At every workshop I lead, someone will ask how he or she can lead change in their church when most of the people are content with the way things are.
At the most, they confess, there are only a handful of people who want to see their church do more.
I always respond that you have to ride the horses that want to run. Whipping a dead horse won’t make it go any faster.
In many churches, most people are very content with the status quo. They will say they want to see the church grow, but at the same time they will resist almost anything that might help it grow.
However, there are usually a handful of people who are not content with the church’s current situation. They want to see change happen. They want to see growth.
Unfortunately, they are often in the minority and often not in positions of leadership. This doesn’t matter. These are the people you have to invest in.
You want to pastor and love the others but you must invest in the folks who want to see things happen in the church. Groom them for leadership so when their time does come, they will be ready.
Seth Godin in his book, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us,” writes about leading change initiatives.
“If your goal is to make change, it’s foolish to try to change the worldview of the majority if the majority is focused on maintaining the status quo,” Godin asserts. “The opportunity is to carve out a new tribe, to find the rabble-rousers and change lovers who are seeking new leadership and run with them instead.”
The mistake congregational leaders often make is to try to force change upon people who are not ready for change.
Sometimes, we think that because we have a title (such as “pastor”) that people are going to get excited every time we present a new idea. That is not usually the case, especially in a smaller church.
I’ve known too many good pastors get into trouble in their churches because they tried to force people to make changes who did not want to make changes.
Such pastors often find themselves unemployed, and the congregation in which they had been serving becomes even more resistant to future change.
It’s far better to identify the people who share your vision and work with them. As you begin to build buy-in around a fresh vision for ministry you will bring more people on board.
This new tribe will communicate to others and additional people will begin to come on board.
Eventually, enough people will be supportive of the changes that they can be implemented in the church.
Yes, this will take time. It can also be unpleasant at times if the old guard feels you have abandoned them.
That’s why I emphasize that these folks need to be loved and given good pastoral ministry.
As a pastor, it is essential to honor the faithfulness and ministry the old guard has demonstrated in the past.
Yet, at the same time, ministers cannot allow them to stop what God is wanting to do now in the church.
It’s often a tough balancing act, but it’s one a wise pastor will do.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. He blogs at Bivocational Ministry, where a version of this article first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.