The ABCS of Church Change (Always Be Changing Something)

Stepping stonesChange is healthy. Change is good. Change is normal.

All living things change. Or they die.

The church is no exception to that.

No, we don’t change the essential doctrines. They are our foundation. Messing around with the foundation doesn’t bring change, it causes collapse.

As I outlined recently in Kill Your Church Traditions Before They Kill Your Church, everything but our biblical essentials must be subject to change.

Just as churches that change the essentials will collapse, a church that isn’t willing to change on non-essentials will die.


The ABCS of Change

But how do we implement change in a church that has always resisted it? That is one of the great challenges of pastoring.

One key element is what I call the ABCS of change – Always Be Changing Something.

Here’s an example. 

When I came to the church I currently pastor, it was very unhealthy. Many changes were needed, but I started slowly.

I presented the need to for a small, but obvious change to our deacons. They all agreed that this change was not just essential and overdue, but that it would be easy. (No, I won’t tell you what it was. I don’t want this to be about that). When I presented the change to the church, the reaction was immediate and negative. A handful of very vocal church members were outraged, not at the content of the change, but that we would want to change anything about the church at all. You’d have thought we proposed adding a book to the bible.

We got the change done, but it wasn’t easy.

At the next deacon meeting, one of the deacons declared, “I learned my lesson. We won’t be changing anything else any time soon.”

“Oh no.” I told him. “The lesson is that we need to change things on a far more regular basis. In fact, here’s my next change…”

Why would I do that? Am I a glutton for punishment? No. As I explained to a shocked roomful of deacons, the reason the first change was so hard was because that was how every previous pastor had acted when there was any pushback. “Look around,” I told them. “Almost nothing has been changed in this church for the last decade – except a constant turnover of pastors. And all because of fear. Fear of change is no way to lead a healthy church. From now on, we’re always going to be changing something.”

So that’s what we did. From that moment on, there has always – and I mean always – been something in our church that’s changing. A facility improvement, curriculum upgrade, new outreach ministry, etc.

It was hard at first. But now, change is so much a part of our church culture, it’s embraced. Today, when a change is needed, we might have a vigorous debate about how to change, but no one questions if we should change.

And, in case you’re wondering, this change culture has not been a slippery slope. It has never led us to question the basics of the faith. If anything, changing the non-essentials encourages us to cling even stronger to the essentials. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission matter more to us now than they ever have.


Strengthen Your Change Muscles

One of the worst mistakes a church leader can make is to change nothing for a long time, then change several things all at once. Churches that seldom change, never become good at it. Churches that have a regular process for change do it well – and healthily.

If you want your church to get used to making needed changes, change things regularly.

As I explained in Adapt Or Die: 6 Ways to Create a Change Culture In Your Church, healthy churches need to move from a destination mindset to a change process.

In a destination mindset, systems, facilities and methods become permanent parts of who we are and what we do. A building becomes our identity, or a method becomes our theology. But when a church implements a change process, we know what needs to be changed and why.

When things never change, people think they never should change. Inertia becomes policy.

But when things are regularly changing, change becomes part of the DNA of the church. Innovation becomes normal.

The ability to change is like a muscle. It grows stronger the more we use it.

When change is hard, the temptation is to stop trying to change things. We must resist that temptation and lean into healthy and necessary changes, not away from them.

Stay firm on the foundations. Worship Jesus, honor scripture and love people.

On everything else, follow the ABCS.

Always Be Changing Something.


So what do you think? What can you do to create a church culture that’s open to necessary changes?

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Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Stepping Stones photo from Paul • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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3 thoughts on “The ABCS of Church Change (Always Be Changing Something)”

  1. During the seventeen odd years I was a licensed minister, my guiding philosophy was “if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well: and “there is always room for improvement.” There is no reason to settle for second-rate, third-rate, shoddy, or sloppy. A way can always be found to do things better within the limitations of a church’s circumstances and resources. This includes looking at such limitations as challenges to be overcome and opportunities to be taken advantage of. It involves recognizing that we have blind spots, may overlook resources, are apt to develop tunnel vision, and need to look at a situation from every perspective. It also involves openness to experimenting with new ideas and new concepts and making changes.

    Sadly this philosophy was not appreciated by my pastor whose guiding philosophy was “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” He generally shied away from making any changes if he or the congregation were satisfied with things as they were. His ostensibly concern was how the congregation might react to a proposed change. This concern was in actuality a rationalization for his own lack of openness and resistance to change. He would only try a new idea or concept if he discerned that there was support for the new idea or concept in the congregation. In other words, a substantial segment of the congregation was lobbying him to permit the implementation of the new idea or concept and he risked alienating that segment of the congregation if did not do so. He himself came up with few if any new ideas or concepts. Most of the new ideas and concepts came from within the congregation. His role was essentially that of permission-giver.

    He largely did things as the pastor of the church where he had been a licensed minister before his ordination had done them. Once he graduated from seminary, he made very little effort to add to what he had learned in seminary. From conversations with him, I gather that he had rejected a significant part of what his professors had tried to teach him in seminary–practical knowledge that would have benefited him and the new church that his bishop had appointed him to pastor.

    He regularly preached a sermon in which he told members of the congregation that if they did not like the way things were done at the church–in other words, the way that he did things, they should leave. He would help them to find another church.

    Despite the pastor’s limitations the church would grow during its first decade in existence, transitioning from a subsidized mission to a self-supporting parish. It benefited to a large extent from the growth of the population in the area in which it was located, the friendliness of the congregation and the openness of its members toward newcomers, a solid children’s ministry, and a creative, innovative music ministry, The pastor gave free rein to the music minister. His only concerns were that the church had music for its services and the doxology was sung at the presentation of the offering. He played no role in the planning of music for services, which in the denomination to which the church belonged, the pastor was generally expected to do. During that period I functioned as a surrogate for the pastor as I had been the worship leader on the church’s launch team and had planned the services, including the selection of music, before his arrival. I had recruited the music minister and she had agreed to accept the position on the condition that I worked with her in planning music for the services. The result of our collaboration was an eclectic style of worship music, combining the best of contemporary and traditional music, selected for its accessibility to the congregation as well as its musical appeal, and focused outward. What traditional hymns, we used were selected for the familiarity of the tune as well as the text to people seeking a new church home and coming from a range of denominational backgrounds. We also made extensive use of the then newer praise choruses and worship songs. We made regular new additions to the congregation’s repertoire and were deliberate in the way that we introduced these additions. The music would attract not only people from the immediate community but also surrounding communities, including those who lived a thirty-minute drive from the church.

  2. Awesome Karl! Words I needed to hear. This post is one of those that potentially could change the rest of my ministry…and our local churches. 🙂

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