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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?

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Dean Johnson

commented on May 11, 2015

This is a good article on change, but I'm not sure it fits on a website called "sermon" central.

Tony Bland

commented on May 11, 2015

Yea the author could had quoted Ecclesiastes 3, then said are we listen to the bible. Then wrote this great article fits here

Karl Vaters

commented on May 11, 2015

As the author, I was surprised to see it here too, Dean. Grateful, but surprised. I originally wrote it for my own blog, but SermonCentral picked it up to use here. I'm good with that, since I've told them they can use any of my blog posts whenever they'd like, but that's why it isn't as "sermony" as most of the posts on this website. :)

Dave Powell

commented on May 11, 2015

Dean this is the very place the article has been used by God. I am just coming off a Board meeting that at the beginning was really wonderful, even an impromptu Bible study happened at the beginning devotions, everything running smoothly, but then a two year old "knife" came out of nowhere at me. Shattered, again. My wife took the person to task later as I was a wreck, and I understand an apology is coming today. CHANGE IS NECESSARY and I must keep steadily bringing about meaningful change. So this article has encouraged me no end. Thanks Karl. As a special encouragement from God this morning Psalm 50 v 14-15 was the verse that popped up on my phone Bible app. Have a read and embrace the love and care of our gracious God. He knows what we go through.

Karl Vaters

commented on May 11, 2015

That's great to hear, Dave. I pray your church listens to the Lord and follows the change he desires.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on May 12, 2015

A practical article...thanks Bro. Karl...of course one needs discernment to see what needs to be changed for the better and what needs to be left, as it is.

Karl Vaters

commented on May 13, 2015

Thanks, Suresh. Discernment is the key, for sure.

Mitchell Leonard

commented on May 12, 2015

Brother Karl, thank you for this article. I needed it. I just began pastoral work a little over a year ago and found this article encouraging. Thanks again, Mitch

Karl Vaters

commented on May 13, 2015

Those first few years are critical for sure, Mitchell. Spend a lot of time listening to the Lord and to the congregation. That will help you know what to change and what to reinforce.

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