We like change that directly benefits us—a job promotion, a new home, marrying our dream mate, etc. But we’re terrified of change that threatens our sense of stability, security or significance. Having been a pastor for 18 years now, I’ve seen my share of missed opportunities for new, fresh growth resulting from the fear of taking risks that might cost our comfort.
God is living, active and dynamic. Furthermore, he is sovereign. We like to treat God as a product—apply, rinse and repeat—who will give us the same results forever as long as we never change the way we use him. But God has a tendency to be elusive, calling us out of our comfort zones and drawing us into the sometimes crazy adventure of following him on his terms, not ours.
Growth and forward momentum are created by significant catalytic changes.
We’ve watched this already in the short life of Grace Hills Church. We started meeting in an office building with about 30 people. When we moved to a local hotel, we grew to 70. When we launched in our first movie theater location, 174 showed up and we averaged 120 for the first six months. We added a second service and grew to 200. This year, we moved to a different movie theater and have had an average attendance of 240. We’ve seen the same thing as we’ve added staff.
In my personal life, I can look back at the greatest moments of spiritual growth and can see that, in general, they align with unexpected changes in my life. When I met my wife, surrendered to ministry, started Bible college, had kids, moved to Arkansas, to California and back to Arkansas again. It isn’t that we should thrust ourselves into constant chaos and instability. It’s just that moments of transition lend themselves to more intense transformation for our souls.
I get asked by many church leaders a rather basic and heartfelt question … how can we grow? How can we reach more people? How can we bring to life a seemingly dying movement?
And my answer is always the same, generally speaking … Change.
I’ll be accused of being too pragmatic, but I find great biblical precedent for this principle. God moved Abraham from Ur, Joseph from Canaan, Moses from Egypt to the desert and back again, David from the field to the palace to the cave to Hebron and finally to Jerusalem, Nehemiah from Susa to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, Paul to Antioch … you get the picture.
God even allowed great persecution to hit the church in its early days in Jerusalem (Acts 8). Why? To force them from their comfort zone out to every nation with the good news.
Yes, I know some things must never change. The central message of the gospel of King Jesus and all of the truth that God has revealed in his word, the Bible, is forever perfect and never in need of editing. But the culture around us is in a constant state of flux, and our method of communicating eternal truth must be adapted to each new generation, or we risk irrelevance and obsolescence. There stand across Europe and North America thousands of empty cathedrals and church houses as a testament to a brutal truth: God’s Spirit has moved on, and we haven’t caught up to him.
I’m extremely hopeful. I believe in the perpetuity of true New Testament churches until Jesus returns. I believe strongly that the gates of hell stand no chance at all of prevailing against the beautiful bride of Christ—the church. But each church must have the courage to change the non-biblical dynamics of her approach to a lost culture, which means leaders must be bold and courageous and embrace the pain of change for the win of seeing more people brought into the family of God.
If you want your church to grow (and you should, if you take the Great Commission seriously), then you’ll have to change. Period.
As Henry Blackaby wrote, in his classic work Experiencing God,
Once you come to believe God, you demonstrate your faith by what you do. Some action is required. … You cannot continue life as usual or stay where you are, and go with God at the same time. … To go from your ways, thoughts and purposes to God’s will always requires a major adjustment. God may require adjustments in your circumstances, relationships, thinking, commitments, actions and beliefs. Once you have made the necessary adjustments you can follow God in obedience. Keep in mind—the God who calls you is also the One who will enable you to do His will.