Why Leading Your Church Through Change Is Hard

Leading through change is difficult in the best of times. When something challenges the status quo, it throws people out of their comfort zone, putting them on high alert. Attempts to guide the group to the light on the other side can face harsh criticism from the people.

Chris Holland
June 23, 2022
Kids Ministry Leadership

Leading change in the church is even harder. People feel comfortable with the rituals embedded into their church culture, and stepping away from these can feel like an attack — but being trapped in the comfort of the past only limits the future.

Sometimes change is necessary, whether it's pruning projects that are no longer relevant or expanding in size. When you lead with strength, change can be an exciting opportunity, allowing your church to redirect resources so new initiatives can begin.

Keep reading for the main challenges you may face as a leader guiding your church through change, and essential tips on how to overcome them.

Why People Resist Change

Church team resisting change

Minority Benefits

You will likely feel resistance if most of your congregation can’t see how the changes will benefit them. As a church leader, you need to ask yourself important questions like whether this is actually in the interest of the people you intend to serve.

If it's only beneficial for a loud minority that keeps pressuring you to make a change, reconsider whether it’s the route you should go down. Make sure you communicate how the change will benefit your flock with a loud and clear voice to gain maximum support.

Desire for Comfort

In the church environment, it’s easy for people to equate stability and comfort with success. This is a mindset typically held by older people who often champion the concept of resisting change. Phrases like “it’s always been done this way” can limit the perceptions of your congregants.

Remind them that their unwillingness to change reveals their idolatries. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but show every member of your church that your legacy depends on flexibility and willingness to adapt. Engage with your younger members, and their excitement may pass on to the older members.

Fear of the Unknown

When your ministry has no idea what this new future may look like, they will feel fearful of the change. That is why it’s vital not to throw them in at the deep end, as it can cause a trauma response. The lived reality is rarely as painful as people imagine it to be.

Ease your congregation into the change instead of throwing them in at the deep end. Do this with presentations, brochures, posters, and anything else you can think of, over and over again until they have a deep understanding. Use examples of other churches or organizations that have made a similar change to highlight the benefits.

Lack of Research

Thoroughly research the changes you plan to make in your ministry to limit the nasty surprises that come your way. A problem can seem easy to solve on the surface, but when you take action, much bigger issues come to light.

Dig underneath the surface and speak to your congregants to ensure you are ready for anything. Leading the change requires knowledge and expertise to satisfy every ministry of your church. In other words, don’t end one issue just to create another.

Hiccups in Leading Change

Team unhappy with leading change

Insufficient Resources

Whatever your envisioned change may be, having the resources to carry it out is essential. Depending on your project, this could be anything, from additional church volunteers and helping hands to financial aid and sponsorship. 

Don’t start with any irreversible changes until you are sure you have the means to carry them out. No one wants to be the leader who marches their church into a disorganized mess, so get prepped in advance. Planning every last detail will help you understand the ins and outs of what you need.

Weak Leadership

A changing church needs strong church leadership. Unfortunately, if you are not equipped with the leadership skills to do this, recognizing this and stepping down will be far better for the future of your church. The pressure could inspire church workers to step up and lead with determination, or it could be a disaster.

Quitting is never easy, but asking God if you are the person for the position could give you some clarity. Spend more time praying and be open to the idea that this could simply not be in His plan for you. Read this article for tips on how to leave your leadership role with grace.

The Ripple Effect

Starting change is only the first step. It causes a ripple effect, and it is impossible to know all the implications. A period of change can last for several years while you get used to the new systems and remedy the inevitable new problems. Getting too comfortable too quickly can cause chaos.

So don’t be fooled into thinking leading a change is a simple A-to-B process. Be prepared for the long haul, as your vision in this process is essential until normality begins to kick in again. Commit to the journey and lead your people for as long as it takes.

Practice honesty and openness to lead the change at your church in the way your people need it. Clearly communicate your goals for the future to help your congregants see how it benefits them, keeping them in the loop every step of the way. Inspire confidence in your people by knowing your stuff, researching thoroughly, and being prepared for anything the change might throw at you.

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