We often hear that people resist change. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate.
We’ll tackle that partial truth another time. For now, let’s focus on why pastors and churches are so resistant to change.
Every organization (church, business, non-profit, and all the others) struggles with change. Change moves people from a state of known to a place of unknown. Known is comfortable, and the unknown is far from it. Organizations exist because leaders need to bring order to the chaos of creative activities. Order allows for scale and predictability, all of which are essential. The bringing of order created the organization and simultaneously slowed the creative, leadership elements of change. This happens in every organization, but for churches, it seems worse.
Obviously, a complete lack of order isn’t the answer. Churches need order. The cyclical nature of what we do (is it already Sunday?) requires organizing our work, staff, and volunteers. This is a tension: Order produces resistance to change because change provokes disorder in the organization.
That’s a problem that desperately needs a solution. The church is the hope of the world. We’ve been given the saving message of the Gospel to share and spread across the globe. But the world is continuously in a state of change. Culture changes. Openness to truth changes. Consumerism has changed how people look at products, organizations, and churches. Expressive individualism has changed our response to authority (like God and his church). Moving from a Christian to post-Christian culture has dramatically affected the church. There are generational effects.
These current changes aren’t the only changes that we’ll face. These are just the recent changes. There’s more on the way, because change is the only constant in life (that’s from the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus – 500 BC). If the world we serve is ever-changing, that leaves us with only one choice:
Only a church capable of changing can maintain influence in an ever-changing world.
Why do churches resist change?
That’s a great question. Indeed there are many reasons. In my time researching churches and leading one myself, I’d like to suggest three specific challenges to leading change. Each of these challenges alone creates sufficient resistance to change. From what I see, most churches embrace more than just one.
1. Misplaced theology
Reading passages like Hebrews 13:8 might tempt us to resist change. After all, if Jesus never changes, shouldn’t we follow his lead? It’s clear the author of Hebrews isn’t referencing ministry models or strategies. Still, we sometimes allow misplaced theology to underpin our refusal to adjust.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)
It’s undoubtedly true that some things, like Jesus, should never change. The mission of the Church should remain unchanged. Regrettably, pastors too often equate the methods to the mission. Methods and models are just current ministry strategies, and they are not above reproach. We should implement them when they provide success and change them when they don’t. The mission of the Church never changes, but methods always do.
2. The Church is called to be an alternative to culture.
This is a close cousin to misplaced theology. As a follower of Jesus, we are called to live a life worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1 NIV). Here’s a quick sampling of Scripture directing us to be other than this world (this is only a small sample — there’s lots more):
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. – Ephesians 4:1 NIV
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. – Romans 12:2a (NIV)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. – John 15:19 (NIV)
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. – John 17:15-18 (NIV)
It’s easy to follow the thought pattern: We don’t belong to this world. We have been set apart from this world. The world may be ever-changing, but we won’t because God doesn’t. Therefore… drum roll please: Our churches should not change.
As church leaders, we have to realize the difference between being in and being of the world. Participating in this world is not equal to adjusting our methods to reach this world. When Jesus told us to “go into all the world,” I think he knew that would require some methodological adjustments, but not theological adjustments.
As the church, we are called to offer an alternative way of living, but we are not required to utilize outdated methods.
3. Capability and Availability.
Getting past the theological and methodological hangups positions us to change. This position also illuminates the challenges of lasting change. Lasting change must be led with great intentionality. Anyone can change something. But just because something looks different doesn’t mean anything has really changed. Leading lasting change means understanding how change progresses, why change efforts fail, what steps to take, what strategies to embrace, and how to support the people experiencing and executing the change. That sentence alone is proof of the complexity.
Leading lasting change requires that leaders understand change and have adequate time to engage with change. Because church is so cyclical, pastors spend most of their time managing the organization rather than leading change. When I consider how my time is allocated at Woodstock City Church, about 90% of my time is dedicated to management activities. Nothing against management. We need management because ideas, products, and services need order. But all this time managing leaves little time for change leaders.
That’s why I created Transformation Solutions. At Transformation Solutions, we help churches discern what needs to change and coach pastors through the challenge of change.
What needs to change in your church today?
- Your culture?
- Your staff structure?
- Your strategy?
- Your model?
- Your vision?
- Your digital and physical channel alignment?
- Your volunteer recruitment, retainment, and engagement?
- Your generosity stream?
- Your engagement pathway?
You can change it, and I’d love to help.
Right now at abrupt-chin.flywheelstaging.com, sign up for a free, 30-minute conversation to decide if working together works for you.