In April of this year, I’ll celebrate 40 years in full-time ministry. Over those decades, here are some of the things I’ve learned about change in the church:
- Its need is seldom as apparent to church members as it is to church leaders. We usually have more data than others, and we’ve usually been wrestling through the needed changes much longer than we give church members to consider them.
- “The Bible says so” doesn’t always motivate believers to make a change. You’d hope it would, but that’s not always the case. Members who don’t generally listen to the Scriptures in their own lives aren’t usually motivated by them to make an unwanted change.
- Change usually takes a lot longer than I like. That’s partially because I’m impatient, but it’s also because it takes time for folks to see and accept the need for change. Patience and persistence are both in order.
- Many leaders give much attention to the intended result, but far too little attention to the change process to get there. The goal may be good and right, but a poorly-considered process of change can stifle any progress to that change—and leave members with skepticism about change in the future, too.
- In many cases, one influential person—and it’s not always the pastor—can make or break the change. To ignore this person completely in the change process is not always wise. He or she can be a great asset if leaders get them on board.
- Too much change in too short a time can be overwhelming for some folks. That’s especially the case for older folks who are longing for something in their lives to remain the same. Timing and pace of change matter.
- If church members understand the “why” behind the change, they’re much more likely to support it. I’m convinced many church members want to see God work mightily, and they’re not automatically opposed to change. They just want to know we’ve done our homework before implementing the change.
- Many changes seem radical at the time—but they’re not so radical years down the road. I think, for example, of the first time we used cassette tape music in a service . . . or used a Bible version other than the KJV . . . or sang praise choruses projected on the wall with an overhead projector . . . or held small group Bible studies in our homes . . . or didn’t pass an offering plate. I could go on and on, but I trust you get the point. Today’s radical change will likely become tomorrow’s norm.
Veteran church leaders, what else have you learned about change?