The “Secret” and Hardest Part for Pastors Attempting Church Revitalization

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization | 10 Comments

There is a part of church revitalization we don’t talk about much – if ever. Yet, pastors think about it a lot. 

I know this from personal experience and from talking to literally dozens of pastors attempting church revitalization. 

Although it is a secret, I’m convinced it’s the hardest thing any pastor will face who wants to see a declining established church ever thrive again. 

I hate to pull the cover back on my pastor friends on this one, but often it is not until we admit a problem that we can really focus on some solutions. 

So, here’s the secret, hardest part I’ve observed about church revitalization:

Deciding if you will stay long enough to see a turn. 

That’s it. 

And this can honestly be said about many other changes we make as leaders. You have to decide if you are going to outlast the tension change naturally creates. 

To test my assertion, if you are in the first couple years of leading church revitalization, see if any of these apply: 

  • You wake up some days and don’t know if you can do it anymore. 
  • You and your spouse dream about where you could work – maybe another church; perhaps even in the marketplace.
  • Secretly you search job site boards looking for other positions for which you might qualify or be interested.
  • You wonder if you are alone and if anyone else struggles this way.
  • There are times you wonder if the problem is you – if you’re doing something wrong, if maybe it is a sin to even be thinking as you do some days. 

Any of those sound like your story? 

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of these. Those are raw human emotions. Change is not only hard for the congregation – it’s hard for the one leading it. And some of it may simply be a way to cope and survive. You get little “mini-mind breaks” that keep you going. 

But here’s what I know to be true: Until you decide if you’re going to outlast the critics and weather the storms of change you will likely never realize the success you really came to achieve. 

Of course, there is never an excuse to be arrogant, tyrannical or controlling. I always tried to be humble, but purposeful. God had sent me and the church had called me to do a job. Helping a church revive again requires change. And leading change is hard and the reactions to it are not always pretty. 

The question in church revitalization is not if it is going to be difficult. Someone told me that the longer the church has been in decline the longer it will take to revitalize. I know for sure it takes longer than we often hope it will. The question is if you are going to last through the difficult to get to the potential wonderful. 

And I’m not even suggesting you have to or should. That’s a much more personal matter with many different parameters that depend on your unique circumstances and the church. Some churches can’t be revived. There are no guarantees and no perfect formulas to follow.

I’m simply pointing out something I have learned the hard way. 

In an upcoming post I’ll offer a few suggestions for staying through the hard seasons. In the meantime, I’m saying a prayer for all of you who will read this post and are in the middle of discerning whether to stay or go. 

Where Many New Ideas Come From

By | Change, Innovation, Leadership | 6 Comments

In my experience, many of the new ideas for our organization…and for my life…have come while I was doing something else.

Usually when we are working on planning a service it’s when the best ideas for a service develop…

Often when I’m working on a blog post, I get several new ideas for a blog post…

Look at most great inventions and they were discovered while doing something…many times while doing something totally unrelated to what was discovered…

That’s because…

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The Most Critical Step in Introducing Change

By | Change, Church, Leadership | 6 Comments

When it comes to making changes, and doing so successfully, whether that change is: 

  • In a home
  • In an organization
  • In a business
  • In a church

The way you introduce change is equally important to the change you introduce.

That’s the most critical step. The way you begin will impact everything else. It’s like a first impression – very hard to come back from if done wrong. If you want the change to be effective, you’ve got to invest time in introducing it well – especially to those that will be most impacted by the change. 

And that often means using intentionality in:

Communication – And you can’t over communicate.

People – And this is where you probably need a Stakeholder Analysis .

Timing – And remember speed of change is always relative.

Steps – And the bigger the change the more you need to invest time in the plan.

But the way change is introduced – the way you begin the process of change – will almost always be an important part of whether or not the change is successful. 

The Emotions of a Pastor or Leader’s Spouse in Times of Transition

By | Change, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Encouragement, Family, Marriage | 10 Comments

When I’m talking to a pastor or other leader who has accepted a new position or is in a time of transition – after I hear the excitement in their voice of what they see God doing – I almost always ask the same question:

“How is your spouse dealing with the change?”

I like to encourage pastors and other leaders to remember their spouse’s emotions in the process of transition.

When I ask the question I often hear a short pause, followed by an “umm” of some sort, then a statement such as, “She/He seems to be doing okay.”

Push a little more (which I usually do) and I’ll hear something like:

It’s been harder on him/her than I thought it would be.”

Pushing even further, I have even heard something like, “I don’t understand why he/she is not as excited as I am. We agreed this was what God had for us.”

Many times, when the leader is honest, the transition hasn’t gone as well for the spouse as it did for the pastor/leader. It will likely come in time – if given time – but for now, the spouse is simply not as excited about the change in positions as the one who made the change in career is.

Why is this?

Well, consider it from the spouse’s position. (This is always a good practice in any relationship issue.) The pastor/leader who moved to a new opportunity came with their center of gravity and purpose defined. You know what you are going to be doing with your time and energy. Most likely the spouse will feel a sense of loss and have to look for theirs. That takes time.

Often a new pastor, for example, comes home at the end of a long day and has something exciting to share about the day. Whether the day is good or bad things are moving, changing, and challenging them daily. So, even on days things aren’t going well they have drama in their day they can’t wait to share.

Many times, right now, the spouse has days which basically look the same.

Since a majority of my readers are in vocational ministry, let me say a word to the new pastor. This is just a typical scenario I have heard many times.

You arrive at your new position, come home at the end of the day pumped at what God is doing, so naturally you share your enthusiasm with the one you care to share with the most – your partner in life and ministry.

But if you’re not conscious of your spouse’s emotions, depending on their state of mind, they may hear, “My life is exciting. Yours is boring.”

Or worse, “My life has meaning. Your life has none.”

Granted, you are not and would not think those things – and would never want your spouse to think you do, but emotions are high in times of transition. Don’t be surprised if they produce irrational thoughts and actions at times. This is part of change.

Your spouse likely moved from friends and has to learn who to trust again. They may even be more relation-centered emotionally. Their heart may transition slower. The roles they held in the church or community haven’t been replaced yet.

You moved forward in your career and passions. Many times the spouse may have taken a step backward. Or, at least, seems to have for now. This will change in time, and the spouse probably knows this intellectually, but emotionally they feel a sense of loss which will take time to replace with a sense of purpose equal to yours.

The key is to remember your spouse is an individual person, with individual needs for a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Failure to acknowledge this and be sensitive to it is not only unfair it can damage the relationship and slow the process of acclimating in the transition.

5 Questions to Ask When Facing Rejection as a Leader

By | Change, Church, Fear, Innovation, Leadership | 11 Comments

When I started an insurance business from scratch, I made hundreds of cold calls. Lots of people told me no. I’ll be honest, I hated this part of starting the business, but in time I got accustomed to rejection.

It still hurt sometimes, but I learned it was a natural part of successful selling. I couldn’t get to a yes (which paid the bills) without a lot of no’s.

Life is this way also. People aren’t always going to buy-in to what you’re selling or presenting. This is never more true than as a leader. No one is going to love every idea you present.

Leaders lead to somewhere they are hoping will be better than today. But this always involves change – and tension always accompanies change. Always.

And for the leader – part of their success may be their tenacity through rejection.

The fact is no one likes rejection.

Your proposal. Your product. Your presentation.

You love it. You believe in it. You want it to go forward. How could anyone reject what you’ve put your heart into?

It’s difficult not to make rejection personal, but it should be understood rejection isn’t always against you. Many times – maybe even most times – people reject because of their own level of comfort or acceptance of whatever they are rejecting.

When my ideas are being rejected I like to ask myself some questions.

Here are 5 questions to ask when facing rejection:

Is the rejection based on truth?

Many times rejection has no basis of truth. People may reject because of their own misunderstandings or their unwillingness to accept something new. If you are selling a product, they may not want what you have to sell. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a poor product, it simply doesn’t match their needs.

And, then, there are rejections based on truth. The idea you are proposing is not good – or it has some flaws. You need to hear this rejection – discernment is a huge part of leadership. Be willing to listen and learn. If you will allow it, their rejection may actually make your idea better.

Is the rejection about you or your presentation?

If it is personal rejection then it’s a bigger issue, but if it’s rejection of something you only represent then it should be viewed differently – not taken personally. You’re simply a messenger. This goes for a product you sell or a Gospel you tell. If someone rejects the Gospel they aren’t rejecting you as much as they are God. Let Him deal with rejection.

If rejection is about you may need to ask yourself bigger questions, such as: Am I too pushy? Do I have a caring approach? Do others genuinely think I care for them? How can I communicate the importance of whatever I’m proposing, without devaluing them or their opinions?  (You may need to get coaching and insight from others if your ideas are constantly rejected because of your approach.)

Am I the wrong person to present the idea?

Sometimes rejection comes because you’re not an opinion which matters to them. This may sound harsh, but you weren’t called to minister to or lead everyone. A mentor once told me to find my affirmation among the people God sent me to minister to. Great advice. As a church planter, I would have many ideas (ideas dealing with methods, not theology) which were easily rejected by people in established churches. But, they weren’t to whom God had called me to minister. Why should I be bothered by their rejection?

I’ve learned I’m not always the one to propose something to an audience. I’ve had ideas, for example, which I believe could make our community better. I’ve learned those ideas are often more easily accepted when I can get some seasoned business or community leaders excited about them first. Their opinion often matters more than a pastor who has only been in town a few years. The same is true in the church. Some ideas come better from a volunteer than a paid staff member.

Is the rejection permanent?

Sometimes people say no – even many times – before they say yes. They have to warm up to the idea. They need to process it in a healthy way. I’ve found these people often become the best supporters, because they have wrestled through their objections first.

Persistence often makes the difference with great salespeople – and some of the best leaders. No one likes a pest or someone who can only see their ideas as valuable, but don’t be quick to dismiss an opportunity after initial rejection. It may prove to be the best idea ever if you wait. Timing is often everything.

Is the rejection based on a part or a whole?

This can be huge. Did the rejection have more to do with the overall idea or just some aspect of the idea? This is where you have to learn to ask good questions, know your audience, and be willing to compromise on minor issues and collaborate on major issues. This is where good leadership is necessary. You may have to educate people on what they don’t understand. You may have to allow input to make the idea stronger and more acceptable. If it doesn’t impact your overall goal or mission, be willing to listen, learn and make the final result even better.

Rejection doesn’t have to mean the end. Instead, it could only be an obstacle and be used to improve things in the end. The best destinations are met with many roadblocks. Standing firm through the rejections are a part of good leadership.

7 Times the Speed of Change Can Be Faster than Normal

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 6 Comments

Change takes time. There are no “quick fixes” in the world of change leadership. And there shouldn’t be. I’ve seen many leaders try to rush change through only to destroy themselves, the organization they are trying to change, or the change they are trying to make.

There are occasions, however, when the speed of change can change.

There are unique opportunities where change can be introduced and implemented quicker than other times. The leader should be careful to strategically plan each change, but taking advantage of these times can help facilitate change faster.

Here are 7 times the speed of change can be faster than normal:

When there is a new leader 

The honeymoon period can be a benefit. Honestly, from my personal experience, I believe the period is becoming shorter than it may have once been. I don’t know how long this period ultimately lasts – perhaps only a few months or up to a year – but some change seems almost expected in the beginning days of a leadership position.

Disclaimer: This is not usually “major” change. That should still be strategically planned over time, but certainly some changes can be made quickly. Use wisdom here.

When the change needed is imminent

There are times when everyone agrees something must be done. When a needed leader unexpectedly resigns, for example, no one likely questions the change in staffing to hire someone new. When everyone agrees something is “broke” it’s okay to bring change that attempts to “fix” it. When “it is what it is” there is an expectation to make a change. Take advantage of these times to introduce healthy, smart change.

Disclaimer: Many times people overreact during these periods. Wisdom is still very important even when changes is expected. These type changes can often set precedents for future change.

When an organization is new

In the early days of an organization time can move quickly. Everything is new and so change may come rapidly. I experienced this in church planting. Change is almost an expected part of the process.

Disclaimer: The more you can slow down decisions in these days the better you will be long-term. Many times you make decisions fast only because you can and not because you have to make them fast.

When there is a crisis at hand

I’ve seen this in government, the church and among individuals. When something happens, which shakes the core of your being and scares people they’ll be more accepting of any change which seems to protect them.

Disclaimer: Sometimes these changes are regretted once emotions heal. Sometimes helping people deal with grief and giving them a sense of stability buys you time to reconcile the best changes needed.

When there is overwhelming support

There are times you can move swiftly simply because the support is overwhelming. Momentum for change is often fueled by public opinion.

Disclaimer: It should be noted that this type change can sometimes be dangerous it isn’t built on rational thought and is simply emotionally driven.

When situations are beyond control

Sometimes you can’t do anything to stop needed change. When government, or other powers, demand change, you can rebel or you can change – often quickly. You may not agree with the change forced upon you, but may have to react faster than you expected.

Disclaimer: This is one reason staying alert to future trends and predictions is important. It could be studying movements in the courts or government, tax changes, or cultural trends.

When you aren’t concerned about the outcome

There are times when the results simply don’t matter much in the scheme of things. As a pastor we would schedule baptisms almost any Sunday, for example. Sometimes we may not have a baptism scheduled, but knowing baptisms helped fulfill our key function as a church, we would quickly change our schedule to accommodate. Some changes are so in support of your vision you simply make them as soon as an opportunity presents itself.

Disclaimer: Be careful with this one. In atmospheres more receptive to change we can, as leaders, sometimes take advantage of this and fail to see the weight change is having on the people we lead. Even when much freedom is given to us to lead change we must be mindful of the real reaction of people we lead.

There are probably equally good illustrations for refusing to make change quickly. (There are probably even 7 of them.) Feel free to share them with me and my readers.

When have you seen the speed of change change?

The Quickest Way to Spur Organizational Change

By | Change, Church, Innovation, Leadership, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Do you want to know the fastest way to encourage change?

I have practiced this one for years and it almost always triggers change. It has worked in business, government and church. It worked in church planting and in church revitalization.

It is cost effective too.

The quickest way to spur organizational change:

Expose leaders to new ideas.

In a team environment, where people are empowered to lead, new ideas produce change.

Often faster than any other way.

That’s why I encourage attending conferences when possible. I pass along blogs, podcasts and articles I read. We have often read books together as a staff.

Keep in mind, this works as long as people are allowed to dream – and the leader doesn’t have to control everything. When people are introduced to new ideas it produces energy and momentum. As team members attempt something new, change happens. Often quickly.

It doesn’t have to be monumental change to create excitement. Tweaks, slight improvements and small adjustments can create an atmosphere and an appetite for change on a team.

And the best part – there is always less resistance to major change when change is a part of the culture.

One way we practiced this was in the most recent church where I served as pastor. We often used training budget to take our entire ministerial staff and spouses to another city and church several times larger than our church. They had usually figured out some things we were still learning. We toured the church and then each staff member met with their counterpart staff member at the other church. We would ask questions and explore their story. It was always insightful.

I never knew how it would work or what ideas we would uncover, but I was sure of one thing. It would expose us to some new ideas. We would come home with some immediate changes to consider. Plus our team bonded and there was a new energy and momentum developed.

And that’s a win for me.

Do you want to encourage to encourage change quickly? Expose your team to some new ideas.

Discerning a Change? I Can Cut Your Decision Time in Half

By | Change, Church, Leadership | 2 Comments

I think we waste a lot of time in change management that we really don’t have to waste. Here’s a time saving tip when you are considering a change.

I’m guessing, but I believe this could cut your decision-making in half.

How to save time in change management:

First decide if you’re going to make the change.

Before you spend any time deciding how you will implement the change, decide if it is a change you are going to make.

I’ve been in brainstorming meetings so many times where we are trying to decide whether or not we would make a change. The conversation quickly starts going towards the details of how we would implement the change. It is almost as if we had already decided to make the change.

And time is wasted. We never even made the change. In fact, we talked ourselves out of it by getting into the details. We could have saved a lot of time if we had first decided if it was a change worth making.

Many times, after a brainstorming session, we decide not to make the chage at all. But I’ve learned people like to discuss the how. So, when the conversation goes to how, before the decision has even been made to change, I like to draw our attention back to the original question. “Should we make this change – or not?”

  • Is it a worthy change?
  • Will it move the mission forward?
  • Will people invest the time and energy into making it a reality?

Many times there will be no passion towards accomplishing the change regardless of how good the change seems. Sometimes it is clearly not good timing for the change and, with a quick discernment, everyone knows it. Maybe it is a change that is needed, but it is best  is to wait. Tabling the idea for now makes more sense. Sometimes the win is not worth the effort.

If we are supposed to do it. If God is calling us to this. If this makes sense for us to do – or try – regardless of the risks or fears or unknowns in the room – then we will find a way to make it happen. We will plow through the details and work for solutions. When we know it is something we are going to move forward with the answers are easier to find.

Rather than continuing the discussion of a change you aren’t even going to make now save your time and energy for another discussion.

There are exceptions, but:

Discussing the “how” before the “if” usually wastes valuable time and energy.

If its a worthy and needed change you’ll figure out the how.

Any questions?