Friday, February 26, 2016

Healthy churches need to change

Most of us are familiar with the saying that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Unfortunately, that is not always good advice today. A better statement might be "If it isn't broke, break it. It's going to be obsolete soon anyway." Things continue to change so rapidly these days that many of the things you are doing today that make you successful will actually harm you in the future.

Many healthy organizations struggle with such change. Many of them took years (maybe decades) to enjoy the health they now have. It's frightening for a healthy organization to think of changing what seems to be working so well. This is especially true for healthy churches. Churches don't enjoy change very much anyway, so why begin changing things in a healthy church that is currently enjoying good ministry?

It's an honest question. For years I've known that healthy churches need to experience regular change, but I've always struggled to give an adequate answer to those who asked why. I was greatly helped this week as I read Less Is More Leadership: 8 Secrets to How to Lead & Still Have a Life by H. Dale Burke. He explains that healthy churches need to change because

  • our world is constantly changing.
  • our mission is yet to be accomplished.
  • our people are constantly changing.
  • every new generation is a new challenge.
  • change is easier when you are healthy, not unhealthy.
  • Scripture gives us our functions, but not our forms.
  • flexibility should be the norm if we value people over programs.
  • creativity should also flow from the children of the Creator.
  • the church is a body, a living organism, and a body must change to grow.
  • every church or ministry has a natural life cycle and will eventually die unless it is "reborn" from within.
Each of these are valid points. The one that resonated most with me was the last one about the life cycle of churches. This is an illustration that I often use in various presentation. A church will go through a normal life cycle of birth-growth-maturity-decline-death. Although it cannot reverse that cycle, it can begin new life cycles and see it's ministry "reborn" from within. New life cycles can begin at any time, but if a church waits until it is well down the decline side of the cycle it become much more difficult. By this time a church is often so concerned about its survival that it is reluctant to do anything that might threaten that survival. Change will be strongly resisted in most churches well down the decline side.

The growth phase is the best place to begin new life cycles because the church is the healthiest at this place. It feels less threatening to take risks and attempt new ministries. The leaders of healthy churches should be regularly identifying new ministry opportunities that will bring new life cycles for the church. Not only does this bring new life into the church, it takes ministry to new people and continues to advance the Kingdom of God.

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