Think Before You Make a Change

May 11, 2016

Faith is simultaneously deeply personal and deeply communal. Many people have happy family memories of going to Easter Sunday services in their new dresses and ties. They remember the sound of the organ and the look of the red carpet. They romanticize the light shooting through stained glass windows, and without a doubt they think to themselves: This is what salvation looks like. This is how we worship the Lord.

Those deep, romanticized feelings blur the line between what in a church is tradition and what is doctrine. Because of this, attempting to make a change to a church’s way of doing things doesn’t feel to them like a logical progression into the future. Instead, it feels like a personal attack on the person’s faith and community. If you think something needs to change around your church… tread lightly and consider the following.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Like it or not, you have a limited amount of influence. All leaders have a ceiling. It’s just reality. This means that until you can raise your ceiling of influence (Is there John Maxwell book about that?) there is a limit to what you can get done. If you overreach, it will cost you big time. The good news is this: being successful with smaller changes will raise the ceiling and earn you the right to change make some big changes.

So, before you go crazy with power, make sure you are spending your influence on the right issues. Sure, the ugly sheep statue in the foyer is low hanging fruit, but is that really what is keeping your church from being able to reach the lost? Is spending all your influence here really worth all the time and energy?

Change Policies Not Cosmetics

In his book “Innovation’s Dirty Little SecretLarry Osborne teaches us that no organization can outgrow the lid of its own policies, procedures, and actions. So what policies, procedures, and actions put the lid on your church’s potential? Answer that question, and start making changes there. It will be a better use of your time.

If your church’s mission is to reach the lost, what’s keeping you from doing that? If your first thought is your outdated foyer, you might want to get some other people on your team. At my church, we were not engaging with visitors well. Our stats showed we were getting visitors every week but our church was losing attendance. Visitors were coming in the front door and walking out the back. Apparently, just being nice was not enough to get them to join. So, we learned how to better engage visitors, and we made changes accordingly. I spent leadership capital on changes there, and it’s made a world of difference. (FYI, we did end up updating our foyer, but that was a consequence of new vision, not the goal.)

Know Why You Are Making a Change

I’m going to be honest: Change for the sake of change isn’t leadership—it’s laziness. Do the hard work of finding out where your church’s unique challenges are. Don’t make stuff up because it seems like a good idea or because it worked somewhere else. If your only goals are to be like churches you’ve worked at in the past or to have a nicer looking foyer, there is actually no vision at all.

When you dream about what your congregation looks like at its best, don’t let your vision be about the building, the worship style, or the technology. Those things are tools to accomplish the vision. They are just tools, not the vision!

The job of the Pastor is the people. Can you imagine someone shepherding the barn while the sheep run around not being taken care of!? Vision is having a congregation that knows how to share their gospel. Vision is seeing fathers take seriously their roles as spiritual leaders. Vision is having a leadership team or elders board that prays or a church full of people that actually live in your community. Dream about men and women of faith flourishing at your church. That’s the stuff that is worth making changes for.

Change for the sake of change isn't leadership—it's laziness. Click To Tweet

Communicate, Don’t Criticize

You have to effectively communicate your vision. I’m not talking about a mission/vision statement here. I’m saying your leaders and congregation members have to be able to see what it looks like when they close their eyes. They have to feel the joy of people coming to faith. They have to become emotionally invested in the change you are trying to make. Like it or not, if you really want to make a change, then key people have to feel as strongly about the change as they do about the past.

By the way, be careful not to criticize the past. Destroying a church’s legacy and reputation in order to get your way is manipulation, not leadership. I know you think they are old fashioned and don’t know how to do church. (Never mind that they existed for a hundred years before you were even a thing and have lead hundreds of people to Christ.) Churches aren’t looking for people to come in and criticize them. It’s proper discipleship, not criticism, that will help a church move forward. This can be hard, because people will play to your ego and tell you the things your itching ears want to hear—don’t fall for it! Every time I’ve seen this it has ended badly. That’s probably not the kind of change you were looking for. If you don’t honor a church’s history, you have already lost.

Key Principle of Change: people have to feel as strongly about the change as they do about the past. Click To Tweet

Pray

Finally, remember to pray. I address it last so you will remember it first. It is not possible to know what God desires for His Church unless we are on our knees and in His word. Without prayer any change you make will be toward your own desires not God’s.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – James 1:5

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