What I Learned About Church Change

Close-up of a clock showing the words "Time For Change". Shallow depth of field.

CHANGE.   It’s necessary if any organization, church or relationship that wants to grow – or even remain alive.  Though this certainly true,  for the church however it may take some time to catch up.  For everything around us changes except the church.  We are living in an Mp3, iPod world but  the church oftentimes is still using 8 track tape thinking and methods.   According to those who study church trends the church is normally 20 years behind the culture.  What is slow change to you maybe considered fast to others. But change is inevitable.  The longer there’s been no change, the longer it will take to implement change. The longer a church has plateaued or been in decline, the longer it will be before the church can grow again.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned in leading church change:

 1.  Remember the silent majority

There will always be a vocal minority of critics,  and a silent majority of supporters. I don’t know why.  Believe it or not they are satisfied, happy,  even ecstatic with your leadership.  They just don’t tell you.  But I have discovered that though they may not tell you,  they ARE telling others. And that can spur growth and confidence in your leadership. I left my first church I was amazed that I continued to be invited back to the church to officiate funerals, invited to anniversaries and birthdays, and even the benefactor in a couple of wills.   I was discouraged by the loud voices of the vocal minority who was not pleased with my leadership, and I thought the whole church felt like this.  It was not the case.  When I needed it the most God always would send an encourager.

2.  Don’t depise everything old

Remember where ever the church is currently,  what you may consider as the “old” got them to where they are today. Though it may have lost its effectiveness at one time it was good.  Maybe even the best.  Remember that whatever is “new” now will also be old one day.

3.  Know the who you are

One of my Pastoral mentors leads a mega church.  I respect him for the fact that he admits he cannot explain or even teach one how to grow a mega church “In Ten Easy Steps.”  For there are Pastors the world over who have implemented all the church growth principles, attended all the conferences,  and are still in the same position.  He states it is simply the hand and favor of God.  Remember your church has a unique culture, history, and “DNA”   The changes you make must be relative to your context.  You cannot take the latest “church change” book or the principles from the last conference attended and think you can just “slap” it on to your church. Churches are not mass produced or cookie cutters.  But churches are as unique and different as our physical shapes and sizes.

4.  Celebrate their history and tradition

My first church literally had a history room.  That chronicled pictures, documents, financial ledgers, and membership records dating back to the 40’s.  I learned to use their history as a catalyst to help us go forward.  I created forums and special days that allowed them to talk about the “good ole days”  As we celebrated what was,  we were also able to talk about what could and will be.

5.  Repeat It, repeat it, and repeat it again!

There is no such thing as over-communication in times of change. The more they know the “why” you want to change, the less they will resist the “what” that you want to change.

6.  It sometimes seems easier to let a church or program die than to try to change things.

Believe it or not as much as you may want change,  some are not going to want the church to change at all.  That is simply a fact.  Instead of changing some things,  it might be best to let them die a natural death. For example, at the first church I served,  there was an evening class that met every Sunday.  Years ago the class was greatly attended because it led right into the weekly Sunday night service.

By the time I got there the church no longer had a night service, but continued to have the class before the night service.  Of course the attendance was greatly effected.  For at least 2 years the only attenders were the leaders of the class.  My first mind was to do away with the class because of a lack of attendance. But I waited until those faithful three recognized the class was dead and there was no need to have the class on that day or time slot.  Finally THEY called it quits.  But I had to let it simply die.  Otherwise  I would have been fighting a history and tradition and perhaps blamed for canceling the class.  This doesn’t mean the church can’t, won’t and shouldn’t change.  But you have to choose the method and means.  Sometimes that is earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.  Let it die.

7.  Change is uncomfortable for everyone.

Change will be uncomfortable for you and others as well.  It’s just more uncomfortable for some than others.  But change must occur.



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