Change is healthy. Change is good. Change is normal.
All living things change. Or they die.
The church is no exception to that.
No, we don’t change the essential doctrines. They are our foundation. Messing around with the foundation doesn’t bring change; it causes collapse.
As I outlined recently in Kill Your Church Traditions Before They Kill Your Church, everything but our biblical essentials must be subject to change.
Just as churches that change the essentials will collapse, a church that isn’t willing to change on non-essentials will die.
The ABCs of Change
But how do we implement change in a church that has always resisted it? That is one of the great challenges of pastoring.
One key element is what I call the ABCs of change – Always Be Changing Something.
Here’s an example.
When I came to the church I currently pastor, it was very unhealthy. Many changes were needed, but I started slowly.
I presented the need to for a small but obvious change to our deacons. They all agreed that this change was not just essential and overdue, but that it would be easy. (No, I won’t tell you what it was. I don’t want this to be about that.) When I presented the change to the church, the reaction was immediate and negative. A handful of very vocal church members were outraged, not at the content of the change, but that we would want to change anything about the church at all. You’d have thought we proposed adding a book to the Bible.
We got the change done, but it wasn’t easy.
At the next deacon meeting, one of the deacons declared, “I learned my lesson. We won’t be changing anything else any time soon.”
“Oh no,” I told him. “The lesson is that we need to change things on a far more regular basis. In fact, here’s my next change…”
Why would I do that? Am I a glutton for punishment? No. As I explained to a shocked roomful of deacons, the reason the first change was so hard was because that was how every previous pastor had acted when there was any pushback. “Look around,” I told them. “Almost nothing has been changed in this church for the last decade—except a constant turnover of pastors. And all because of fear. Fear of change is no way to lead a healthy church. From now on, we’re always going to be changing something.”
So that’s what we did. From that moment on, there has always—and I mean always—been something in our church that’s changing. A facility improvement, curriculum upgrade, new outreach ministry, etc.
It was hard at first. But now, change is so much a part of our church culture, it’s embraced. Today, when a change is needed, we might have a vigorous debate about how to change, but no one questions if we should change.
And, in case you’re wondering, this change culture has not been a slippery slope. It has never led us to question the basics of the faith. If anything, changing the non-essentials encourages us to cling even stronger to the essentials. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission matter more to us now than they ever have.
Strengthen Your Change Muscles
One of the worst mistakes a church leader can make is to change nothing for a long time, then change several things all at once. Churches that seldom change never become good at it. Churches that have a regular process for change do it well—and healthily.
If you want your church to get used to making needed changes, change things regularly.
As I explained in Adapt Or Die: 6 Ways to Create a Change Culture In Your Church, healthy churches need to move from a destination mindset to a change process.
In a destination mindset, systems, facilities and methods become permanent parts of who we are and what we do. A building becomes our identity, or a method becomes our theology. But when a church implements a change process, we know what needs to be changed and why.
When things never change, people think they never should change. Inertia becomes policy.
But when things are regularly changing, change becomes part of the DNA of the church. Innovation becomes normal.
The ability to change is like a muscle. It grows stronger the more we use it.
When change is hard, the temptation is to stop trying to change things. We must resist that temptation and lean into healthy and necessary changes, not away from them.
Stay firm on the foundations. Worship Jesus, honor Scripture and love people.
On everything else, follow the ABCs.
Always Be Changing Something.
So what do you think? What can you do to create a church culture that’s open to necessary changes?