9 Simple Principles in Changing a Church

Most churches need to change at some level, but many leaders don’t know how to lead through change. In some cases, leaders who have tried to lead have been defeated when change doesn’t occur. Maybe these simple steps will help encourage leaders who face these situations:

  1. Approach change with a willingness to change yourself. Good change agents are open to adjusting their own thinking as needed for the good of the kingdom. If you’re always right, you won’t lead others well through change.
  2. Realize that leading through change without praying is dumb. Only God can change hearts, redeem traditions, and re-direct congregations. Perfunctory, surface-level praying doesn’t get us there. 
  3. Assume that change will likely be messy. It just is. Few people actually like change. If you know that change won’t be easy, you won’t be surprised when it’s messy. Plus, you’ll pray more.
  4. Don’t worry about getting everybody on board. Even Jesus didn’t get support from all of His 12 disciples. I doubt you’ll do better than He did. You seldom need 100% support to move forward.
  5. Do your homework. It’s likely that someone else has already tackled the change your church needs. Find out who’s already done it. Network. Ask questions. Take enough time, and be humble enough to learn from others.
  6. Be patient with most change. Emergencies require immediate action, but much change can be implemented gradually. Jesus could have changed his disciples in a heartbeat, but He invested hours, days, months, and years in them.
  7. Change one person and one group at a time. If you want to change your church, start with individuals who are already listening to you. Expand to other groups (e.g., small groups, deacons, etc.). Change enough people and groups, and your church can be changed without a vote.
  8. Recognize that your congregation might be at a disadvantage. Often, we spend months considering change before we present it to a congregation – and we then expect our folks to get on board quickly within days or weeks. We want them to trust us, but we sometimes give them too little time to understand and consider the change. 
  9. Celebrate what’s working, and say “thanks” when a congregation changes. Don’t ignore the good stuff while you’re seeking change – and express gratitude to a church that’s willing to step into change. 

What principles would you add? 


  • Sean Lee says:

    Leading change can be compared to steering an aircraft carrier. The process more than likely will be slow, and few have the moxy to stick with it.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Sean.

    • Ken says:

      I agree, Sean, and the more people you involve in the process, the slower the process will be. That’s why I lose patience with some of these studies about millennials. They tell us millennials want more people involved in the decision-making process, but they also tell us millennials want change to happen quickly. I’m not sure that’s a completely fair assessment of millennials, but that is what the studies I’ve read say. If it’s true, then millennials need to realize that they can’t have it both ways.

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