10 Things I’m Learning Leading Church Change

imPossible concept

I am almost 8 months into a new pastorate. I left the church planting world to help revitalize and grow an established church. Many pastor friends questioned me at the time, but now they…and people who follow this blog…consistently ask how the move is going. Thank you. I feel the support.

Honestly, it’s proving to be challenging…maybe slightly more than I thought it would be. But, God is allowing us to experience incredible energy and excitement. I am not big on sharing numbers in this format, but let me simply say…they look good. God is working. Amazingly working. The potential in the days ahead is astounding to me. There are many great people here and we’ve assembled a stellar staff team.

Needless to say, I’m in the midst of change. That’s not unusual. I tend to like change. I think it’s necessary if any organization, church or relationship wants to grow…or even remain alive. But, some change has come fast. It doesn’t necessarily seem fast to me, and certainly not monumental, but I know, in a church that’s over 100 years old…it’s been fast.

For the most part, the reception to change has been good. Still, change, no matter how necessary, is never easy. Along the way, I’m learning a few things. I share this not only as an update, but knowing over fifty percent of the readers of this blog are in ministry, hopefully some of what I’m learning I can share with you.

Here are 10 things I’m learning in leading church change:

Don’t try to be the church down the street. You have to be true to the DNA, heritage and culture of the church you lead. That doesn’t mean don’t change, but does mean change should be relevant to context.

Don’t oppose the old. Encourage the new. The old got you to where you are today. It’s not bad. In fact, at one time it was very good…the best. The old was once new. The new is simply where the most energy is at currently. (Someday it will be old.)

Celebrate history. People were there years ago, building the church where you serve today. My granddaddy would say, “Don’t forget what brung ya!” I especially love hearing the stories of how the church grew through other times of change.

Many times information overcomes objection. Many times. You can’t over-communicate in times of change. The more they know the “why”, the less they will resist the “what”. (By the way, my interview with Zig Ziglar confirmed this principle.)

It sometimes seems easier to let a church slowly die than to try to change things. There. I said it. But, it’s true. Some people are not going to want the church to change. Period. End of story. And, most likely, they will find a way to let you know. (Most likely that will be some way other than telling you…but you’ll hear it.) But, that doesn’t mean the church can’t, won’t and shouldn’t change…and thrive again.

Change is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s just more uncomfortable for some than others. You might read THIS POST about a recent sobering reminder I had about the relativism of objection to change.

Some days all you’ll hear are the critics. That’s true too. I think Satan even has a hand in this one. You’ll think no one is on your side. You’ll think you’re wasting your time. You’ll have a one-day (or multiple day) pity party. On those days, you’ll need to remember the vision God called you to complete. Keep going.

The degree of pain determines the degree of resistance to change. When people are injured…or afraid…or lack trust, they are more likely to cling to what’s comfortable and resist what’s new. That is true in their personal life or their church life. When leading change in a place where injury is present, there will be resistance based solely on that pain.

The best supporters are often silent. I don’t know why. They just are. They are satisfied. Happy. Ecstatic even. They just don’t always tell you they are. But, good news, they are usually telling others. And, that’s fueling more growth.

God is faithful. You knew that one, right? Somehow, just when you need it most, God seems to send an encourager. Awesome.

These are some things I’m learning. I’ll share more in the days to come.

What have you learned in leading change?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add video comment

Have you Subscribed via RSS yet? Don't miss a post!

38 thoughts on “10 Things I’m Learning Leading Church Change

  1. This is a great post, Ron! I'm not in church leadership, but I can totally see this. Change is messy and it's tough being the one in charge of a mess! Great thoughts and great job communicating your thoughts.

  2. Ron, thank you. Valuable insights. I am stepping out on just this kind of turnaround ministry in Lexington. I appreciate your posts and, even more, your faith! Blessings, Tom

  3. When it comes to change I always think about this quote from Peter Drucker…“People overestimate what they can accomplish in one year but underestimate what they can accomplish in five years.” Change is the most difficult thing in church world because people are most resistant to change when it comes to their "personal" programming. If you can look forward with a 5 year perspective I've found that you usually outlast those resisting change.
    Twitter: deandeguara

  4. Hey Ron, great wisdom in this post. We need your voice brother!

    Ok, to answer your question – I've been part of leading a few congregations through change in the area of worship, which as I'm sure you know, can be a very hot topic.

    One thing I've learned – well, still learning, is to be sensitive to the context, measure and celebrate progress, and have a shepherds heart for the people. Leadership is stronger when it is rooted in relationships, imo.

    Bless you man!

  5. Ron, I had the pleasure of visiting at your church, Immanuel. I heard you say in your sermon upon my first visit, " it's difficult being a church in transition." Well that bothered me as I thought you were another interim preacher and the church was still looking for a pastor. After the service, I asked two people sitting in front of me what was 'transitional' about Immanuel ? Being a visitor, the answers they gave me were so meaningful and reflected your faith and love of God and the church. They told me that Immanuel had searched for a pastor for a year and a half, and one weekend you came to speak at the church. You told people of the connection you felt with the church, then you applied for the pastor's position because you felt this was the place you were to be.
    Going from a church planter to the pastor of an established, but stagnant, church because of your faith truly impressed me…my feelings about Immanuel were strong before I ever visited, but once there, I knew this was the worship haven for me! Thank you for your dedication to ensuring God's Word is proliferated throughout the church and our world! God bless you!

  6. I've experienced them all, Ron. After 20 years in my turnaround church I can tell you it's worth it in the long run. But it does mean staying for the long run. It's a marathon, not a sprint, as you know.

  7. Great post Ron. All ten are dead on. I love how Kevin Ford in "The Transforming Church" frames it when he says "Leadership is leading people through change at a rate they can tolerate."

  8. What have I learned about leading change? You can’t do it alone. As one person said, “You call yourself a leader, but if you look behind you and no one’s following, you’re just out taking a walk.”

  9. Ron, I've enjoyed your blog for the past few years. Now that God has placed me in a position of leadership at my church, I appreciate you even more! Thank you for your honesty and encouragement In your posts…I'm better because of it. :)
    Twitter: kathyfannon