMAG, do it well, spend the money to get at least two high-quality cameras for your room. If all you have is a crappy robotic or security camera, use it for what it was meant for – as a security camera. If you aren’t at a place to use IMAG well, I suggest using really well designed full screen graphics.
– Apple designed Mac computers with a designer’s eye; it’s for the artist. Creating your worship service is an art form. I would highly suggest moving your facility to Mac at least in your control room or sound booth. It’s worth every penny.

2. If You’re Using Media Content that Sucks… You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

If you use rainbow backgrounds and clipart…
If you use Comic Sans with 18 lines of lyrics on one slide…
If you don’t notice that nasty pixelated video or image you just put on screen…
If you have 75-year old ‘Myrtle’ producing and editing your videos…
You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

Obviously I’m exaggerating a little, but I can’t tell you the number of churches I visit where I want to puke at some of the things I see on screen. I have nothing against well-meaning volunteers (if you read our blog or listen to my podcast, you know that I want us to care about people more than anything we do). But in order to reach people that live in the media age of 2015, we have to be current, not only with the content we produce, but how we present it to our audience.
– “Clipart” is old school. Current Graphic Design is what’s in.
– Never ever use Comic Sans or Papyrus. Here is a blog post I wrote that gives you 5 of my Go-To Fonts for Worship Lyrics
– Graphic Design 101: when you scale an image or video up way past its original dimension size, it pixelates. Don’t do that. Find a Graphic Designer, Motion Designer or Video Editor that can create high-quality graphics and video content for you.
– I love volunteers. I am passionate about people serving their church. But it’s our job to put people in roles they can thrive in and that will benefit and bring value to the most people. ‘Myrtle’ might not be your best choice to be Graphic Designer or Video Editor.

3. If You’re Not Being Intentional About Building Your Platform… You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

If you’re website hasn’t been updated in over 5 years…
If you’re church doesn’t have a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account…
If you’re not being intentional about a Social Media Strategy…
If you think Periscope is something only used on Submarines or is “that movie starring that guy from Cheers”…
You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

Our lives are online. It’s where we get our news, information, entertainment. It’s how we connect with the world. Gone are the days of encyclopedia salesmen. Everything is at your fingertips. That’s why if you don’t have an intentional online strategy or spend some money on an up to date, user-friendly web presence, you’re behind. You’re playing in the minor leagues. You must have a website and it can’t look like it was built with MS Paint.
– Spend the money on having a pro build and design your web presence. My friends at DMM Design Studio (, Creative Church Staffing ( or Mediagin ( would be happy to get your project started.
– If you don’t have a presence on social media – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope or all the above, get started today! My friend Josh Blankenship is a blog author and podcaster that focuses a lot of his resources on social media strategies for churches – check out his blog at or listen to the Creative Church Show Podcast on iTunes.
– “Down Periscope” was the 1996 movie starring Kelsey Grammar I referenced above if you didn’t catch it.

4. If You’re Not Building Teams and Raising Up Leaders… You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

If your “audio guy” is responsible for all things media in your church…
If this one guy is the only person in your church that knows how to do “all the media stuff”…
If you are not building volunteer teams and raising up leaders…
If your handful of tech volunteers all go on vacation the same weekend and the only person running media content on a Sunday is Deacon Bob’s grandson Billy that took a media class in high school…
You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

Gone are the days of one volunteer ‘tech guy’ that does everything. I don’t mean one staff member- there are a lot of churches that can’t afford one media staff person let alone a team. But even in a small church, you must build a team of media volunteers. Churches of all sizes struggle with this actually. In some of the largest churches in the country, if you look from the outside you might think that they have teams of people producing and executing content on a Sunday, when in fact, their team is hanging on by a string. No matter the size of your church, spend time building teams and raising up leaders. Check out this post for a comprehensive strategy on how to double your volunteer team.

5. If You Are Trying to be “Relevant” to the Wrong Audience… You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

If you think “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and “Shout to the Lord” are brand new songs…
If you still get chills when your local Christian radio station plays “I Can Only Imagine”…
If you still skip the third verse…
If you are under 40 and think the preferences of the older people in your church don’t matter…
If you think the theology in a Chris Tomlin song is deeper than in older hymns…
You Might Be Stuck in 1985.

I’m talking to older and younger people here. I am not in the camp that every church needs to be Hillsong, Newspring, or Elevation. And I’m not in the camp that every church needs to be a “traditional” either. My point here is – know your audience and target that audience.

*Spoiler Alert: Possible Offensive Content Below*

Let me speak to the ‘older generation’:
There is really not much point in trying to reach ‘millennials’ if the experiences you are creating in your worship services and events are boring to them. It’s going to be hard to for you to compete with the more modern church down the road, why not partner with them instead of complaining about them? Stop thinking you’re being ‘relevant’ and ‘trying to reach young people’ when you’re not even including them in the planning and creative process of your services and events. You thinking, “well, what we need is a guitar and some drums, and to play some of that praise music…” and not including actual young people to tell you what they like and don’t like is not going to get you anywhere.

Why can’t it be okay to have a church where your target audience is 45 and older? Why not target that audience and go after them with everything you got? It’s okay to be a more traditional style church, in fact, I love that – I believe that there is a generation of 45 and up that need Jesus just as much. But when you are spending your time trying to be ‘relevant’ and everything about your experiences is stuck in the 90s, not a lot of younger people are going to go along for the ride. Be who you are, and be okay with that.

If your church has moved from a more traditional style church to a more modern style church and you don’t like it, stop complaining – you fussing is causing division. If you don’t like it, lay down your pride and go attend another church you do like.


Let me speak to the ‘younger generation’:
Stop complaining about older people. Their preferences matter, their wisdom matters, their spiritual growth matters. Church isn’t about you – it’s about a body of believers coming together to worship our King. Respect the older people in your church. Learn from them. Spend time with them. Care about them. I’m 32 years old as of this writing and I believe, for the most part, our worship songs of the last few years can be shallow in their theology. Yes, the language in hymns are hard to understand. Yes, choir robes and organs are a thing of the past – but realize its not really the meaning of songs or the intentions of people you don’t like, it may be more in the presentation of those preferences and ideas.

Unfortunately, unless you’re invited into the creative process and the leadership of your church listens and implements your ideas, you may be fighting a losing battle to convert your church to a more modern style. Stop complaining – you fussing about things in your church causes division. Either work together with the older people and leadership in your church in a respectful way, or leave and go to another church where you can grow. If you are under 18, either ask your parents if you can attend the activities of another church in town or respect your parents and attend the church they attend until you are on your own.

Some churches don’t really want to change. They say they do, but aren’t willing to take necessary steps and spend money in places to bring them to current methods of reaching people. I often hear, “we don’t have the money”. I can understand saving up or doing fundraisers for big pieces of gear – and that may be what you have to do. You might investigate and ask other churches that are upgrading if you could purchase their older gear at a discount.

As far as media content, building your platform, raising up leaders, and targeting your audience – there is really no good argument. Media Content is now incredibly cheap (,, social media accounts are free, websites are extremely affordable, raising up leaders and targeting the right audience is free and only takes you being intentional about implementing some updated strategies.

I love the Church. I want to see us succeed in reaching people far from God and show them how they can follow Jesus step by step. You can help determine the future of your church. I hope and pray we don’t stay stuck in the past, I wish some churches would make their way back to the future, or at least the present. To quote Doc Brown “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”

Some “Back to the Future” Day Fun:

About Carl Barnhill

Owner, Church Visuals

Carl Barnhill is a creative entrepreneur, motion designer and author. He is the Owner Church Visuals, a company that helps Ministry Leaders visually communicate the Gospel. He is the host of the Your Visuals Matter Podcast. You can find him in Columbia, South Carolina with his wife, Katie and two sons, Jacob and Wesley.

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