With more than 80% of American churches declining or plateaued, almost all pastors pray that their churches will be healthy and growing. Discovering effective approaches to guiding a church back to life is a holy quest for many of today’s pastors, along with a growing number of church consultants.
Gil Rendle is one of America’s premier church consultants who is retiring. I have learned much from his book, “Leading Change in the Congregation.” Here are a few sample insights that have enriched my understanding of the pastor’s spiritual task as a leader:
- “While it may be possible to learn from other congregations…church leaders are going to have to develop their own learnings….There is no cookbook to follow, no established rules that will get us there.”
- The first thing leaders can do is to relieve themselves of the pressure to come up with the perfect “answer” to an uncertain future that will keep all parties “happy.” The focus on happiness and satisfaction is insufficient and, in the end, damaging. Happiness and satisfaction are very often measures of the status quo.
- The role of the leader is to pay attention long enough and not run off to fix something. It is to help people confront their pain, disappointments, and anxieties. Or in the words of Ron Heifetz: “Failing people’s expectations at a rate they can handle.”
After four decades of success and experience, I anticipated Rendle would retire with the confidence that he was passing on a legacy of insight for pastors and church consultants would utilize for years to come. Not so.
In a recent interview he acknowledged that most of his insights are still foundational for helping churches discover new life. However, because the speed of change is so rapid in today’s culture, he would adapt many of his tried and proven approaches. To the point, whether church leaders recognize it or not, changes in our culture are dramatically impacting our people. That means that the pastor’s role is to challenge the status quo and force other leaders to consider questions that they don’t want to answer. However, in so doing, the pastor can guide the needed changes in the right direction and keep the church aimed at its primary purpose and mission.
Recently I was so proud to see this lived out when a staff member of a very healthy and growing church confided in me about the hard conversations key decision-makers were having behind the scenes. A couple of the leaders recognized that even though their church was looked upon as very successful, it was refusing to adapt and change to reach the millennial generation. The discussions are animated and not finished – but at least the leaders care enough about the reaching their community with the Gospel that they are willing to face reality and the need to change.
So, how about you and your church? How willing are you to have those hard conversations about change so that God can use your people to reach this generation?