Today I’m thinking about those things that churches will defend from change. These are the things that churches build high walls around to keep secure for various reasons. Mostly the reasons come down to familiarity and a sense of control and comfort – “we’ll keep doing it this way because we know what to expect.”
Thom Rainer made a pretty good list of ten areas in a church that are fiercely defended. It’s a pretty comprehensive list. My only addition would be to add – gifts to the church. These have a way of sticking around for a long time. That’s not to say gifts are bad, it’s to point out that sometimes, many times, church hold on to gifts that are no longer useful because someone, somewhere may find out some how that the church is no long using the gift that Mabel Smith gave the church 75 years ago. Never mind that Mabel died 50 years ago and her family hasn’t set foot in church for 40 years. But you never know.
At any rate, the real question for me is – how do you deal with these fiercely defended things? I’d love to hear your ideas – especially ways that worked.
My own thoughts are that there are several things to consider:
1. Is it worth the fight? Sometimes just leaving something alone is the best strategy. Especially if it is one of those things that has an emotional attachment to it. At some point emotions change – deal with it later.
2. Identify what the attachment is. OK, so you decided tackle one of these traditions. You need to identify why it’s a fiercely defended tradition. You have to find out what’s really behind it – Is there a real reason for something being done for a long time, or is it one of those things that has been going on but no one knows why. There are different strategies for dealing with each of these. And in the case of a real reason, listen to it, it may be a great reason which means you leave it alone.
3. Identify the pain of change vs. the pain of keeping things the same. There’s a reason why you want to change something and a reason why people want to keep it the same. Name these and see which is more painful. When the pain of keeping things the same outweighs the pain of change, change happens and there is a good reason for it.
4. Recognize, you are dealing with people. People have to be considered in all of this. People are great and also can be a pain in the butt. But that’s who makes up the church and it’s who God loves. We are called to take a loving approach to people. Sometimes even just exploring these things can bring about changes that no one even considered – and the changes don’t have to necessarily be about the stuff either – it could be cultural, or emotional, or who knows what.
5. You aren’t a superhero. You don’t have super human powers. You can’t make change happen on your own, even if you have the best ideas in the history of the world. A church is a community – stuff happens in community, not based on what one person wants or thinks needs to happen. This can be awesome at times and frustrating at other times. If change is going to happen, other people need to be on board with it – it affects them too.