There’s this little BBQ joint near me.
It’s a hole in the wall place, frequented by locals and regulars who know a thing or two about low-and-slow BBQ.
The food is amazing.
The service is fast.
Even the sweet tea tastes better. And a big part of me absolutely, positively wants NOBODY else to know about it. Because if more and more people start going there, it will probably change.
They might change the menu to accommodate different tastes. Or I might have to park farther away or wait longer for a table. This place is great because it’s not crowded. And if other people discovered the greatness, I might stop going.
That’s exactly how some people view your church.
They like the preaching, the music, the people, and their favorite seat.
They like it the way it is, and if crowds of new people starting showing up, it would change.
See, while leaders love progress, most people like stability.
A large group of people in your church like their church the way it is right now. They don’t really want it to grow.
They are proud members of the ninety-nine, not vocally upset that you are going after the 1, but quietly saying, “What about me?”
The ninety-nine resist change, hoping all that vision-casting and forward-thinking wears off soon.
The ninety-nine share their preferences and expect the church to cater to them. After all, they pay the bills. They fill the seats. That seat is squarely in the status quo, not opposed to reaching people with the Gospel, but not actively pursuing what will disrupt their lives.
Six thoughts to consider when church members resist change.
So, what do you do when you know your church needs to change but the people in the church resist that change? What do you do when you believe the church should grow but the people in the church resist growth?
#1 – Choose to be positive.
We all carefully construct the world around us to suit our preferences and desires. Both Millennials and Boomers like things the way they like them. Any time something pushes up against our preferences and expectations, we push back.
Growth is hard, because change is hard. And the very thing you want to change FROM is the thing someone fought FOR in the past.
Choose to believe people resisting growth are not against people, against the Gospel, against the church, or against you.
They just like things the way they are.
Positivity in the face of resistance is hard, but a message of hope is best delivered with patience.
#2 – Be a pastor and a prophet.
Leading your church to growth will require courageous conversations and courageous decisions.
You know that.
You already feel that.
But depending on your personality, you’ll default to one of two positions.
The prophet points to the future.
The pastor looks to the people.
If your church is going to grow (and grow healthy), you need both of these voices of leadership. Your people need to hear the voice of the prophet, clearly articulating the WHY behind the mission and the vision of where your church is going.
But if your church is resisting change, they may need a pastor to help guide and shepherd them through the transition. This kind of immense patience isn’t always easy for a visionary leader.
You need to continually cast vision and clarify the current mission, but do it with the heart of a pastor.
#3 – Build a coalition.
I’m not saying this should be the case or that it’s the best model for leadership, I’m just calling out what exists in reality.
Every church has power brokers.
It could be people in official leadership roles or it could be influential or long-time members.
But if you want to move your church in any given direction, there are people you need to get on your side. They need to believe in you, not just the cause. They need to know the details, have a say in the decision, and know their part in the process.
- If you want to start a second service, you need influential representatives from every ministry involved in the decision.
- If you are changing the org chart or the structure of the church, you need influential leaders with relational equity to “sell” the change to people who have reservations.
- If you are making a bold move that will disrupt the status quo, you need strong leaders who will stand with you and say “this is our decision.”
A lot of church growth initiatives fail because there was not enough private buy-in before there was a public campaign.
The bigger the change you’re trying to make, the more people and the more time you need.
#4 – Talk about what is NOT changing.
The Church has been around for more than 2,000 years and has gone through many cultural changes. But through all of that, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment have remained the north star.
In the midst of your vision casting, remind people what is NOT changing. Reassure people that some things will stay the same forever.
No matter what kind of change is needed in your church, remind people that the Gospel will never change.
Your tactics will come and go, but your purpose will stay the same.
Your programs may change with the times, but your mission takes precedence.
Reminding people what will never change will comfort those who are worried about “losing their church.”
#5 – Get outside help.
Once a quarter, I participate in a strategy meeting for a local non-profit. It’s an all-day meeting focused on reviewing the mission, setting quarterly goals, and breaking those goals into measurable (and accountable) tasks.
The executive team of the nonprofit participates in the meeting. But they bring in an outside facilitator to run the agenda. To be fair, this facilitator touches base in between meetings and runs those meetings according to a system.
Even though there are people qualified to run the show and the agenda is the same nearly every time, they have an outside facilitator each time.
It’s not free.
It’s actually a sizeable investment.
But as a participant in this meeting, I can honestly say it’s worth every penny. A highly engaged but not emotionally invested outsider can bring perspective to an organization that you will never get otherwise.
Despite the expense, if you want to lead your church through a growth barrier, get some outside perspective.
#6 – Draw a line in the sand.
It’s important to believe the best about people.
It’s vital you act with patience, like a loving shepherd who cares about people.
It’s important to get the right people on your side, including strategic advisors with an outside perspective.
With all that said, there will still come a time when you have to make a decision.
At some point, you have to stop talking and start doing.
It might be time to make a decision and live with the consequences.
Carey Nieuwhof summarizes it well in this post:
“If you’ve been in an honest dialogue for at least a year and are not making progress (that is, you haven’t made a plan for change you are ready to act on), you have come to a moment of truth.”
If you want to dive more into this growth mindset, check out The Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers. Just fill out the form below and we'll send you the PDF.
The Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers
Not everyone in your church wants it to grow.
But that’s not a barrier to stop you; it’s an obstacle to overcome. It’s an opportunity to stewardship the leadership God has given you.
Get some people around you to encourage you to keep going and to give you good advice along the way, but don’t give up.
Take the Next Step
If you’re looking for more help leading your church to growth, come join the Church Fuel community.
We are a group of pastors and leaders who value practical coaching and resources and encourage one another to grow healthy. Reaching new guests and helping them get involved in the life of the church is a regular topic among our members.
We have in-depth, practical courses covering topics like volunteers, connecting people, preaching, finances, and more.
Members also get access to a Resource Library full of documents, spreadsheets, and templates, including lots of church growth resources. There are also members-only coaching options where you can get personal help when needed.
There’s no long-term contract, so you can check it out without pressure. Learn more here.