Monday, December 10, 2012

We must be willing to pay the price of change

This post is condensed from a chapter in my newest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.  Church leaders often tell me they want to see their churches grow, and many of them claim to be willing for change to occur for that to happen.  However, few are willing to pay the price of such change.  As soon as things start to become difficult they quickly revert back to what they were doing to alleviate the pain of the change.  Change often requires a tremendous price on an organization and its leadership.  Jesus taught us that before engaging in a new endeavor we should count the cost, so what are some of the costs that a church might encounter as it begins to make significant changes?
  1. It could require new pastoral leadership.  George Barna insisted in his book  Turnaround Churches: How to Overcome Barriers to Growth and Bring New Life to an Established Church, that a new pastor had to be brought in to turn around a church.  In some cases, a pastor could re-invent himself or herself, but quite often a pastor must be willing to step aside so a church can make the necessary changes to become healthier and grow.
  2. It could require new lay leadership.  In some churches lay leaders may be willing to step aside, but often it will require either intervention or confrontation.  Neither are likely to be easy.  Pastors who attempt to do either are often the ones who actually end up out of a job.  In many cases, the best opportunity for ineffective or dysfunctional lay leaders to be challenged is when the church is between pastors.  This can be a very important task for an interim minister to achieve before the new pastor arrives.
  3. Any significant change will lead to conflict.  A church will not experience a significant change without conflict of some type.  Such changes often bring a sense of loss to some people, and most people resist losses in their lives.  Before introducing change into a church the wise leader will consider what possible conflicts it might create and proactively address them as much as possible before the change occurs.  At the very least, anticipate that conflict will occur so that you are not surprised and unprepared when it does occur.
  4. There is always the potential that change will cause some people to leave the church.  Some will leave because they were unable to stop the changes from occuring and sense that their power and influence in the church are gone.  Others will leave because the changes create a church different than what they prefer.  Although no church wants to see people leave the congregation, the threat of losing members should not deter the church from moving forward in the direction God has laid out for them.
  5. If the change successfully leads to growth there is often an unexpected cost to a congregation.  It is no longer the same church that current members have become used to.  New people may park in "their" parking spots and sit in "their" seats.  If young children begin to attend the church the noise level may be greater than people have been used to and it may be more difficult to keep the carpet and walls clean.  New people will be available for leadership and teaching positions which some of the old guard will find threatening.  The church structure may have to change to reflect the differences in the church.  I am convinced that some people resist change in the church because they are fearful of the costs that might be involved if the changes are successful.
You can find more information on these possible costs and some recommendations for how to avoid them in my book.

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