Communication Leadership Team Building

Four Reasons Churches Don’t Change (even when they need to)

January 3, 2016

There’s one difference between God and the Church: God doesn’t need to change. But, the most effective and successful churches are constantly changing. The message and the mission never change- that’s a God thing- but the methods and techniques we use to communicate that mission/message are in constant need of re-shaping to reach the ever-changing identity of the lost in every time and place. Change can’t happen without effective leadership, but engineering change, especially a culture change, is perhaps the most challenging task a leader can face.

At Nativity, we faced about every obstacle to change in the book. Here are four real-life obstacles every church leader needs to be aware of that stood in our way and that you will experience too, if you’re trying to transition your church.

Death By Meeting

If you remember the classic movie Groundhog Day, Phil, a weatherman played by Bill Murray wakes up and re-lives the same day, replaying the exact event and conversation over and over again, and each day, he goes a little bit crazier. Does that remind you of your staff or ministry meetings? The same people always bring up the same issue, and every meeting ends with the same decision (or indecision) and everyone is a little worse off than before.

My friend and business consultant Patrick Lencioni addresses this in his book Death by Meeting. Change won’t and can’t happen without a meeting strategy geared toward producing measurable action.

Criticism Trumps Creativity

Change is always the result of a creative process, and healthy criticism is also essential. But it usually pans out that one good idea meets four objections. Why? Being critical is easier than being creative. Even among peers, sharing a new idea is often a vulnerable and nerve-wracking practice. The more ideas are deconstructed outright, the less willing that person will be to share next time around. Even if you don’t adopt every new idea (you can’t and probably shouldn’t), find ways to reward and encourage creative thinking and problem solving. In most settings, criticism far exceeds creative thinking.

To counteract this, at Nativity, we have an approach called granting “permission to fail.” If you really want the light-bulb idea, think like Thomas Edison, who when asked: ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’ , replied: “I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!'”

Major on the Minors, Minor on the Majors

Small thinking begets small things. God wants something bigger for your church, but churches so often exert enormous amounts of time and energy on making decisions about small things that ultimately don’t matter for your mission. The problem isn’t that these small decisions exist; there are a thousand little things that need to be decided. The problem is letting them dominate the agenda and drag on indefinitely.

One leadership principle is “the first thing is to keep the first thing the first thing.” Sit with that a minute- what is the “first thing” for you church? Is it your favorite program or structure, or reaching the unchurched?

Loving the Past While Fearing the Future

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It’s also human nature to make the past seem better than it really was. It’s also probably the most personally painful obstacle to change to get over.

The best litmus test for this is your language and communication style. Irrelevant, out of date cultural references inevitable make the message and mission seem irrelevant. You won’t be able to break free until you let your fear of missed opportunity exceed your fear of change.


For another take on this topic, check out Carey Nieuwhof’s blog at

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