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Most Church Change Initiatives Fail……But They Don’t Have To

In 1849, French journalist Jean-Baptise Alphonse Karr wrote what was to become a famous change quote: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Though clearly satirical, Karr’s quotation holds true in today’s churches. Though churches are increasingly aware of the need for change and change initiatives take a variety of forms, the outcome is almost always the same. The more things change, the more they stay the same because a Gallup study shows that more than 70% of church change initiatives fail.

As churches strive to fulfill their mission in a rapidly changing culture they must address the primary reasons that change initiatives fail.

Church Change Initiatives Fail Because……….

Look back upon one of your recent change initiatives. Can you remember saying, “We should have done this,” or “If only we had done that”? If yes, then you are familiar with exploring change from a failure perspective.

As important as learning how and why change initiatives succeed, learning from “what went wrong” can provide valuable lessons as well.

Here are 7 main reasons church change initiatives fail.

1. A Failure to Focus:

According to Gallup research, finding the right focus is key to employee and customer engagement. The same is true in churches as well. The problem is that congregations are inundated with high-priority messages every week, some essential to achieving mission and vision, others not. Especially when implementing change, these sometimes competing messages make it difficult for members to know what specific actions church leaders want them to focus on.

2. It’s Not Clearly Communicated:

As we discussed in the post The Secret Sauce of Leading Organizational Change, addressing the right questions is a key to effectively communicating change. Start with the questions Who, What, When, Where, How and Why and you will be ahead of the game.

3. It’s Not Compelling:

People need valid and inspiring reasons to embrace change. We showed in The Head and Heart of Leading Change and Helping People Make Smooth Transitions During Change, how important it is to provide people the rationale for change but to also touch their emotions. Change has psychological implications and it is only human nature to resist change unless they find it compellingly touches their mind and heart. For a step by step process for creating a desire for change, see our post The Northwind Theory.

4. It Doesn’t Involve the Right People:

Staff and church governance leaders are important to leading church change initiatives. But many other individuals and coalitions are often vital to the acceptance of change. To avoid the “top down” perception and “us versus them” mindset, seek to involve people from throughout the various church programs, ministries and organizations. Check out our post An 8 Step Biblical Process for Leading Change for ideas on what groups to engage in the change process.

5. It’s Poorly Implemented:

The road to effective change can be blocked, even if it is clearly and compellingly communicated, if not properly planned and implemented. For detailed ideas on how to implement change, see John Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Organizational Change. This post gives you a framework for understanding how to plan and implement organizational change.

6. Success Takes Too Long:

As we saw in Short Term Wins Create Momentum for Change, success can motivate. For people to hang in through the pain of change it helps to have some highly visible “wins” spread throughout the change process.

7. There’s Too Little Accountability:

Change initiatives receive much attention early on and can create lots of excitement through early wins. However, church change leaders can inadvertently derail even well received change by failing to establish structures of accountability that ensure follow-through. See our post The Observer Effect on Leading Change to learn more about the power of observation and measurement on follow-through.

There is no denying it, church change is tough work. It isn’t easy to lead or participate in change and change initiatives can fail for countless reasons. Understanding not only what contributes to success but also what contributes to failure will help you to know what to do and what to avoid in planning and implementing church change initiatives.

Posted on May 12, 2015

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5