I left the church planting world to help revitalize and grow an established church. It’s proven to be challenging—maybe slightly more than I thought it would be.
But, God has allowed us to experience incredible energy and excitement. I am not big on sharing numbers in this format, but let me simply say—God is working. Amazingly working. The potential in the days ahead is astounding to me.
Needless to say, there has been a lot of change since I made the transition. I tend to like change. I think it’s necessary if any organization, church or relationship wants to grow—or even remain alive. But, some change came fast. It didn’t necessarily seem fast to me, and certainly not monumental, but I know, in a church over 100 years old—what is slow change to me is considered fast to others.
For the most part, the reception to change has been good. Still, change, no matter how necessary, is never easy. Along the way, I have learned a few things. I share this knowing over 50 percent of the readers of this blog are in ministry. Hopefully some of what we’ve learned will help others.
Here are 10 things I’ve learned in leading church change:
Don’t try to be the church down the street.
You have to be true to the DNA, heritage and culture of the church you lead. This doesn’t mean don’t change, but does mean change should be relevant to context. It’s a mistake to think you can “cookie-cutter” someone else’s success.
Don’t oppose everything old.
When you’re against everything done in the past you push people into a corner to defend themselves. The old—whatever it is—got you to where you are today. It may not be all bad. In fact, at one time it might have been very good—the best. The old was once new. The new is simply where the most energy is at currently. (Someday it will be old.)
Celebrate history and change will be easier.
People were there years ago, building the church where you serve today. My granddaddy would say, “Don’t forget what brung ya!” I especially love hearing the stories of how the church grew through other times of change. It may sound like a strange connection, but I’ve observed when people get a chance to tell their story they feel better about the change you are proposing.
Many times information overcomes objection.
Many times. I might even say most times. You can’t over-communicate in times of change. The more they know the “why,” the less they will resist the “what.” (By the way, my interview with Zig Ziglar
confirmed this principle.)
It sometimes seems easier to let a church slowly die than to try to change things.
There. I said it. But, it’s true. Some people are not going to want the church to change. Period. End of story. And, most likely, they will find a way to let you know. (Most likely that will be some way other than telling you—but you’ll hear it.) But, that doesn’t mean the church can’t, won’t and shouldn’t change—and thrive again.
Change is uncomfortable for everyone
It’s just more uncomfortable for some than others. You might read THIS POST
about a recent sobering reminder I had about the relativism of objection to change.
Some days all you’ll hear are the critics.
This is just life. I think Satan even has a hand in this one. You’ll think no one is on your side. You’ll think you’re wasting your time. You’ll have a one-day (or multiple-day) pity party. On those days, you’ll need to remember the vision God called you to complete. Keep going.
The degree of pain determines the degree of resistance to change
When people are injured—or afraid—or lack trust—they are more likely to cling to what’s comfortable and resist what’s new. That is true in their personal life or their church life. When leading change in a place where injury is present, there will be resistance based solely on that pain. You may have to lead people to a place of forgiveness before you can lead them to a place of change.
The best supporters are often silent
I don’t know why. They just are. They are satisfied. Happy. Ecstatic even perhaps. They just don’t always tell you they are. But, good news, they are usually telling others. And, that’s fueling more growth. And, God is faithful. Somehow, just when you need it most, God seems to send an encourager.
Change speed is relative to change frequency.
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.
These are some things I’ve learned about leading change. I hope something here is helpful to you.
What have you learned in leading change?