According to some sources, nine out of ten churches in North America are losing ground in their communities. Many are declining or dying because they refuse to change. The good news is that new churches are being planted, others are revitalizing, and some are replanting (https://www.namb.net/church-replanting/).
The cost of change is scary, but as Dr. Thom Rainer says, “It wouldn’t take faith if we could tackle these challenges in our own strength and power. It is a sin to be good when God has called us to be great. We need change leaders in our churches who are willing to do something great.”
The road leading to change in the church (or community, or convention) can be bumpy and even dangerous at times, but it’s worth it. Jesus is still building his church (Matthew 16:18).
With thanks to John Kotter, Professor Chris Thompson, Thom Rainer, and others, I offer this simple overview of a seven-stage roadmap for leading change in your church.
1. Pray like you’ve never prayed before
You either want to lead change or be a part of leading change, so you need to pray. Leaders often want to see tangible results yesterday. But that’s a mistake. Leading change begins in the power and strength of God. Pray for God’s wisdom, courage, and strength (James 1:5, Joshua 1:9). Pray like you’ve never prayed before.
2. Establish and communicate a sense of urgency
John Kotter says we need to “inspire people to act – with passion and purpose – to achieve a bold, aspirational opportunity. Build momentum that excites people to pursue a compelling (and clear) vision of the future… together.”
That is what the apostles and elders did in Acts 15 in the Council at Jerusalem. False teachers came from Judea to Antioch, so the apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and boldly addressed them, speaking the truth in love. He inspired them to act in a way that would honor Jesus and promote the true gospel.
Some people in our churches or state conventions don’t see the need to make changes because they don’t see reality for what it is. They don’t see the decline, the worn facilities, or that the church is not reaching unbelievers as it once did. You must lead the congregation to understand what is happening around them and communicate a sense of urgency. “We must do this or that because people need to hear about Jesus!”
3. Build an enthusiastic coalition
We cannot lead change on our own. Lone Ranger leaders only have one opinion and one agenda: their own. Church and convention leadership teams need to invite others to the table with the right chemistry, influence, expertise, and leadership, including the next generation, to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities. Large-scale change can only occur when large numbers of people rally around a common opportunity. Start with a guiding coalition and enlist a volunteer army!
4. Share your hope
“Change agents are agents of hope,” says Rainer. Read your Bible daily, pray like mad, and share your hope in Christ and in the church. We need more beacons of hope. Celebrate even the smallest victories and infuse the hope of the gospel into your people. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NIV).
5. Deal with stuff
I hate conflict. I grew up in a dysfunctional home that did not deal with “stuff,” and I’m still running a deficit when it comes to crucial conversations and confronting bullies.
We need to love hard, expect opposition, and build a team of like-minded leaders. “Remove the obstacles that slow things down or create roadblocks to progress. Clear the way for people to innovate, work more nimbly across silos, and generate impact quickly,” says John Kotter. Often you’ll need to deal with negative stuff.
6. Move to an outward focus
Almost every church begins with an earnest desire to reach its community with the Good News of Jesus. Over time, the energy, programs, ministry, and money move inward, for the members. The church that just a few years earlier proclaimed the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is now focused on Great Comfort. Move to an outward focus and Jesus-exalting evangelism (John 14:6) or you will die.
7. Implement and consolidate change
Changes made in your family routines, your workplace, your church, or your convention need to be instituted or implemented. Someone has to make it happen. You must carefully, prayerfully, and repeatedly articulate the connections between new behaviors and organizational success. You must over-communicate until old habits are replaced by new ones. Explain it. Illustrate it. Appy it. Repeat.
Churches and organizations across the country are losing ground because they simply refuse to change. Maybe we can be the exception.