I am almost 8 months into a new pastorate. I left the church planting world to help revitalize and grow an established church.
Honestly, it’s proving to be challenging—maybe slightly more than I thought it would be. But God is allowing us to experience incredible energy and excitement. He is working. Amazingly working.
Needless to say, I’m in the midst of change. That’s not unusual. 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 has come fast. It doesn’t necessarily seem fast to me, and certainly not monumental, but I know, in a church that’s over 100 years old, it’s been fast.
For the most part, the reception to change has been good. Still, change, no matter how necessary, is never easy. Along the way, I’m learning a few things.
Here are 10 things I’m learning in leading a church through change:
1. 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. That doesn’t mean don’t change, but it does mean change should be relevant to the context.
2. Don’t oppose the old.
Encourage the new. The old got you to where you are today. It’s not bad. In fact, at one time it was 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.)
3. Celebrate history.
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.
4. Many times information overcomes objection.
You can’t over-communicate in times of change. The more they know the “why,” the less they will resist the “what.”
5. 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. 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.) That doesn’t mean the church can’t, won’t and shouldn’t change and thrive again.
6. Change is uncomfortable for everyone.
It’s just more uncomfortable for some than others.
7. Some days all you’ll hear are the critics.
That’s true too. 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.
8. 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 and in their church life. When leading change in a place where injury is present, there will be resistance based solely on that pain.
9. The best supporters are often silent.
I don’t know why. They just are. They are satisfied. Happy. Ecstatic even. They just don’t always tell you they are. The good news is they are usually telling others. And that’s fueling more growth.
10. God is faithful.
You knew that one, right? Somehow, just when you need it most, God seems to send an encourager. Awesome.