Nobody is very fond of changes. It is often said that the seven last word of a dying church are: “We’ve never done it that way before.” Personally, I am not fond of change either. I like things being a certain way and sticking with it. I do not enjoy making changes in my life or in the ministry. However, we live in an ever-changing world. We also serve a God that created us to change. Our sanctification alone requires tremendous changes in our lives. Whether we like it or not, we must embrace change.
As the old saying goes: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This insanity is very present in the life of an established church. We are accustomed to our routine and to our way of doing things that the slightest hint of change can cause a tremendous uproar. We need to understand that today’s generation does not think the same way that previous generations think. The lifestyles of today’s generation are not the same as the lifestyles of previous generations. Therefore, in order for the church to survive, adjustments and changes must be made. If not, then the church will die. The sad truth is that there those in local churches that insist on keeping things the same. The problem is that they do not understand that change is needed in order to reach their grandchildren. Instead of embracing change and encouraging change, they bulk against it. As a result, the grandchildren fall away. Eventually, the church will dwindle to nothing and will be forced to shut its doors all because a loud minority refuses to allow the next generation to participate and to lead and to make the changes that they desire.
There are many changes that I have contemplated that I believe would work well to more effectively minister to people of today, yet, I know that pursuing those changes would create too much of an uproar. This is the struggles of many in the pastorate such as myself. How do we create and allow change without destroying the church in the process? How do we do things that we know will work without casting off those who are long time pillars in the church? These are the issues that every pastor must face. For example: The growth we see in the church I pastor is with younger families. Most of our new members are young families. They are a part of the millennial generation. The way they live and think is far different than previous generations. Therefore, in order to effectively minister to them and see the church advance, there are changes in programming that must be done. If not, the church will dwindle and die. Younger adults of today do not rank weekly church attendance high on their list. The reason for this is not that they do not like church, but, that the church operates in way that is hard for them to respond to. One idea that I have been contemplating is the Sunday evening service. Very few, if any, young adults attend a Sunday evening service. However, they will attend a small group Bible Study. The idea of coming back to church on a Sunday night just to hear another sermon is not very appealing to those young families. However, if you offered small groups that meet in homes on Sunday evenings where they discuss the Sunday morning sermon and how it applies to their lives while sitting in a living room and enjoying fellowship with others is something that they are more likely to participate in. However, such an idea would be met with resistance because we don’t like change. Being more heavily involved in media and providing live streaming of the Sunday morning service and even online giving would be met with open arms by today’s generation. The churches that do those things will often thrive. But, the churches not wiling to embrace such out-of-the-box methods dies.
There are other simple changes that can be made. For example, giving the regular services a different name or adjusting the time we meet will create interest. When we do the same thing over and over and in the same way over and over, those younger families eventually get bored and drop away. But, again, even the hint of such changes can bring such an uproar that most pastors, including myself, are hesitant to create.
So, how do we implement change without destroying the church? How can we effectively minister to today’s generation while at the same time reach out to previous generations? Let me give you a few things to keep in mind when implementing change:
1. PRAY. PRAY. PRAY.
Only God can change people’s hearts and open their eyes. We need to pray specifically for those who are resistant to change.
2. TIMING. TIMING. TIMING.
Timing is everything. Whatever you do, make sure it’s the right time. Seek the Lord and let Him guide you one step at a time.
3. BE PATIENT.
Change in a church is a long-cruelling process. It takes time to convince people of needed change. It takes time to develop new leaders that are open to change. Don’t give up to soon. Be patient. It will come.
4. DEVELOP LEADERS.
One of the greatest keys to good leadership is developing other leaders and surrounding yourself with a good team. As a pastor, I try to pinpoint a couple of young men with potential and spend time with them in order to develop them into leaders. This process can be long and sometimes frustrating and disappointing. But, when you finally get there and you start developing a good leadership team in the church, change becomes much easier and growth becomes much more possible.
5. LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN.
No one will listen to you, if you do not listen to them. A few months ago, I faced a situation where I implemented a very slight change and to my surprise there were those who were so disagreeable and began to attack me personally that it made my life miserable for several weeks. Part of me wanted to fight and insist on keeping the change. I felt that if I gave in, then they win, and they will think they can control me. However, as I prayed about it, I realized that the change I was implementing was so minor, it was not worth the fight. I had to be the better man. So, I listened and went back to the old way. This decision was hard. But, it was needed. It was also strategic. You see, the more I listen even to those who unknowingly create a hinderance to the work; the greater trust and respect they will have for me. The more I listen to them, the more they will listen to me.
This process of change is not for the weak of heart. It is not for the easily angered or the impatient. This process of change, in some cases, takes years. It takes years to develop new leaders. It takes years of navigating through roadblocks. It takes a whole lot of grace. Now, in a new younger church such change is much easier. However, I am concerned that in recent years we have given up on the established church. New church plants spring up all the time while established and historic churches close their doors. For me, God has called me to serve in a local church that has been a lighthouse to its community for over 100 years. We are a church in transition. And with that comes the regular frustrations and disappointments and struggles. But, it is worth it. We cannot allow those pillars of local communities die. We must be agents of change. We must take that process of change seriously. We must be committed and take our time. Through this journey of change, many will come to know Jesus and many disciples will be made, and many hearts will be revived. Dear Pastor, don’t be discouraged when you are met with one brick wall after another. Stay with it. Be patient. Listen well. Love unconditionally. Preach boldly. Eventually those brick walls will become fewer and fewer and you will be the man God uses to keep the heartbeat of the church strong for years to come.