I Want Change... But My Congregation Does Not!

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I sat with a pastor recently as we discussed the difficulties she was experiencing with her congregation.

She’s a progress oriented person with a growth mindset and desperately wants to reach new people outside the walls of the church. She feels incredibly frustrated and stuck because her people want things to stay the same. She and her congregation cannot seem to get on the same page.

What do you do when you want change but your congregation simply does not?

As a joker once said, “You cannot make a horse drink but you can drown it trying!” I might add you may drown yourself, too.

In other words, force usually won’t work. (I realize differing denominational structures grant pastors differing levels of power but unless you’re willing to risk losing people, you’re not going to be able to simply issue a decree and produce massive changes.)

So what can you do?

Realistically, here are four strategies to consider.

1. Build more trust.

People will not follow you unless they first trust you. Read more about building trust here.

2. Construct a common vision.

People participate more willingly in a mission and goals that they at some level helped create. Don’t most of us feel enthusiastic about our own ideas but tend to resist other’s ideas if we feel forced to follow them?

3. Recognize and work with the emotions of change.

What are the emotions of change? Among others, grief, fear, enthusiasm, anger and confusion! You really must expect these emotional responses, accept them as valid and help people work through them. If you shut down or discount these feelings, you may find yourself swimming against a powerful undertow of strong feelings that make progress impossible.

4. If all else fails, you may need to move on.

I never advocate quitting just because one encounters obstacles. That’s a sure-fire prescription for failure!

However, let’s be realistic. You don’t control other people. You likely don’t have absolute power to make decisions for the congregation. Fact is, “hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Proverbs 13:12a NIV)

So after doing all you know and failing to see progress, you could consider moving on. Maybe God’s been working through everything to get you ready for the next phase of your ministry.

Perhaps that’s the best change to make.


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Dr. Jeannie3 Comments