LeaderLines – from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin, Texas  Contact Tom Goodman, Pastor
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“From 'Yikes!' to 'Yay!' - Part One”
by Tom Goodman
August 25, 2005

A wise man once said, “The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.”

How true.  Since churches are in the business of changing lives, you’d think churches would be better at changing routines.  In reality, change comes at a high cost in many churches.

This is especially curious when you consider that more than 85 percent of our nation’s congregations are either on a plateau or in a decline.  You would think more churches would be grasping for changes to their routine like a drowning man reaching for a lifesaver.  The studies and stories of churches all over the nation show that few feel that kind of desperation.  Church leaders may be frustrated with the stagnation and ineffectiveness of their churches, but the fear of change overwhelms the frustration.

Can churches go from "Yikes!" to "Yay!" when it comes to change?  As a Hillcrest leader, you need to understand five reasons why churches resist changes more than any other organization and five reasons why churches can make changes better than any other organization.  We’ll look at the resistance to change in this edition of LeaderLines, and we’ll look at the marvelous capacity to change in next week’s newsletter.  I’ve culled these from a newsletter by Alan Nelson, a consultant to churches in transition.  His complete article can be found at www.thewychefamily.com/beliefs/house.html.

There are five primary reasons why local congregations tend to adopt new ideas more slowly than other organizations.  If you’re a business leader during the week and also serve as a church leader, you need to understand why changes in churches are tougher than changes in a business.

First, we’re guardians of traditions.  A part of a church’s job is to preserve something that’s ageless.  The challenge is in discerning truth from custom.  Distinguishing culture from concepts and message from methods is very difficult, especially when they’re interlaced in our experience.  The process becomes far more emotional than spiritual.  We exist in part to pass on the truths of Christ to future generations, but sometimes people can’t tell the difference between truth and custom, and they insist that future generations embrace both.  In the process, we often reject ideas that would make us more effective in communicating the truth.

Second, culture is big in church life.  Throughout Scripture, church members refer to each other in family terms—“brother” and “sister,” for example.  What’s a non-issue in the world of business therefore can become a huge, emotional ordeal in church life.  Change often impacts people who are like “family.”  When emotions enter the picture, resistance to new ideas, even ones meant to improve the family, can become very messy.

Third, churches have a fuzzy bottom line.  Businesses have a clear-cut bottom line: profit.  Stockholders ask, “How did we do at the end of last quarter or last fiscal year?”  What’s the bottom line in a church?  Churches measure attendance and finances, of course, but our bottom line is “spiritual growth,” and that’s much more ambiguous.  Because it’s harder to define our bottom line, it’s harder to evaluate whether a change will help us reach it.  That’s why the longer a church has been in existence the more its resources go toward its own preservation rather than toward outreach and evangelism.  Our tendency is to design ministries that meet our own needs as opposed to the needs of those who have not yet entered the kingdom.

Fourth, change-weary members seek an oasis.  Ironically, those experiencing the most change in other areas of their lives are the most resistant to change in the church they attend.  During the workweek, dot-coms, e-commerce, IPOs, mergers, takeovers, and technological breakthroughs are the name of the game.  Fast Company magazine’s early slogan was, “When the need for speed exceeds the fear of failure.”  People under the stress of innovation Monday through Friday long for sanctuaries of tranquility.  As it turns out, many of the change issues at work are very similar to organizational improvement issues within the church.  The last thing many of these stress-laden people want to do is struggle with these issues on their “day off.”  Like a hot tub at the end of a tough day, it’s comfortable to attend a church that isn’t changing.

Fifth, few pastors are either gifted or permitted to lead.  According to research by George Barna, only five percent of pastors feel they have the spiritual gift of leadership.  That’s astonishing.  What’s more, many churches have unbiblical decision-making structures that choke a pastor who tries exercise leadership.  So, unlike most businesses, most churches either do not have or do not want a pastor to lead them.  I’m grateful that Hillcrest is very different from many churches at this point, and we have a leadership structure in place that works very well.  Still, this is a reality in too many churches, and necessary changes never take place.

I’ve found that people who lead in other settings, such as business, often get frustrated when it comes to leading a church.  I once knew a pastor who retired from the military and became a pastor—he was stunned to find that he couldn’t just give an order and have people snap to attention!  Hopefully the five characteristics we’ve looked at in this newsletter will help you understand why patience is a virtue when it comes to the way you and I should lead Hillcrest.  In next week’s LeaderLines, we’ll look at the other side of the coin, however.  There are five reasons why churches can handle change better than other organizations.  Stay tuned.


P.S.  Recently I’ve had some interesting conversations regarding Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Church.  This book came out 10 years before The Purpose-Driven Life.  My friend, George Wentworth, recently told me that he had just read the book and it helped him understand the direction we’re going as a church.  He encouraged me to recommend the book to others.  A new friend and new church member, Mike Smith, just told me he re-read the book last week.  He had studied the book as a leader in a previous church, and he was excited to see our church following many of the principles.  Our church staff went to the Purpose-Driven Church Conference in May 2004, and our deacons are in the middle of a study of this book right now.  Get a copy and see what you think!

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