My experience is that many pastors wish their churches were more open to needed change. Congregations, though, can be slow to adapt. In fact, they can be fully resistant to change. If they do accept change, they often need some time to get there. Here are some reasons why:
1. They have sometimes had a string of short-term pastorates. To be fair, some churches are so hard to pastor it’s no wonder pastors don’t stay long. At the same time, though, a church who expects their pastor to follow the same pattern—that is, they’ve grown to think he could leave at any moment—is less likely to be supportive of the change he recommends. He has to stay long enough to convince them he’s committed.
2. Sometimes they’ve had successive pastors who differ on the change they want. One pastor wants them to move to two services, but the next believes a church should have only one gathering. One pastor pushes a particular program, but the next pastor tosses it in favor of another. One emphasizes Sunday school; another believes off-campus small groups are best. When a congregation has seen this pattern enough, they may need more convincing to make any significant change—and that takes time.
3. They need time to understand the “why” and the “how” of the change. Too many pastors push the “what” of the needed change without helping the church understand the “why” and the “how”—and the church pushes back not because they’re opposed to change, but because they need more information. I’m convinced that well-informed congregations will most often be supportive of change, even if it takes them some time to reach that point.
4. The older the congregation is, the more likely it is they long for something to stay the same. Pastorally, we need to understand what many senior adult believers are facing. Everything seems to be changing, and they have few options to stop it. In many cases, they can’t remember like they used to. They aren’t as mobile as they once were. Retirees sometimes feel lost when they no longer work, yet they’re not always physically able to do all they’ve done for years in their church. Their friends and loved ones are dying—and they themselves are facing the reality of age. With all this happening, the one place where they can fight to keep something the same is their church. They’re not always against the change a pastor recommends; they’re simply longing for a former day when things seemed a bit more under control. I understand these emotions more as I get older—and I understand why some older congregations require some time to buy into a change.
5. Some congregations are accustomed to a structure of committees and votes to make any change, and they want to make sure they follow the process exactly. I don’t think this reason is the primary one they need time to change, but it’s still an issue in some churches. These congregations may not be against a particular change, but they are against pushing the change through without following the traditional pathway to get there. They want to make sure they check off every box (even if the boxes are only the product of a church having far too many boxes in the first place). All these steps take time.
What has been your experience? Why do some churches need time to change?
Posted on September 13, 2022
Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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