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10 Keys to Managing Change in a Church

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Leading through change can be difficult. Leading a church through change can be near impossible. Churches in particular have a tendency to resist change because they get trapped by the comfort of past success, practices and traditions. It takes an incredible amount of wisdom, the art of timing, and plain old courage and grit.

Many churches I talk with want different results; they actually want to see more people meet Jesus and follow Jesus this year than last year. Unfortunately, they just aren’t willing to change, let go of old tactics and take a different approach.

Recently I had a conversation with a church staff team that is courageously leading their church through change. Here are a couple of things that came out of the conversation.

1. No Change is Perfectly Executed

No matter how well-planned change is, how good it looks on paper, or how much sense it makes in your head it’s not going to go the way you think it’s going to go. There is going to be a surprise. Something is going to take more or less time, cost more or less money, or be more or less difficult than you planned. Point is, work hard, plan your work, work your plan and then be flexible.

2. Communication is Key

During change management, communicating the right message to the right audience at the right time is essential and can take a lot of time. There are multiple audiences to communicate with including the church staff, the church board, lay leadership, volunteers, and the congregation to name a few. Some churches due to their polity and structures have even more groups to get on board.

3. Everyone Carries 2 Buckets Around with Them

Everyone carries around 2 buckets with them, a bucket of water and a bucket of gasoline. One fuels change the other puts it out. Water fuels change because it douses the fire of resistance. Gasoline puts change out because it fuels the fire of resistance. Anytime your staff listens to complaining and says, “I understand how you would feel that way” without redirecting them it pours gasoline on the situation and validates the complaint.

4. What about Me?

Most people are fine with change as long as it doesn’t affect them. One thing you can do to get on the solution side of positively leading through change is simply think those thoughts ahead of time. What are people going to embrace or reject about the change you’re trying to implement based on how it’s going to affect them (real or perceived), then address those pressure points.

5. It isn’t Easy

You know all those church conferences, books and blogs you read full of stories about how some pastor just turned things around at their church, “Jesus just paved the way.” Yea, it’s never really that easy. Change is hard, it takes time, and requires grit and courage. It is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who tells you any different hasn’t actually had to lead through change before.

6. The Ripple Effect

Change has a ripple effect that you often don’t seen until much later. It’s almost like painting one wall of a house you move into. It leads to another wall and another. And of course, then you need to change the flooring, the faucets, the cabinets, etc. Then it’s time to start on the outside of the house…ugh. Bottom line…change has a ripple effect.

7. The Minority can have a Majority Voice

In a season of change a small group of people can have a loud voice and make it seem like everyone is against you. The silent majority is typically with you and those who are positive about it rarely say they’re positive about it. It’s the negative few that always bark the loudest.

8. Lead Different with Different People

Remember what you read above? That communication is key in a season of change? Well it’s also key to remember that you don’t communicate to and lead every group of the same way. Anyone who has more than 1 kid knows you don’t parent every kid the same way…so why would you try to lead every group the same way?

9. Small Change can Reveal Big Issues

One small seemingly harmless change can tell you something about your church. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen church leaders try to change something that seemed small and innocent to them not to realize that they were stepping on a landmine that blew up. Make sure you truly understand not just what you’re changing things to become or how you’re going to change them but what it is your actually changing and why.

10. Training vs Challenging

Sometimes people don’t have the right information and they don’t understand why they should get on board with the change. Other times people don’t want to jump on board with the change because they have their own agenda.  Either way it can appear that people are digging their heals in and fighting you on the change you’re trying to make. What you’ve got to do as the leader is find out if they’re fighting due to ignorance or obstinace. You train ignorance and you challenge obstinance.

Interested in learning more about leading through change at your church? Check out these helpful articles.


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Staffing, Testimonial

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Why your Church is Thinking about Volunteers the Wrong Way

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I’ve never met a church leader who said that they had enough volunteers. In fact, the opposite is typically true. Having too few volunteers is one of the most frequent complaints and pressure points I hear from church leaders. Most of the time it’s not due to a lack of effort or trying. It’s usually due to thinking the wrong way about volunteerism in the church.

  • Most churches think they need more volunteers to accomplish the ministry…they don’t.
  • Most churches think they need more talented and experienced volunteers to accomplish the ministry…they don’t.
  • Most churches think they need volunteers to do the tasks of the ministry so the church staff can lead the ministry…they don’t.

“Volunteering is the Ministry”

Jesus said, “I did not come to be served but to serve.” Serving others is both the pathway to and pinnacle of spiritual maturity. Volunteering is not a means to an end (getting the ministry accomplished) …it is the end, because volunteers are not roles to be filled but people to be developed. When ministry staff members say things like, “We need more volunteers to make ministry happen” they begin using people instead of ministering to people. Volunteering is discipleship!

“I See Something in You”

Twenty-five years ago, the pastor of a small conservative Baptist church said he saw something in me. Something that I didn’t see in myself. And he invited me to start teaching a Jr. High Sunday School class. I’m not sure what he was thinking. I was scared to death. But I said yes. I wasn’t really all that much older than those Jr. High Students, and I really didn’t know all that more about the Bible or knowing Jesus than them. But I studied those lessons and did the best that I could. That’s where leading church ministry really began for me. All because someone saw something in me. Church leaders need to start seeing “something” in the people around them. Start seeing them for what they could be in and through Jesus, not just as they are. Start speaking those life-giving words into them and inviting them to take a risk and use their gifting for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom. And by the way. When I began volunteering, I began growing in my friendship with Jesus in way that I had never done before.

“Join a Team”

The way you talk about something reflects the value you ascribe to it. Words create worlds and so the way you talk about volunteers and volunteerism at your church will either build or erode the volunteer culture you’re trying to create. Unless you tell them differently people are going to think they’re just helpers…just a volunteer. You’ve got to help them see that they’re not just a volunteer but when they volunteer they are actually no longer coming to church they are being the Church. Stop asking people to volunteer and perform a function, get tasks done, or fill a role. Invite them to join a team and make a difference with their life. Help them see volunteering in the church as what it really is…joining a movement to help people meet, know, and follow Jesus.

A big shout out to Brian LaMew who serves as the Pastor of Campus Development and leads the Campus Pastor Team at Sun Valley Community Church who shared these principles in a Sun Valley all staff gathering recently. Keep up the great work Brian!


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Volunteers

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Why I’m the Lid to Growth at my Church

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One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that it’s usually the Sr. Leadership Team of a church that is the ultimate lid to growth. Many of them don’t see it and most of them wouldn’t agree with what I’m saying, but it’s true. Whether or not the Sr. Leadership Team of a church is willing to let go of authority, ministry decision making, and truly empower and lead through others can make or break a church.

Early in our multisite journey at Sun Valley we hadn’t developed the Campus Pastor role or team yet. So, like in most growing organizations, that meant double duty. I was serving as the Campus Pastor at our original location and serving as the Executive Pastor at the same time. I love leading teams and coaching church staff members, so it was really a fun season. But before long it became apparent that if I didn’t let go of leading the Lead Team on our original campus I would become the lid to growth at Sun Valley. I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to provide the church what it needed. So as much as I loved leading with that team, I had to let go of that team and build a Team of Campus Pastors to lead the campuses through.

Over time as we added more campuses and we expanded our Executive Team another point of tension came along. Again, I had to let go of leading a team that I loved leading with. I had to let someone else lead the Campus Pastors so I could provide leadership to the Executive Team and Central Service Team at the church. I had to give up something I loved, leading with a great team of Campus Pastors, for something else that I loved even more, seeing the whole church continue to take ground and move forward.

I failed to mention that along the way I also had to let go of teaching. For years I was on the Teaching Team at Sun Valley and taught about 20% of the time at our weekend worship services. I’m more of a leader that can communicate than I am a communicator that can lead if that makes any sense and we have some absolutely fantastic communicators on the team. For the church to grow what was needed from me was more strategic leadership and less teaching. And so once again I found myself letting go of something that I love for something else that I love even more.

This same scenario has played its way out in different ways over and over again the past 20 years of ministry. The secret of leadership that no one ever tells you is that the higher you go in leadership the more you lose. There’s no going up without giving up. But if you’re made for it, it’s worth it.

Every time I’ve given up my personal preference for what’s best for the church instead of what’s best for me the church has grown. And every time I’ve been reluctant to do the same, the church has been held back. When I do what I do best, the one thing where I bring the greatest value to the church, the church takes ground and I find fulfillment. When I do what’s best for the church not only does the church win, but I win too. When I don’t, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I hold the church back from everything Jesus has dreamed up for it to be.

And I imagine the same is true of you.


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Staffing, Testimonial

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Trying Harder Won’t Fix Your Church

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Conventional wisdom tells us that when things get difficult we just need to work harder, work smarter or somehow upgrade the quality of our work. But what do you do when trying harder doesn’t work? It may that it’s time for you to stop doing the same old thing with more effort with more efficiency or more quality. It might be time for you to stop trying harder and try different. It’s time to try something entirely new.

#1 New Vision

Vision answers the question, “Where are we going?” It’s simply the “next hill” that you’re taking. It’s the ability to understand the times, know the right direction to move, and involve and inspire people to go there with you. The problem with vision is that it needs to be refreshed every 3-5 years. Because once you’ve taken the hill you have to identify the next hill, or the church loses momentum and get’s stuck.

#2 New Structures

Your church is perfectly structured to get the results you’re getting right now. However it’s not uncommon that a church outgrows a structure that served you well in a particular season and size. That same structure can become a lid to future growth. As a church grows the need to restructure can occur multiple times in the life of a church. The way the church board is structured, the way the staff team is structured, the polity of a church, and the structure of the church budget can all become lids to growth if they don’t change over time as the church changes. Don’t like the results you’re getting? It might be time to build a new structure.

#3 New Systems

Systems help us answer the question, “How are we going to reproduce this?” It could be reproducing disciples, leaders, church plants, new multisite campuses, or a consistent weekend worship experience at your church. Systems are made up of complex independent parts working together to perform a function (for example think skeletal system or solar system). For our purposes building a system is the art of connecting the Core Values, Structures, Strategies, Goals, and Vision to work in alignment that builds a culture that leans towards fulfilling the Mission. It may be the reason your church has become stuck is that you’ve outgrown some of your systems.

#4 New Voices

When things get difficult we usually start with ourselves for the solution, “What can I do to fix it?” If we can’t solve it on our own we usually turn our attention to our coworkers, friends and finally our networks. What if the solutions to your biggest problems are outside of your normal relational web? What if it was time to get new voices at the table, get outside your industry and tribe to look for new solutions? If you’re ready for a new voice to help your church get new new solutions I’d recommend you take a step and connect with the Unstuck Group.


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Staffing

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How Ministry Jealousy can Ruin Easter at your Church

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With Easter just a few days away, churches across the country are working hard to leverage this weekend as an opportunity for attenders to invite their friends who are unfamiliar with Jesus to Church in hopes that they will say yes to following Jesus. A lot of time and energy goes into Easter services at most churches. But next week, when Easter has passed, and everyone in church-world begins talking about what happened at their churches, how will you feel when that other church in town had more people in attendance than your church did? How will you feel when the church down the street had more people say yes to following Jesus than your church did?

While I’ve never met a church staff team that explicitly said they were competing with other churches, I’ve met a lot who have acted like it. In fact, in a previous post about churches that claim they’re not in competition with each other but act like they are, I wrote:

“Competing with other churches only makes sense if you’re going after people who already know Jesus. And there is no shortage of people who don’t know Jesus.”

A couple of weeks ago Matt Willmington, a friend of mine who serves on the Executive Team at Thomas Road Baptist Church located in Lynchburg, Virginia, posted a couple of questions on his social media timeline that got me thinking more about this and should get you thinking more about this as well.

#1 Do you downplay the gifts of other people?

Do you minimize or suppress the gifts of other people on your team and at other churches or do you celebrate them? Do you have the ability to submit to others in their area of brilliance?

#2 Do you question the motives of others?

Do you question the motives of other ministries that are successful? Do you ever think to yourself, “There’s no way they can be this successful and be clearly preaching the Word of God,” or, “They must be watering down the Gospel.” Are you skeptical of others ministry success or can you easily celebrate it?

#3 How do you feel when others experience a win?

How do you feel when other people do a better job and are more successful than you are at what you do?

#4 Do you truly rejoice when others succeed in ministry?

Do you have the ability, as the Scriptures teach us, to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice?

#5 Do you pray for others success?

That other church in town that has momentum, do you pray for their success or secretly hope they’ll implode? That really talented church leader who seems to succeed at everything they do, do you pray for their success or do you secretly hope they’ll self-destruct their ministry?

I want you to know that I’m praying for your church this Easter. I’m praying that people who call your church home take a spiritual step and they invite their friends that don’t Jesus to attend Easter services with them. I’m praying that you and your team do a fantastic job at articulating the Gospel in a clear and compelling manner. I’m praying that many people say yes to following Jesus. And I’m praying that you can celebrate not only the wins that your experience at your church this Easter, but the wins that other churches experience as well. Because when any church wins the “Big C” Church wins.


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation
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