I once made a lady very angry.
I had only been assigned to this church for three months or so and had agonized with the Board over what was evident to all. No baptisms for five years, virtually no young families in attendance, a dwindling pool of people who could provide leadership. You know, those kinds of crisis markers.
And with a membership of about 120, average attendance was thirty…thirty-five on a good day. Everybody had their own idea of why it was happening; none of them were right. So, now what?
The symptoms I’ve described above are generally not just the outcome of bad planning. And the remedy is not simply formula-driven because bad habits, acquired over time, become almost sacred and are not readily broken. Satisfaction seeps into the pores and is not quickly routed. Where do we even start?
Well, first off, when the leaders met we spent more time praying than planning. We decided that’s where the power lay so we changed the mid-week service to become the centerpiece of church life. Wednesday evening attendance slowly moved from an average of four to sometimes twenty. Worship service became a worship service. Steeped in prayer. Big music. I don’t mean obscure arias, I mean majestic hymns…the kind that increase your heart rate when you sing them. “Closing song,” instead of a predictable congregational hymn that is only distantly related to the desired response, we might play a moving choral video. Quite often followed by an altar call. Powerful.
And that’s when the lady got angry.
She cornered me in the foyer one week just before I was going up to preach. (I must confess that’s the time I least like confrontation…) She wanted to complain. She didn’t like “all the changes going on around here…” She was not subtle; she was on a mission. Things had been just fine before I got here and she didn’t like having to adjust to change. It was clear to her that I was the cause of the pain.
In retrospect, here are some of the things that hurtful conversation taught me: (1) Those who suggest changes in the church are not always received warmly. Although every change we incorporated was processed – and often created – by the Board, still, you don’t want to get so far ahead of the troops that you begin to look like the enemy. (2) Change is often a friend or a foe depending on whether you are part of creating it or are simply affected by it. (3) To hide from change is to admit that everything is just as it should be, there is no room to improve. (4) Be sure to filter all change through the will of God. Not all change is healthy; not all non-change is healthy, either.
What have you learned from the change process? Write and share it with me.
By Don Jacobsen