5 Reasons Congregations Often Need Time to Change

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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  • William A. Secrest says on

    I appreciate what you have said and I agree with all that you have said. However, can we not agree that many times most of the people who identify with our churches are being lazy and apathetic. People will say yes to change as long as you do not want anything to change for them. In other words, leave the worship service alone and do not mess with my Sunday school class or my small group. We are in the process of trying to grow our church which has meant a blended worship service. Yet, people still complain that there are not enough old hymns. My pianist, who I love dearly, has faithfully played the piano for between 30 and 40 years. We do not utilize her as much as we used to and now she feels that she has been put out to pasture. My deacons board agreed that we need to approach her and tell her that is not the case. We are attempting to reach a younger demographic which does not exist in our church.

  • Matthew Lorfeld says on

    An extension to #4 is that the church is often one of the last places where some individuals have any kind of control. If one adds a certain rose-tinted nostalgia of the past to the mix, by golly, we will do what we can to make it just like it was in the 50s & 60s. Since these individuals weren’t on committees or boards making decisions, the nostalgia lacks the perspective to know that was also a time of great change (in some of my denomination’s churches they had only recently stopped having services in German) and their parents and grandparents who were serving on those same committees and boards felt much as they do now. There’s nothing new under the sun.

  • I would carry #4 a step further and say that in the last fifteen or twenty years, many churches have become downright disrespectful of senior adults. Many of them would be pleased if the church would sing a few old hymns now and then (and they don’t mean contemporary versions of old hymns). Is that really asking so much? Many worshipers seem to think so. I’ve even heard some of them say that older members don’t really matter, because they’ll be gone in a few years, anyway. Such attitudes are undeniably pragmatic, but I refuse to call them godly.