Skip to main content

How To Lead Change - Episode 22

There will come a time, probably sooner than later, that you will need to make a change. You will need to change something at your church. Over the next few episodes, we will look at how you can lead your church through change.
The principles I will cover apply to big changes as well as small. Obviously, changing your worship music is a bigger change than changing your carpet color. But the steps are the same.
Now, Over the past 12 years, I have taken the church I pastor through several changes. And I foresee more changes in the immediate future.
I’m not going to tell you what I need to change but I will share this fact – I believe everything but one thing is open to change
Listen to 1 Timothy 3:15b
“the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
I understand those words this way. The local church is the protector, the fortress of the truth, of the Gospel. The gospel never changes. The truth found in God’s word never changes. And the local church is called upon to protect that truth in its local context.
So the truth cannot be changed. But anything else is open to change.
Now let’s get into it. Today, I want to give you an overview of what change looks like and in the weeks to come, I will go into greater detail on the steps.
Dr. William Bridges has written extensively about change – personal and as an organization.
If you are going to take your church through change you need to at least read his book, Managing Transitions. I will have a link to this book in the show notes.
Dr. Bridges has identified three phases of transition or change. Dr. Bridges uses the term transition. For him, change and transition are not the same. But I will use change and transition interchangeably.
So the three phases of transition are as follows
  1. The first phase is the ending. All change, all transitions begin with an ending.
  2. The second phase is what Dr. Bridges calls the neutral zone.
  3. And the final phase is the New Beginning.
So let’s understand this. A transition begins with an ending
This is essential. All of us have made the mistake, maybe in front of the congregation or before the church board. We have shared the possibility of the new beginning before we have shared the necessity of the ending. And when we did that we suffered the consequences. And possibly the new beginning never happened because the people did not see the need for it.
So the first thing you need to do is take your people through the ending.
This is a painful period. This is the hard part. This, in my opinion, takes the most time.
There is a church in my local area that has a great young pastor. He was recently hired on. He is taking this established church through a radical change. And his first step? Teaching and preaching on why the current situation must end.
He is helping his people let go. He is helping his people deal with the loss associated with this change. I don’t know the numbers, but I suspect some people will leave. The pain of loss will be too much for them. But most will stay, especially if he continues to help them end the current methods.
Dr. Bridges teaches that a neutral zone follows this ending. It is during the neutral zone that the future is planned, teams are built, new patterns and new ways of doing business are created.
One caution, I believe many of good transition can die in the neutral zone. I have led my congregation into the neutral zone, I assumed we had reached the promised land. The change then ceased and in time we just reset back to the old way of doing business.
Do no make that mistake that the neutral zone is the finished product. You must know the ultimate destination and you must push through this temptation to stop.
I don’t know if you are into old books. The journey Dr. Bridges has mapped out reminds me of Homer’s Odyssey. If you remember, Odysseus is trying to get home after the Trojan war. What should have been a 10-day trip ended up taking 10 years. And all along the way, there were good reasons to stop and not finish the journey.
If you are going to take your church through major change you need to start with the ending and use the great gift of the neutral zone for development, but you cannot stop there. You must keep the finish in sight.
Before we begin to end things, what should we first do?
Before we end anything we must ask and answer two questions. Before I get to the questions let me share my situation.
The church I pastor has a church board. The board is made up of the deacons and elders. We meet once per month and make the decisions for the church. We examine the financial reports.  We follow Roberts Rules of order, - we do old business, new business.
This group of men is the group I must first sell on any church change. It is these men that will support me or not. I can be the upfront person leading the change if I have their support.  So change begins with them.
Your situation might be different. You may answer to no one, or answer to a congregation, or a board. It doesn’t matter. You still ask and answer these two questions.
Question number one: What must never change?
If you answer to a board or a congregation, ask them this question and listen closely to their answers.
I said earlier, that I feel the only thing that can never change is the Gospel, the truth. But that’s too simple. There are some things that are unique to every church that may find themselves on the do not change list. You need to note these. These are potential landmines.
Every answer that comes your way, record it, acknowledge it. But in the end, you do not have to live with it. You might be rocking that 1970’s gold carpet in the auditorium. And when you ask, What must never change, there will be someone who says, “The Carpet.”
Write it down. Note it. But you do not need to live with that carpet for the next 10 years. You can change it. That’s what leadership is all about and that is why you must take them through the painful process of letting go or ending.
Here’s a better example. What if someone says, “Our music must never change.” And it is music you feel must change? What are you going to do? Your church is traditional in its music and you feel it must change to contemporary. What should you do?
If that is a change you are willing to make, you can throw out the organ this week and put the drums up next week. And of course, suffer the consequences.
Or you can acknowledge their input and begin to take them through the process of change that begins with understanding that this to must end.
But that is the first question, “What must never change?”
The second question is this. What must we change?
You might want to reword this question. The word “change” frightens people. Change makes them nervous. Here’s the rewrite.
What must we do to improve?
That’s softer. It is not as confrontational.
Again, write everything down, even if you disagree with it. Then prioritize the list, and if you are working with a group begin to debate the answers.
There will be items on the list that everyone can agree with. I would begin with these.
Now let’s wind this up. In the weeks to come, I will go into greater detail on this subject, how to lead change.
But today, remember we learned that all change or transitions begin with an ending, there is a neutral zone, and then the final phase is the new beginning. Do not jump to the new beginning until you have helped them deal with the ending.
Before all that, ask and answer two questions: What must never change? And What must we change? Or What must we do to improve?
I hope this helps.
This is Mark Jones and you have been listening to Coaching Christian Leaders.
Please share this episode with your friends and fellow pastors. Also, don’t forget to subscribe. You can do so on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or any podcast player.
If you are interested in one on one coaching please contact me. I can be reached at

Resource Mentioned

Closing Thoughts

If you are a Christian leader in need of direction or motivation, I would love to help. I coach leaders, especially small-church pastors. I also provide free six-session masterminds for pastors and missionaries. If you are interested in any of the above, email me.

Please share this episode with others!