Ministers who want to make changes in their congregations should learn to ask questions rather than making pronouncements, the authors of a popular book say.
Many ministers mistakenly declare that the church is going to change instead of building ownership, said Eddie Hammett and James R. Pierce, authors of Reaching People under 40 While Keeping People over 60.
Hammett and Pierce led a “webinar” Sept. 2 called “Making Shifts Without Making Waves.” They are working on a new book with that title.
During a webinar, participants are on a telephone conference call while observing a web site on which conference leaders are illustrating their points.
The authors said churches face many issues. Many church members have become set in their ways. Church leaders must learn how to build support in historic, traditional churches without tearing down church structure. This involves reaching mutual understanding and building bridges between the generations.
Ministers must also learn how to respond to growing apathy in the pews. The leaders need to know how to make shifts without creating unnecessary waves of discontent.
Hammett said most clergy are inexperienced, uninformed and/or unwilling to introduce change. A pastor’s job description often is written to care for the flock instead of reaching the world, he said. Many congregations just want the pastor to marry and bury them.
“Most congregations don’t want the pastor to be a change agent,” Hammett said.
Some ministers can deal with incremental change and survive. They can instill change little by little over long periods of time, but most churches are in a situation calling for systemic, radical change if they are to thrive.
Dying congregations that are running out of money are often more receptive to change than those in survival mode, Hammett said.
One way ministers can help congregations is to learn to ask questions, a key component of coaching. Hammett said that in seminary, ministers are trained to talk. He had to learn how to ask questions while trying to reach unchurched people.
Pierce said he’s seen the power of coaching in almost every area of his life. Asking questions helps people discover their passions for themselves, he said.
“It really does change the whole dynamic of the conversation and the situation,” he said.
Change is scary, Pierce said. Sometimes change causes people to dig in and resist.
Adapting successfully to change takes time, patience, skill, determination and prayer, said Hammett, who urged participants to, “Turn your prayer warriors loose.”
Clergy err by declaring change rather than building ownership, Hammett said. They would do better to invite dialogue and get key leaders and decision makers on board to “legitimize” the moves, he said.
Making shifts usually requires support from at least 20 to 25 percent of the congregation. If ministers will help key leaders understand and invite them into the process, when they make a shift, they’ll bring along others.
“You start with the people who are most influential,” he said.
Hammett said the key people will validate the changes. Ministers need to be methodical, intentional and prayerful.
When people know they’ve been heard, it builds bridges for connections instead of barriers, Pierce said. Negative attitudes make change difficult.
Pierce said many older folks think they know the answers because they have experience. Younger folks think they know the answers because they believe something new is needed. Asking questions allows both groups to become unstuck.
“Being constantly pushed out of your comfort zone is a good thing,” he said.