Ministry at the Speed of Change


There is a certain irony in the following observation about change:

“The amount of time necessary to keep up with change increases as the rate of change accelerates.”

This exposes a challenge for western society, especially churches. There is no time to waste in figuring out congregational strategies to address this challenge.

Change Gets Up Close and Personal

A good example of this principle surfaced a couple years ago. A number of churches and our District were sending electronic newsletters to subscribers. This delivered news to members and participants much more quickly than traditional mail. It also allowed participants to quickly share the content.

After years of using the same email programs, newsletters seemingly abruptly stopped appearing in email for a good percentage of subscribers. It took weeks, in some cases months, for churches to hear about the problem. It also took some serious research to sort out what happened.

It turned out, Google had changed the way it filters emails into email folders. Church email letters were suddenly shunted into the new “Promotions” tab. The “Promotions” tab functioned like email purgatory. Readers could set their email to move specific emails to the new “Primary” folder, but it required Merlin-like skills.

There was a second solution, one I used emailing KevinWilson360 post links. Google would filter unique email address to the Primary folder. I changed the standard “Gmail” email account email to an unique email address. Problem solved.

Solving the problem didn’t address the challenge. It took longer to solve this problem than it would to resolve issues with a traditional newsletter.

Applying the Principle to Churches

Churches are among the oldest institutions in Western society. This impressive longevity is possible, in part, because churches are extremely resistant to change. As the rate of change in society increases, churches are among the institutions least likely to spend more time monitoring changes.

A great example is congregational funding. The Builder Generation, and most of the Boomer Generation, donated congregational “general fund.”  Generation X started the shift to giving to specific causes and needs. The Millennial Generation has taken this practice to the next level. Churches have seen a decrease in funding, while costs have increased.

Yet, almost every church I work with relies on offerings to the general fund as underwrite a vast majority of congregational costs. It’s taking generations for churches to adapt to changes in Americans giving habits. How long it take church leaders to to embrace rapidly emerging opportunities in online giving?

How Congregations Can Meet the Challenge

In my experience, church leaders underestimate how much churches can change. This is not discovered until leaders define what can change and what can’t change. Once leaders know what can change, they are more attuned for opportunities to change. I lead a process called “Negotiable or Non Negotiable” help leaders in this area.

Another opportunity is institutionalizing specific times to reflect on changes inside and outside the church. In churches with policy-based governance, the Board of Ministry Directors monitors significant changes. However, unless this is included in meeting agendas, it might not happen.

Churches with council-based governance have to build into their calendar such opportunities. These congregations could scan the horizon for changes in yearly congregational retreats or regular town hall leadership meetings. The key is scheduling these meetings as faithfully as the church schedules Christmas Eve and Easter worship services.

What lessons have you learned about leading change in churches? Rely in the comments section or shoot me an email.

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