Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why do so many church members resist change

This past Saturday I led a workshop for a church that averages about 300 people each Sunday morning.  Their pastor asked me to speak to their leadership about their need to become more missional.  Now, this is a healthy church that is having a positive impact in its community, but the pastor knew there was more that could be done.  He also knew that there were some in the congregation that believed their church should focus more on the current membership than on those outside the church.  Our meeting was very positive and I have little doubt that this church is going to be seeking a fresh vision for ministry to those outside the Kingdom of God.

Part of our discussion focused on leading change in a church.  Anyone who has been in church leadership for any amount of time knows that there is often resistance in a church any time someone suggests changing anything.  If this church was going to transition from being an inwardly-focused church to one that is more missional in its ministry it would have to be able to address any resistance to change that it might encounter in this process.  No doubt there are many reasons why church members resist change, but I shared just some of the most common.

Some people resist change because they are controllers.  These are people who believe the church exists for them and their loved ones, and they will oppose anything that threatens their position or power within the church.  While they will often work in the shadows trying to get people on their side, if challenged they can be very vicious and will be determined to win at any cost.  Fortunately, these people are often a small minority in churches; unfortunately, their power far exceeds their numbers because churches are often unwilling to challenge them.
Until churches are willing to confront these people they will never be able to move forward or implement any kind of significant change.

Another reason it can be difficult to implement change in a church has to do with the relationships that exist in churches, especially smaller churches.  Smaller churches are very relationship driven, and anything that might affect the existing relationships in these churches will be resisted.  (This is one reason many churches won't confront the controllers!  They prefer to maintain their relationship with these people rather than challenge their toxic behavior.)  Before suggesting any change, be sure to know how it might impact relationships in the church and be ready to address that.

A third reason people can be resistant to change has to do with their role in the church.  One question that will often be in the minds of people is how will this change impact their role in the church.  Even more importantly, will they even still have a role in the church?  These are serious questions for persons who have committed their lives to serving in a church, and they must be considered whenever planning to introduce change into a church.

Before attempting to introduce change into a church it is important that the leadership address these concerns on the front end.  They are going to be a factor in the change effort so you might as well be prepared and fire a preemptive strike.  Bring up these concerns before others do and share the answers to them as part of the initial presentation.  You will often find less resistance when you reassure people on the front end, and your efforts at change will be more effective.

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