Change or Transition in your Church?

We are finding that many ministries during the pandemic are more open to doing things differently than ever before. Life seems to be rapidly changing before us and the church must pivot to some degree to continue connecting with people for the sake of fulfilling their mission of making disciples. Doing things differently or “change” can be a very challenging adventure in the church world. After all, the church has many familiar and cherished traditions. But when the traditions or customs of the church fail to relate or worse confuse those you are trying to minister to, it will hinder you from accomplishing your mission. A church must be willing to continually make adjustments to stay on mission. The mission of the church is not merely to exist or to maintain certain customs. The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The problem is that many churches do not make the frequent adjustments needed to stay on mission. Over time the gap begins to widen between mission and practice or tradition.

When the realization sets in that a church is off course they have to game plan to get back on mission. Mission drift is real in the life of not just church’s but also in the life of institutions, organizations and businesses. Think of the YMCA, Yale, Harvard and others that started with a different mission then they have today. We can get so lost in the “what” that we forget the “why.” How do we get back on track? Do we make changes, or do we make transitions? It will do us good to understand the subtle differences between change and transition.

Let’s start with the idea of change. Change is mainly situational. Your church may have a new pastor, move to a new location or start a new ministry or new church service. Leonard Sweet says “change is when you have to do better what you already know how to do. Transition is when you have to do what you don’t know how to do.” Transition requires taking people through a spiritual and mental process. Change can be quick but sometimes painful with losses along the way. Transition attempts to bring people along so that they understand the current situation. To lead through transition it will be important to define the current reality of where you are, showing how you have drifted off mission, explaining how things have changed. Further, you must clearly articulate the mission of your church. If the mission is not clear before the church, people begin to create their own mission. For some it might be preservation of traditions, for others it might be some minor or secondary issue. Regardless, many will not be mission focused and work to keep the church on mission if it doesn’t start with the leadership.

Once the current reality is understood and the mission has been clarified you must do the difficult work of closing the gap. To close the gap between where you are and where you need to be you will need to align your leaders and ministries with your mission. I’d recommend working with your leaders in a small group, teaching them the church’s vision, mission, values and strategy. Once you have buy in, they will begin to see for themselves the ministries that need alignment. Remember, there are two ways you can get to where you want to be. You can simply announce change or you can transition people to where you want to be. The later can be slower, but it better ensures you are taking people with you, not just taking a walk by yourself!

Your Brother in the Battle,

Ryan Flanders

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