How do I lead my church through change?
Seth Brown, BR Content Editor & Chad Austin, BSC Communications
March 21, 2017

How do I lead my church through change?

How do I lead my church through change?
Seth Brown, BR Content Editor & Chad Austin, BSC Communications
March 21, 2017

Many Southern Baptist churches across the nation face a harsh reality, said Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, “We either change or die.”

BR photo by K. Allan Blume

Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources shares with Leading Change participants March 7.

Rainer headlined a conference March 7 to help pastors and church leaders guide their congregations through transitions in missions and ministry strategies, so that gospel-proclaiming churches will thrive for years to come.

Calvary Baptist Church’s west campus in Advance, N.C., hosted the event called “Leading Change in the Church.”

In addition to Rainer’s two plenary talks, which were based on his book, Who Moved My Pulpit?, the conference featured many breakout sessions on specific ministry topics, alongside a Q&A luncheon on church staffing with William Vanderbloemen, the founder and CEO of The Vanderbloemen Search Group, a church staffing and consulting firm based in Houston, Texas.

Opposition and uncertainty face any church desiring to change ministry strategies and processes, said Rainer.

In his first talk, he listed five types of people resistant to change:

  1. Deniers – people who refuse to accept negative realities;
  2. Entitled – people who view the church as a country club, paying their dues to ensure their preferences;
  3. Blamers – people who never accept responsibility;
  4. Critics – people who are never satisfied;
  5. Confused – people who don’t understand why change is needed.

Rainer emphasized the “confused” category describes most church members that oppose ministry adjustments: “One of reasons change is met with resistance in many of our churches is that we aren’t answering the question, “Why?” in a way that members can fully absorb.”

Rainer provided a roadmap for implementing change in his second address. “Stop and pray,” he said, highlighting patience as an important virtue for church leaders. “Change does not happen overnight in most of our churches – that’s an understatement,” Rainer continued.

However, urgency is a key factor in the change process too, he said. “When you have a sense of urgency, you never have ‘the good ol’ days’ or ‘the way it used to be’ … because you’re always looking forward in God’s power to what will happen.”

Pastors must build “eager coalitions” in their congregations to effect change and promote “a voice and a vision of hope.”

Although church leaders are normally painfully aware of the problems in their congregations, Rainer said, “What’s missing in many churches in leading change is a sense of hope.”

There will be inevitable “people issues” to deal with, he continued, but moving the church from “an inward focus to an outward focus” is critical.

Outreach and evangelism help promote change, Rainer said, because “as new people come in, it forces the church to look at things differently.”

It’s also important to “pick low-hanging fruit,” and celebrate the small changes to cultivate momentum. In the end, Rainer said, church leaders can implement and consolidate larger changes, but the work is never finished.

“It does not end. Change is continuous,” insisted Rainer, highlighting that healthy churches always search for better and more biblical ways to do ministry.

N.C. pastor encourages churches to ‘refocus’

Rob Peters says helping revitalize three churches has been one of the most challenging things he’s done in ministry. He also says it’s also been one of the most fruitful.

Peters, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said walking churches through the revitalization process has given him “a front row seat to watching God work every single day, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Photo by K. Allan Blume

Daniel Im, bivocational teaching pastor of The Fellowship in Nashville, Tenn., and director of NewChurches.com, leads a breakout session at the Leading Change in the Church Conference.

But, make no mistake, Peters warned: “Leading change is not for the faint of heart.”

During a breakout session for pastors at the recent “Leading Change in the Church” event held March 7, Peters walked attendees through the revitalization efforts he’s led at Calvary since becoming pastor in 2013. Calvary’s west campus served as the host location for the event.

Peters shared a process he calls “Refocus” with those in attendance, which involves assessing the church’s ministries, creating a culture of evangelism and discipleship, developing leaders among the staff and congregation and more.

Two critical components of leading change in the church include having a congregation that’s ready and willing to accept change and knowing the pace at which change should take place, Peters said.

Having guided three different churches through the revitalization process, Peters has developed a passion to help other churches that might also be in need of change. Peters said he desires to work with 20-30 churches over the course of 10 months to meet regularly and walk with them through the various aspects of revitalization.

“We’ve learned some things, and we want to share some things,” Peters said. “We believe this will be a great place where we can learn together.”

Peters said he’s been praying for 1 million people to be reached for Jesus Christ through the ministries of local churches across North Carolina.

“If that’s going to happen, we’re going to have to be churches (that are) alive in every community across this state,” Peters said.

Peters’ presentation was one of more than 20 breakout sessions held for attendees at the “Leading Change” event that focused on virtually every aspect of local church ministry. Sessions were led by pastors and ministry leaders from LifeWay Christian Resources, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Daniel Im, who serves as a teaching pastor in Nashville, Tenn., and director of church multiplication for LifeWay, led breakout sessions focused on discipleship and church multiplication. In his session on discipleship, Im helped pastors and church leaders understand that discipleship isn’t a destination that someone arrives at, but it’s a direction that believers move in.

Im also shared the results of some LifeWay research related to discipleship and spiritual growth, which outlined eight characteristics of a mature disciple. The characteristics were: Bible engagement; obedience; service; sharing Christ; exercising faith; building relationships; and being open and transparent. Of these eight markers, Im said the research showed that Bible intake, or reading God’s Word on a consistent basis, had a dramatic impact in an individual’s growth in each of the other areas.

Im concluded by challenging pastors and church leaders to encourage their congregations to read the Bible on a regular basis.

Keith Whitfield, assistant professor of theology at Southeastern, led a session on cultural engagement.

During his presentation, Whitfield dispelled several myths about what modern-day cultural engagement is and what it isn’t, as well as what it looks like. At its core, Whitfield said, cultural engagement is about loving people and sharing the gospel.

“Every generation is called to engage its culture with the gospel,” Whitfield said.

Whitfield said that while many people view culture as “expressions of things we don’t like,” he encouraged attendees to think of culture as “an integrative way of seeing the world.” So to adequately engage culture, Whitfield said Christians must be clear in their biblical understanding of the gospel, God’s Kingdom, God’s mission and the church.

Whitfield encouraged pastors and church leaders to look for ways to equip and mobilize their members to engage culture with a missional approach and mindset.

“If we’re going to engage culture, we need to be equipped and mobilized to do so,” Whitfield said. “Cultural engagement is a missional engagement.”

Find videos of the event and other resources at leadingchange.church.