Churches Can Handle Change, But They Don’t Like Surprise

Introducing big changes is much easier if we give church leaders and members the time to process them.

Churches can handle change.

If you’ve tried and failed to change things at your church, that may not feel true, but it is.

In most churches the problem is not that they can’t handle change. It’s that they don’t like being surprised by changes. And they shouldn’t have to be.

Wise leaders work very hard to reduce surprises as much as possible.

The more changes are needed, the more critical it is that church leaders and members know what’s happening and why.

Give Big Issues Time To Simmer

When I first arrived at my current church, a lot of changes were needed. The church was discouraged, unhealthy, and broken. They had a long, bad history of changes being attempted before the church was ready to receive or implement them. So, in my first deacon meeting, I established this principle.

Never ask for a final decision on a big issue in the same meeting in which the issue is introduced.

On small issues, it’s not a problem. But big issues need time to simmer.

After all, most big decisions have been simmering in our hearts and minds for weeks, months, or years before we’re ready to present them to the leadership team. We need to give those leaders some time, just like we needed time.

A Process = Respect

We’ve made a lot of changes in our church in the last three-plus decades. Some good. Some not. But no one was ever surprised by them.

Using that principle has been a credibility builder like no other.

Even when people disagreed with the changes, they understood the process. They knew what was happening and why, and they had the opportunity to give input and verbalize disagreements without fear of reprisal. In short, the lack of surprise gave them one essential ingredient.


Everyone deserves it. Leaders require it. Churches will become dysfunctional without it.

But when people and their ideas are respected, it’s amazing how much change they’re willing to take a chance on.

If pastors respect the church’s need to process the issue, church members are more likely to respect the pastor’s leadership through the change. Then we can discover the joyful truth that most churches are far better with change than we give them credit for.

Give People Time To Ponder

People need time to process big changes.

After all, how do we expect our leaders to make the right choice in 20 minutes before moving on to the next agenda item, when we’ve taken days, weeks, even months to ponder big changes before we were ready to present them?

Most churches are far better with change than we give them credit for. As long as the church is relatively healthy, that is. If the environment is not just broken, but toxic and dysfunctional, different rules apply.

But the leaders and members of a relatively healthy church want what every pastor wants—necessary changes, properly understood, with enough time to think, pray, learn, discuss, and implement them.

Yes, this process takes a little longer. But doing something slowly and right is always better than doing it fast and wrong.

(Photo by Adam Meek | Flickr)


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