Innovative Ministry
Start in the Shallow End: How to Make Changes Without Sinking Your Church
How to make those first much-needed changes as pain-free as possible.

Change is hard.

Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

If I could only give one piece of advice to pastors who are struggling to turn a dying, unhealthy, static church into a fresh, healthy, innovative one, this would be it:

Do the easy parts first.

It’s a basic principle of life that we sometimes forget in the church. You don’t start elementary swim classes in the deep end of the pool. There’s too much unnecessary risk. Pools have shallow ends for a reason.

Your church has a shallow end, too.

No, I don’t know what it is, because I don’t know your church. But you know. Or you should.

If you don’t know, find out. The future of your church and your time as its pastor may depend on it.

Here are four of the steps that helped me find and make changes in the shallow end of the church I pastor:

1. Define the Shallow End

The shallow end is the place where things are easiest. Where everyone, including the pastor, feels like they have a solid footing beneath them. Where young and old, believers and seekers, innovators and traditionalists stand on common ground and can still keep their head above water.

When a church is in crisis, it may be hard to believe such a place exists. But it does.

Start looking for it by asking this question. What do all these people, despite their differences, find in common that makes them want to call this church, their home church?

That’s the shallow end. It’s the part of the church where everyone finds common ground. The reason you’re all there to begin with.

2. Embrace the Common Ground

Once you’ve identified your shallow end, divide what everyone holds in common into two categories: the stuff everyone loves and the stuff everyone hates.

Then strengthen the parts everyone loves and change the parts everyone hates.

Strengthen the parts everyone loves and change the parts everyone hates.

The biggest mistakes most pastors make when starting the turnaround process is to begin by changing the things they hate, even if everyone else loves them and wants to keep them.

Wise pastors know how to delay their own gratification for the common good.

When you’re starting a change process, you may need to lay your own desires and opinions aside for a while. You may be right about the kind of change that’s needed, but if you start the change process by getting your way at the expense of everyone else, you will divide the church into “us” and “them” camps. Often with the pastor sitting alone on the “us” side.

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