by Thom Schultz
For years people have told me the church is one of the most change-averse entities on the planet.
Ministry people sometimes leave in frustration when their congregations beat down any proposed change. And lay people often flee from churches when they tire of the pastoral staff’s intransigence.
It doesn’t seem to matter if the change is big and important or tiny and insignificant. The change may involve worship styles or elements, staffing assignments, outreach strategies, teaching methodologies, Bible translations, furnishings, paint colors, church names, and on and on.
So, what’s the deal? Why are so many churches so resistant to change?
Church leaders and members seem to be plagued with several tendencies that thwart even the healthiest kinds of change. A sampling:
Defensiveness. When gatekeepers hear critiques or suggestions for change, they often instinctively bite back with a defense of the status quo rather than a thoughtful reflection.
Denial. Some choose to ignore or deny that problems or weaknesses exist. Thus, they see no need to change.
Blame the messenger. “If people say our worship doesn’t connect, they haven’t prepared their hearts.”
Blame God. They confuse God with his church. “God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” And “God doesn’t need your new ideas.”
Nostalgia. For some, residual warm memories (real or imagined) of the past obscure their ability to imagine the new day.
Cowardice. Change almost always meets resistance—and confrontation. Even when convinced that change is necessary, some grow faint at the thought of conflict.
Coasting. “I know we need to change, but I have just five years left here. I’ll let the next generation deal with the change.”
Avoiding necessary change hurts the church. Clinging to old ways will only continue to deteriorate the church’s influence and effectiveness in our culture. So, how can we encourage healthy change? Here are a few suggestions.
- Pray—for clarity, guidance and courage. Ask God how you might get in step with his desire to change hearts and move his people forward.
- When facing necessary change, focus not on what may be lost, but on what will be gained. As a change agent, paint a positive picture of the new day and the benefits it will bring.
- Inspire allies. Talk individually with influential people who will join you in seeing and supporting the new vision.
- Help your people swallow big changes a bite at a time. Sometimes, a gradual approach helps change-averse people adjust and digest.
- Have faith like a child. “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”