Change is inevitable. A church that impacts communities for the Kingdom needs to be proactive in the change process. This allows people time to overcome barriers and seize a new future through God-given opportunities. The church is not immune to change, and how the leadership navigates through the process will make a significant difference in how change is received and executed. The goal in leading a church through change is to create a culture where change is normal and continuous improvements are to be expected.
Change needs to be flexible with the future. It will bring uncertainty and create reactions among the people who need to embrace change. It is vital that the church community is connected with its members, as knowing the people in the church will be critical to initiate a positive ripple effect as the church evolves. How a pastor leads the people, influences them and communicates to them is imperative in the implementation of a desired future.
The Role of the Pastor
The pastor needs to be the champion for the vision and the proposed changes; he is the change agent that fuels the passion for next steps. Ownership of new ideas, implementation and reasoning for change, requires articulation of seemingly vague ideas and the written word.
Communicating change needs to be streamlined through conversation, teaching, marketing and ministry. Behind the scenes work should be implemented over a significant time period which will involve numerous conversations and interactions with the church’s influencers.
This does not mean that the lead pastor has to create the strategic plan if this is not the person’s strength; however, passionate engagement with the execution is vital to the transition’s success. Leading change requires motivation, desire, commitment and patience.
In addition to the qualities and skills needed for the task, the lead pastor has to exhibit great self care for the journey. This role requires evaluation of personal attitudes, motives and boundaries around time and commitment. Change does not happen overnight and to sustain for the long haul requires intentional awareness of the demands on the physical, mental and spiritual well being of the leader. Encouragement to the rest of the leadership team will be modeled by the lifestyle of the pastor.. Being open and honest will create a positive environment for all to embrace change. Another piece in the successful implementation of change is following a set of guiding principles.
The first principle requires the championing leaders to demonstrate integrity and trustworthiness. A congregation needs time and evidence to see those traits lived out t in the leadership figures before the will buy into a new concept.
Based on this principle no incoming pastor should make any changes to the existing church without first knowing the environment, and more importantly, the people.
The second principle is to test this new idea in a pilot study. Releasing a new initiative to the whole church is not a wise decision until it has been carried out in a smaller sub-group to test the practicality of this change. A successful pilot project should be celebrated and shared. A pilot project that is unsuccessful or did not create expected outcomes will be useful in sharing the reasoning for not moving forward.When new ideas fail. it is a great opportunity for the leadership to grow to a new level of respect and increased trust by taking ownership for the failure. Learning from mistakes will make everyone stronger.
So Why Change?
A culture of innovation and change requires work, planning and implementation. This culture should become a way of life for the church and without ongoing evaluation and assessment; the church will stall and potentially fold. People want to attend churches because they are innovating and meeting needs, both their needs and the needs of those beyond their doors. The organized church is no different that any other organization in the desire to provide good “customer relations” and “customer service”. When systems are in place that ensure efficiency and effectiveness, there is room for both innovation and creativity.
Churches are sometimes misled to think that a new pastor is the needed change. This person is not the change but the change agent that will help shape the revitalized mission, vision and values for the existing church. Change requires a look at both internal and external factors. Structural, environmental and monetary factors all need to be addressed in the evaluation. The scope of existing challenges needs to be viewed through different lenses and continual improvement will be ongoing, not a one-time event. Change is everywhere and avoiding and ignoring it will only create a larger dysfunction of the church in the future