5 Insights to Help Your Church Survive Change
One effective tool for doing that is to create a timeline that includes significant events from the life of the church, the community and the world.
Recently, one church we worked with did an exceptional job in noting when significant events occurred in the life of the church.
Along with the obvious major events, this group also noted how innovation had been a constant part of their story.
They dutifully recorded, for instance, when indoor plumbing was first installed at the church. Next came the year in the early 20th century when electricity was added.
Other notable advancements included the first time a sound system was put to use. Air conditioning came in the 1950s.
The first paid youth minister was in the late '60s. The first church bus was purchased in the 1970s. The first international mission trip was organized in the 1980s.
The first webpage was set up in the 1990s. Screens in the sanctuary arrived in the 2000s. The first live streaming worship broadcast was two years ago.
As we traced their history of innovation, we asked: "What was the response to these innovations?"
In every case, there was substantial opposition, with multiple stories of bruised feelings and damage among the fellowship.
One elderly member remarked that he had never seen as bitter an argument at a business meeting as the night the church voted to install air conditioning in the building.
That night, six families stormed out of the church and never returned over the reckless extravagance of air conditioning.
Remember, what seems indispensible to us today was at one time considered a luxury or a waste or folly.
We would do well to reconsider Arthur Schopenhauer's dictum:
Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized.
In the first, it is ridiculed.
In the second, it is opposed.
In the third, it is regarded as self-evident.
We regularly see two primary change scenarios that inflict great harm among congregations.
The first is when congregational leaders force change or innovation too quickly and without adequate relationship bonds.
Armed with good intentions and a substantial surplus of knowledge, these leaders assume that others will take their word for needed change.
Pushing forward without allowing others to come to experience a similar learning curve, such leaders incite havoc among the body with their steamroller tactics.
Nearly always, the resistance organizes and the conflict escalates. Seldom is the end result a good one.
The second is when a leadership group has the mistaken notion that they can achieve 100 percent agreement with their suggested change.
Inevitably, they end up paralyzed by their need for unanimity. In such cases, a small minority holds the majority hostage and creates great discord in the body.
Even a cursory glance at the literature regarding change reveals that 5 percent of any group will fall into the category of "never adopters." Jesus does not call us to make everyone happy. He calls us to be faithful to the Gospel.
Rather than fall victim to these two extremes, perhaps we could all agree on some insights into change and innovation as we seek to live out our divine mission.
What if we filtered all change and innovation through this question: Does this enable us to more nearly fulfill our mission as God's people? What if that question mattered more to us than air conditioning, indoor plumbing or screens?
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.