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Change is inevitable. And unless a church creates healthy change in itself, it will soon become obsolete. Numerous empty or almost empty churches in Europe, America’s inner cities, and Canada bear witness to that. 

Ronald Heifetz, a Harvard professor and business/leadership author, is most known for a concept called adaptive change/leadership. Essentially adaptive change requires not cosmetic, familiar, or known solutions to existing problems (called technical change). Rather it requires experimentation, change of perspective, developing new values, and deep change from within. 

Here you can see the differences between adaptive change and technical change. In this brief post I share 3 keys to making change stick in your church.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Heifetz describes the three key steps British Airways took in the 1990’s that transformed it from the airline nicknamed “Bloody Awful” to “The World’s Favourite Airline.” The president at the time took the company through these three steps, applicable for churches facing change. I’ve added a question to ask yourself about each of these steps.

  1. They really listened to people inside and outside the organization.
    • How well would those in your church say you listen?
  2. They saw conflict as clues, or symptoms of what needed deep change.
    • What conflict currently in your church may indicate need for change?
  3. The leadership held up the mirror to themselves, recognizing that they embodied the changes that they needed to make in the company.
    • What change do you think God is leading you to make in yourself?

As you lead your church through change, consider these three key steps and questions.

What keys have you discovered that have helped you bring healthy change?



Dr. Charles Stone is Lead Pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada, and the founder of StoneWell Ministries, a pastor coaching and church consulting ministry. He is the author of four books including, "People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership" (IVP 2014), and his most recent book, “Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry” (Abingdon, May 2015).

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Stephen Belokur

commented on Aug 31, 2016

Thank you for the article and thank you for specifying "healthy change" in both the first and last sentences. Too often, I believe, empty churches are the result of change; not changes in form or method but changes in the message. Many (but not all) of the old, nearly empty churches are in that condition because of changes that resulted in a watered-down, powerless gospel being preached for the sake of not offending anyone and filling the pews. The Bible says, "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." Now, if you do that without putting on good entertainment (in place of genuine worship) you will have empty dying churches. With spiritually healthy change you can change the style of music and other aspects of worship without losing what really matters, a message of salvation through faith in Christ alone and lives that are dedicated to the glory our Savior, Jesus Christ!

E L Zacharias

commented on Aug 31, 2016

Some theologians might take issue with that last point. There is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity and mission of the Christian Church. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. The phrase in Latin literally means the law of prayer (the way we worship) is the law of belief (what we believe). It is sometimes expanded to as, lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, further deepening the implications of this truth - how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live. As Christ is the center of worship, it is the center of our teaching, it is the center of our living. The church brings real change when it brings faith about in the heart and life of a person.

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