A pastor whose church is experiencing vibrant health and growth recently asked me this great question.
Would that more church leaders – the world over – had cause to be asking this!
As I write these words, his congregation is growing and significant changes are being made to accommodate and catalyze that growth, and it’s all happening with a high degree of congregational unity.
- You can change at the speed of your congregation.
Your church has a speed limit. It’s not posted at the entrance to the parking lot, but with some effort you can probably figure out what it is. Everett M. Rogers in his famous, Diffusion of Innovations (1962), described the receptivity to change of the general population:
Innovators – 2.5% of the population – These folks love change for the sake of change.
Early Adopters – 13.5% – These fun individuals are almost as receptive to change as Innovators.
Early Majority – 34% – Generally receptive to change, these folks are relatively easy to persuade.
Late Majority – 34% – While not crazy about change, these good people can be moved.
Laggards – 16% – Dead set against change. Their favorite song is “I shall not be moved.”
While we know that our churches need highly diverse “body members,” Christians nevertheless have a tendency to gravitate to congregations where people are similar to themselves. So it’s not unlikely that some churches are full of change-friendly people and others are dominated by Laggards.
I can tell you from personal experience that some pastoral candidates are given the impression – probably by an Innovator or Early Adopter on the pastoral search committee – that the new pastor will be given a mandate for exhilarating change, only to discover that the speed limit of the church was much lower than the change-oriented individual thought it was.
Do you know your congregation’s speed limit?
- You can change at the speed of your crisis.
Former Obama administration official, Rahm Emanuel, is now famous for saying that “You never want a good crisis to go to waste,” a saying which may or may not have originally been uttered by Winston Churchill.
While no one should seek out or precipitate crises to facilitate change – or for any other reason – it remains true that good-hearted, God-honoring leaders can take advantage of crises to promote God-honoring, Great Commission-advancing adaptation.
The COVID crisis is a good, and recent, example. While no one in their right mind (or will I be challenged on this?) welcomed the pandemic, many wise church leadership teams used the shut-downs and subsequent re-openings to help their congregations re-think their purpose, vision and strategies while simultaneously not re-starting faded, ineffective programs.
Even in less turbulent times, a lack of available office-holders can get a church thinking about leadership development, a church discipline situation can provoke serious reflection about holiness and character development, a pastoral departure can help a congregation reconsider its expectations for its leaders.
Is your church experiencing a crisis which is affecting its receptivity to change?
- You can change at the speed of your growth.
They say it’s hard to steer a stationary ship. A little closer to home, I used to play in my family’s 1953 and 1960 Fords (in the garage, that is) and wonder how my parents ever got strong enough to turn the steering wheels.
In the case of the pastor who asked me this great question, the church’s healthy growth is forcing the hands of the congregation’s leaders to adapt the church’s ministry accordingly. Examples: Welcoming events for new attendees, membership classes, baptism classes, new small groups, new staff members.
How about a Biblical example? I know that the growth of the Church in its first thirty years, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles, was anything but normal. Nevertheless, God did it and He could do it again. From Acts two to Acts six the rate of growth was phenomenal and the speed at which the church had to adapt was equally phenomenal.
How does your church’s growth – or lack thereof – impact its ability to change?
- You can change at the speed of the Holy Spirit.
No factor compares to this one. In the first century of the church, there’s no question that the Head of the Church (Christ) exercised His headship as the Holy Spirit directed the “church leaders” – who were – in effect, Holy Spirit followers. When the Spirit spoke, the brothers listened and the church moved. We have no reason to believe that the Holy Spirit has stopped speaking to church leaders.
By prayerfully considering all four factors above, God will help you to answer our important question: How fast can my church change?”