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How Active Inertia Is Killing Your Church

by Jon Vaughan


Why do good churches fail? Why do good companies end up closing their doors? The right answer isn’t always obvious. For years you have read the Barna and Pew research, closely examined all the church trends, and attended conferences where you sat through hundreds of PowerPoint slides outlining the need to innovate and change…or die.

You have probably taken all that information and jumped into hyperactivity drive: Do more and more because “action will overcome the problem.” You have just exhibited what experts call active inertia.

Active inertia is an organization’s tendency to follow established patterns of behavior. Right now you see the enemy as paralysis—doing nothing in the face of big odds. So you conclude that the best defense is action, and lots of it. More programs, more meetings, more outreach—more of everything.

Because of its rich history, your church has experienced success at some point in its existence. However, your staff and congregation may have fallen into the trap of following processes and behaviors not because they’re effective or efficient, but because they’re well known and comfortable.

I was on the phone recently with a brilliant pastor whose church is “stuck.” He told me of all the programs and committees his church is hoping to launch. I asked if those committees were productive and producing the results he wanted to see. There was silence, and he reluctantly said no. I asked him if the structure was serving him or if he was serving the committee structure. Another reluctant “no.” This is another example of active inertia: trying to do more through a flawed internal church structure.

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In the early 1990s, the operations manual for McDonald’s was a 750-page book detailing every aspect of business, and its focus was on standardizing processes. This allowed McDonald’s to rapidly roll out its winning formula in market after market (which is why there is a McDonald’s on every corner). But before long, McDonald’s was in a rut. Consumers were looking for different and healthier foods, and competitors capitalized on the shift in consumers’ taste. McDonald’s strength had turned into its weakness. Anything in this story sound familiar?

Active inertia is insidious by nature because it grows out of success and often spreads unnoticed. Success breeds active inertia, and active inertia breeds failure.

5 things to ponder regarding active inertia within your church:

  • Realize that action alone does not solve the problem, it adds to the problem.
  • Recognize that trying to change everything at once is never a good idea.
  • Find the balance between who you were as a church and who you are now. Embrace the past, and embrace the future.
  • Study how Jesus implemented change.
  • Read Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore and discuss it with your leadership team. There is even an Action Plan Workbook available that can help you navigate this conversation.

Once you realize you are looking for renewal and not a revolution, it will be the start of something big for your church.

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How Active Inertia Is Killing Your Ch...

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