7 Steps to Help Your Church Change Before They Know They Need To
If we want a healthy church, leaders need to be see the big picture.

Our church turned a corner this year.

About 15 months ago ago, we felt it. Something wasn’t quite right.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, but my youth pastor verbalized it.

“Is it me, or is something off lately?” he wondered.

“It’s not just you,” I assured him. “This has happened before. Something needs to change. I just don’t know what it is yet.”

I reminded him of several times in the last 23 years when we needed to make big changes. “It’s another one of those seasons,” I said.

“Things are good right now. But if they stay this way, they’ll get stale. So we have a choice. Stay with what’s good and become too comfortable in it, or recognize this as God stirring us to take what’s great and build on it. Even if that means tossing some good things for better things.”

Actually, I didn’t say it like that at all. I said “let’s walk through this,” and we did.

We stumbled around in hours of prayer and conversation for several weeks before we could verbalize it that way.

Then we looked for and implemented new ideas. And they worked!

Our church has turned a corner.

We’re more vibrant, healthy and passionate today than we were a year ago.

People feel it and are expressing it. Even if they don’t know what happened.

So what did happen?

Here are 7 steps that helped us turn a corner from not-yet-stale to renewed and passionate before (almost) anyone else knew there was a corner to turn.

1. Pay Attention to the Early Warning Signs

Sometimes you just feel it in the air. Or in your spirit.

At other times, you notice a drop in giving. Or you see long-term volunteers taking a break they’ve never taken before. Some people start attending less often. Some are checking out other churches.

Are other churches attracting our members? Or is our church not keeping them?

When people leave for the cool new church, it isn’t always them. Wise church leaders are humble enough to ask hard questions. Are other churches attracting our members? Or is our church not keeping them?

As pastors, we have an obligation to hear the church’s heartbeat. We can’t call ourselves leaders if we don’t.

2. Think Long-term and Short-term

As we assessed our situation, we saw the need for a couple of short-term fixes right away. But short-term fixes only deal with short-term issues.

If we want a healthy church, we need to be see the big picture.

For us, that included a serious recommitment to three things: worship, discipleship and fellowship.

For worship, it meant turning our order of service on its head. For fellowship, we changed the way we do small groups. And for discipleship, we created a group that connects new and mature believers with each other, with essential spiritual growth tools and with ministry opportunities. This fall, we will launch the second step – mentoring disciples to become disciple-makers.

Short-term changes that equip long-term disciples.

3. Listen to Wise Council

The three areas of worship, discipleship and fellowship that we needed to punch up were areas that our youth group was already doing better than our adults. So guess who I got help from? That’s right. My youth pastor helped me figure out how to use what was working in the youth department and adapt it for adults.

That’s not the way we expect wisdom to flow. But why not? We can’t gain wisdom from places we’re not looking.

4. Experiment

We didn’t hit on what works right away. The changes to our Sunday order of service took a few experiments. Then it happened in several stages.

For fellowship groups, we’ve tried so many ideas that we wondered if it would ever work. Until something finally clicked on the last go-around.

Pastors need to create an environment where failure isn’t fatal.

5. Assess the Results

Just like we need to listen to wise council to generate new ideas, we have listen to assess if the new ideas are working. We can’t rely on our own assessment alone. We have too much invested to see it accurately.

But, even if we do see it accurately, we’re only seeing it from one perspective. Multiple perspectives are needed.

6. Celebrate Victories

When something flops, thank people for trying. When something works, thank them even more.

When something flops, thank people for trying. When something works, thank them even more.

Celebrate the hard work, wisdom and faithfulness of people who gave up an old way for a new way.

Thank people who offered new ideas that sparked better ideas. Thank people who implemented ideas they weren’t sure about.

Thank everyone who spoke up, pitched in and prayed through.

7. Keep a Change Process In Place

After you’ve done the hard work of change, it’s tempting to sit back, settle in and enjoy a time of calm.

That’s dangerous.

Settlers settle. Pioneers are always exploring.

Today’s church leaders must be change agents. Not on the essential truths, but in the way we connect people to them.

The gospel never changes. But the way people hear and respond to it does.

A wise pastor should never be dragged into making necessary changes. We need to lead.

For further thoughts on this important, but complex subject, check out:

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