Change is hard no matter where it happens, but it seems like it can be hardest in churches. People have a vested interest in keeping things the same. Maybe they are comfortable with where the church is. Perhaps it has taken a lot of work to get there. Or maybe certain ministries suit their interests. Charting a new direction can sound as exciting as dental work.
But until Jesus comes back, change will be necessary in church.
So what should you do if your ministry needs less of a tune-up and more of an overhaul, especially if you know that folks are going to voice concerns over the changes you want to make? You have three options.
1. The white flag approach: no change
The easiest option is to forego making changes. This keeps people happy with you, and saves you from the stress of making new ministries happen (or, even harder, making ineffective ministries stop happening).
The first problem with this route, of course, is that no change means no progress. In fact, if you are trying to maintain the status quo, you’re actually going backwards, because the world is changing around you.
The other problem – at least I assume, since you are reading this blog – is that ultimately you won’t be content raising the white flag. Change helps you thrive, since you are driven to lead your church (if you’re a lead pastor) or your ministry (if you’re a staff pastor) to make the biggest impact for God’s kingdom as possible, for his glory.
2. The bulldozer approach: fast change
On the other end of spectrum, you could blow the whole thing up and start from scratch.
In Wheaton, IL (where I used to be a junior high pastor) people would buy a small, decent house, tear the whole thing down, and then build a brand new, huge home. Fresh hardwood floors, granite counter tops, and enough walk-in closets to keep the kids playing hide-and-seek for hours. Pastors often would like to take this approach in ministry and opt for a clean start.
A couple questions I’d like to ask you before you try this one out. Why do you want to start from scratch, and rebuild it just the way you’d like it? Are there control issues lurking behind those desires? Some perfectionistic tendencies? Are you being impatient?
A couple more questions. Are you ready to lose all the strengths of the ministry you want to bulldoze? Are you sure there aren’t any? Are you prepared to lose good people who genuinely love the Lord and have been endowed by the Spirit with gifts that can build up your church?
As relieving as it seems to tear something down and start over, there are more downsides than upsides to this approach. Granted, if a church is broken beyond repair, this might be your only option. But if there is any chance that incremental adjustments would work in the long run, then approach number three is your best choice.
3. The tortoise approach: slow change
There are simply too many advantages to taking baby steps toward the next chapter for your church or ministry.
For one, we leaders rarely have in our head the exact destination we need to go right at the beginning. It takes time for it to crystalize. Making small changes eventually leads us to that crystalizing moment, which we would not have gotten to just sitting in a chair and thinking about it.
Another benefit is that you learn more about the people you’re leading when you take things more slowly. It is easy for us to caricature our members after a couple interactions, and assume we have them all figured out. But the more we get to know them, the more we understand their needs and their gifts. This enables us to lead them better individually, and utilize them more as you lead the ministry overall.
God takes the tortoise approach with us!
We all grow slowly, caught in this already/not yet era between justification and glorification. Yet God is patient with us, still guiding us by his Spirit so that we are gradually conformed into the image of Christ.
Why would we not lead our churches in the same way that God leads us?