Over time churches can become quite change-averse communities. There are some positives to that of course - stability is important in any family. But sooner or later an aversion to change will prevent any community carrying out its purpose. People will join because they like it as it is at present not in order to join themselves to a vision for the future. They invest a large part of themselves in creating something they like and enjoy. Structures, activities and expectations build up over time until you get a mismatch between the church’s purpose - reaching its area with the gospel - and the structures that are meant to assist it. Maybe they were good 25 years, but they aren’t now and they aren’t easy to change.
Churches can suffer from inertia in the following ways:
- Individual inertia: Individual self-interest, and self-perception about why I am here
- Structural inertia: Activities are perceived to be the essence that makes church attractive rather than gospel vision; outdated but unchangeable structures and strategies from a previous age
- Vision inertia: Lack of clarity of purpose
- Leader inertia: Factors that make leaders unwilling or unable to lead
All of which are likely to demotivate change and to paralyze.
Keeping a church on target for mission, community and discipleship inevitably means figuring out how to change things otherwise they inevitably plateau and go into maintenance mode sooner or later. Every church should regularly ask itself these questions: how do we need to change to better magnify the supremacy of God in our church life, our area and the world? How do we need to change to better fulfill the purpose Jesus has given his church?
To drive change in a church you have to have the following 6 things in place:
1. The right spiritual conditions. Organisational change in churches starts with spiritual roots - roots of godliness, spiritual perception, hunger for God. Gospel-oriented change emerges from gospel-centred convictions about God, ourselves, the church and its purpose. Unless his reality grips people they won’t budge
2. The right practical capacity. All churches grind to a halt on capacity issues. We accrete activities and needs up to the point that leaders can’t cope anymore but rarely actively stop things. Capacity creates opportunity. You need it in three areas:
- Personal capacity. Overworked leaders never lead for change. It is always the last priority and you just can’t face the emotional demands when you are weary
- Team capacity – I believe the single biggest factor in going from change-resistant to change-embracing is getting a team with you
- Resource capacity. Unless you are able to discern what additional resources proposed ideas will need you won’t be able to bring change. If you want to break the next size up barrier in your church do you have the building, central team and finance for the next size up? If you don’t, you won’t
3. Purpose-centred ecclesiology shared by the church. How we are structured is determined by our purpose. Otherwise everyone’s favourite things become the purpose
4. Trust and credibility. You cannot change what you don’t have the social capital to change. If the exercise of change in itself will destroy the trust necessary to complete it then it is far better to spend time establishing the necessary trust first
5. Linked to this you have to have realistic goals and timescales
6. Corporate responsibility. It is unrealistic to expect an individual or small group to take on all the attendant risks of driving change if they are also going to be the focus for every criticism regarding that change
Change raises all kinds of uncertainties for people. Leaders have to be able to show a concrete view of a preferable future not a vague view of one that people won’t understand and that seems less preferable. We need to be able to express how it will effect people positively and negatively and how we will help them if we are going to be able to focus cooperative teamwork with enthusiasm and joy in God.
Leaders are the ones who smooth transition with wisdom and all the affection of Christ. They absorb angst with prayerfulness, compassion and kindness, minimising future distress and disturbance for the glory of God and the good of the flock.