The Pace of Change in Church Revitalization

Church Revitalizers must understand the pace issues when it come to making change. There is nothing more permanent except change! Change often frightens people. People do not relax well in the midst of change. It makes them anxious. As a church revitalizer, you will discover that nothing is more challenging than leading through times of change. In most churches the normal pace of change is intentionally slow. This is usually because of comfort with the status quo no matter how good nor how bad things are going. The Church Revitalizer must function most often as a change agent in an attempt to bring about lasting change. He must learn the dynamics that either help or hinder the process of change. Change, is what you dig for when there is nothing left. Change is what buys you a chance for real turnaround when your church feels empty. Martin Luther King stated: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at time of challenge and controversy.” People change when the pain of staying the same overcomes the fear of change. However, sometimes people don’t perceive the pain before significant damage has occurred. The Church Revitalizer has the courage and willingness to do what is best for the declining church. He sets the pace, builds a plan, and finds partners, which will come along side of him for the work of church renewal.

In declining churches as well as growing ones there is a need for change, which makes almost all of us a change agent to some degree. Church Revitalizers wrestle with the achieving of lasting change. In a day where it is easier to tell what does not work these ideas and strategies give you the best opportunity for success. Accept the fact that most people, most of the time, do not like change, unless it is their idea. So, if you want to become a change again, you will need to find a way to address the self interest of stake holders in the status quo. This is not so easy. But if you take the time to understand the aspects of the status quo that they most relish, you’ll be far ahead in winning them over to the change.

Church Revitalizers would do well to understand from the initiation of considering change for a local church these two factors in the life of a rapidly declining church:

First, despite the claims of the 1980’s and 1990’s church growth theorists, little is known about how to achieve predictable change. The examples are often one ups meaning what worked in one place seldom works in a second. This is why the church growth movement was a bust in the long run. Reproducibility from one place to another was hard at best. There are no magic pills but there are some principles which we will consider.

Second, much of what has been out there by church growth guru’s is being repackaged with a new label “Church Revitalization,” and the result is that much of what is espoused will not work just like it did not work in the last part of the previous century.

YET, There are alternatives to the last century theories and simply it is that you can learn from the experiences of others who are working in the field of revitalization and renewal.

Nothing is more problematic to control, more perilous to conduct, and more uncertain in the final outcome, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Often this new order will be contingent upon pace factors in bringing about change. Here are a few ways a church revitalizer could act upon circumstances and utilize the pace of change for revitalization:

An Internal Crisis Quickens the Pace of Change

An internal crisis is a simple way to accelerate the pace of change. When a perceived crisis arises, the pace of change can be increased four fold. People don’t fear change; they fear the unknown. As a revitalization leader, shining the flashlight into the darkness so others can see their way through the transition will define a prominent and recurring role for you—that as a Church Revitalizer of change agent. As with all fears, those associated with change are due largely to the perception of what might happen rather than to the likelihood of it actually happening. The perception that failure will occur, therefore, immobilizes people at the exact time that they need to spring to action. We need change agents on our side to clear the path, especially when it comes to making “game-changing” change.

A Heightened Level of Discontent Fosters the Pace of Change

Another methodology for increasing the pace of change is to respond to a heighten level of creative discontent from your church members with the status quo. Understand that when people face major changes, they typically go through three stages: Awareness, adjustment, and advancement. The process can take days, weeks, or months, depending on the person, and some people never move past their constant struggle to adjust. I have been fascinated to see the correlation between the speed of change and an individual who is “leading” the charge.

Focusing on the Appeal of the Goal Intensifies the Pace of Change 

A third approach to increasing the pace of change, is to highlight the attractiveness of a new proposed goal. Three skills tend to separate those who can deal effectively with change from those who cannot: Problem solving, relationship building, and flexibility. When major or multiple changes are on the horizon, encourage people to solve problems associated with the change as soon as they are aware of them, to build rapport among themselves, and to remain open to innovative solutions.

Regularly Scheduled Discussions on the Proposed Course of Action Increases the Pace of Change

A forth approach to increasing the pace of change, is to increase the frequency and number of discussions about the proposed course of action. Because church revitalizers understand that lasting change requires a quantity of talks or thought sessions on the subject, the time frame can often be shortened by subsequent talks, which hasten the pace of change. Instead of responding to short-gain, “flavor of the month” tactics, make sure proposed changes support the long-term strategy of the organization. Try to keep everyone focused on the desired outcome. Constant reminders of the end goal will help people better tolerate temporary inconveniences.

Building Up the Trust Levels Lifts the Pace of Change

A fifth approach to increasing the pace of change, is to focus attention on the building up of trust rather than the proposed change. The higher the trust level is developed, the easier it will be for the planned change to take place. During turbulent times, those around you will count on you to present a confident, self-assured demeanor. They will want you to let them know they can trust you—trust you to take charge and to stay in charge. In short, they will want you to show no fear. Strong renewal relationships are built on trust. If you do not have solid relationships of mutual trust with the people that you serve, they will not desire to grow. People will not want to grow if they do not trust the person that is pushing the ideas and process for change. The Church Revitalizer, I have seen which function as change agents, are extremely approachable and reliable and lift the pace of change.

Playing Down Tradition Increases the Pace of Change

Another approach to increasing the pace of change, is to play down tradition, precedent, and custom. Whenever possible, persuade others to separate their emotions from the change or the problems it has introduced. Don’t let yourself or others get trapped into thinking there is only one solution to any problem. Brainstorm creative solutions and then see options as having pros and cons, rather than being “right” or “wrong.” If innovation requires thinking “outside the box,” try talking to someone who actually lives outside the box. Sometimes those too close to the problem don’t see the obvious. Listen to outside voices. It is better to promote something fresh and renewed.

Enlargement of the Supportive Circle Increases the Pace of Change

A last approach to increasing the pace of change is to give highest priority to the early enlargement of the supportive group who favor the proposal and have a personal interest in seeing the change realized. As Malcom Gladwell describes in his book, The Tipping Point, he states: “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” The supportive group must become a combination of talents and persistence all working together to bring about one band and one sound for church revitalization. You cannot be a connector if you are in a church environment where people do not want to come together. So although a change agent can trigger growth in church renewal, the church culture in which they exist has a huge bearing on their accomplishment. I believe that the Church Revitalizer who functions as change agents will help to create more church leaders, not more followers.

Wrapping it up! 

The pace of change can be used in the reverse as well! There are times as a church revitalizer when you need to slow things down to give time for the correct events to have time to flourish. When you need to retard the pace of change simply do the opposite if you need to buy the time for other actions to be revealed.

Some Quick Change Pointers for the Church Revitalizer:

 

There must be a change towards a positive and fulfilling direction

There must be a change in what the renewing church values

There must be a change in the people’s assumptions about the church.

There must be a change in the memberships orientation

There must be a support for change not just regrowing numbers. If not there are severe limitations on what can be accomplished with just new people.

There are three actions which must take place if an old church wants to break out of its comfort and complacency. To reach the new people of today’s world, the old church must reflect on its traditions, analyze its community, and evaluate its ministry. There are two negative factors, which hinder renewal efforts in many old churches: The two factors are comfort and complacency.

Comfort can be translated in several ways. Wealth may produce comfort. Wealth need not be a million dollars; sufficient money to meet all needs without having to really sacrifice can make us feel at ease. Numbers may produce comfort. When we have enough people to maintain the church programs week by week, we feel comfortable. When the size of a Sunday School class fits the room or the congregation has the feel of a well-filled house, we can get comfortable. Property can produce comfort. When a church has sufficient property to meet perceived needs, comfort may result- especially if the property is paid for. Comfort tends to breed complacency in any church- old or new.

Complacency causes folks to think, “Nothing is wrong with us just like we are.” One may hear: “We’ve been right here in this same place for more than 100 years. We’ve done all right with everything that has come up so far!” Or “Everybody around here knows where we are. They know how we do things around here. They know they are welcome as long as they want to come and don’t try to mess things up or cause trouble!”

Change is a constant, and Church Revitalizers who function, as the change agent must do more than keep up. They must innovate and accelerate in order for them and their church renewal effort to succeed. Yet the laity are often intimidated and frightened by change. As a Church Revitalizer during a time of transformation, you may stand up before church leaders and patriarchal control fanatics that are indifferent, or even hostile. You will need to convince them that change is necessary and urgent.

Will CHANGE be part of your churches future?

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