Who Really Keeps Churches from Changing?

changeI constantly hear church leaders talking about how the church must change if it wants to keep reaching new people. I agree. With the caveat that we’re talking methods, not message (I have to give that disclaimer). The church must always adapt its methods to fit changing cultures. Christians have been doing for years. You might even say there’s a bit of a Biblical mandate there (1 Cor 9:19-23).

But if that that’s true, and most church leaders believe it, then why are churches notoriously resistant to change? Why do so many fail to change anything at all? Is it simply because the members aren’t willing? They don’t share the vision or understand the strategy? They’ve become so comfortable with the way things are that tradition has become more important than mission?

That’s what a lot of church leaders might think, but they’re wrong. If a church fails to implement needed change it’s not the fault of the members. That responsiblity falls squarely on the shoulders of its leaders. They are the ones charged with setting vision and communicating strategy. They are the ones who must push against comfort zones and elevate mission over tradition. That’s why we call them the leaders.

leadershipWe must take responsibility. If people see change as unnecessary, it’s because we failed to cast a compelling vision. If people are uncomfortable with doing anything different, it’s because we failed to communicate solid reasons (or give them enough time to process and study for themselves). If people just out-and-out refuse change in any form, it’s because we’ve been too scared to pull the trigger anyway. After all, what keeps most churches from changing?

We’re scared someone will leave. And they will. But the reverse is true as well. If we don’t change, people will still leave. They just won’t make a fuss about it. They’ll quietly walk away and we’ll never know why. So if people are going to leave anyway wouldn’t we rather chose who leaves? I know that sounds a bit crass but I hope you get what I’m saying.

We don’t want to change simply because we can. We want to change only when it’s directly tied to mission and vision. When that happens and people still leave, it’s because they don’t share our vision. That’s OK. I’d rather lose people over a lack of shared vision than lose people over a lack of any kind of vision whatsoever.

That’s why I’m so thankful to serve under our church’s leadership (I have to give that disclaimer too). Our church has been blessed with leaders who possess bold vision and a strong sense of purpose. And they aren’t afraid to implement changes that help us achieve that purpose. Now that doesn’t mean they don’t get bothered when people leave. They certianly do and so do I. But we’re willing to risk it, if we think it help us reach more people with the good news.

I love working for a church like that. It’s invigorating because you know that good ideas won’t be shot down just because Sister So-and-So won’t like it or Brother So-and-So might stop giving. Too often we allow those voices to put a halt to good decisions. Instead, we must continually remind ourselves that the gospel is bigger than any of our personal perferences and decisions must be made based on mission rather than tradition.

It’s not easy. But that’s why we have leaders.

3 thoughts on “Who Really Keeps Churches from Changing?

  1. Good thoughts Russ. I too wonder about this, but as you probably know, far too often it is because people are unwilling to realize that what they have belived in “all their lives” isn’t the only way (as they may have been taught). The fear that one may not have believed correctly or “right” scares folks, especially the older ones. Traditions that become doctrine are safe and comfortable. It hurts to change for some. I agree, thank God for leaders like at Maury Hills. It is the only way church can remain relevant. Love you, man!

  2. You said it well in the last paragraph when you mentioned someone quitting giving. Money talks. It gets you to the front row at the opera. It gets you influence in churches. It gets your voice heard by politicians. Add up the amount donated by those who don’t want change and compare it to the rest. Your decision will be made for you. This is why the younger generations are leaving without a word. They know they cannot compete with the entrenched donors, and so they go home or some place where they are wanted even if they can’t donate a lot of money. Sadly, the generation called the baby boomers who seem to control every organization see no problem with this arrangement. It might just be a win win for a church/organization who would be willing to accept the younger people who can’t yet donate a lot of money.

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