10 Principles for Leading Change in a 200-year-old Church

SBC of Virginia is blessed to have churches that are less than 200 days old in our family and churches more than 200 years old in this Gospel partnership. I am thankful for the leadership lessons pastors of some of Virginia’s oldest churches have modeled. Here are some principles learned from their ministries… 

  1. Deal with me first. I need to have the heart of an under-shepherd. Admit my own weakness and need for God’s power. Love the people. 

  2. Pray and trust God. Leaders tend to want to see tangible results right away, which might be the biggest mistake you could make. Leading change begins in the power and strength of God. Pray for God’s wisdom, God’s courage, and God’s strength. Pray for the congregation. Pray for those who oppose and criticize. 

  3. Embrace the current culture without erasing it or idolizing it. Respect the church’s past and understand its previous transformations.  

  4. Focus on the why, not on the what  and the how. Most leaders intuitively focus on the what and the how, neglecting the whyWhat and how are inherently divisive. Why unites people. Why are we proposing these changes?” Because this isn’t about us. Because we imagine a church that our kids and grandkids want to come to. Because we want to be a church our friends love to attend. Because we want to be a place where people who don’t feel welcome today feel welcome tomorrow. Because we love Christ and the world for which he died. 

  5. Focus on the basics. Magnifying the Lord Jesus! Preaching the Word. Building relationships. 

  6. Confront and communicate a sense of urgency. Many church members don’t see the need to make changes because they don’t see reality. They don’t see the decline, the worn facilities, or that the church is not reaching unbelievers as it once did. You have to lead the congregation to face reality, communicate that reality, and communicate a sense of urgency.  

  7. Build an eager coalition. We can’t lead change on our own. Do not merely form a committee or task force, but strategically include the right people, taking into consideration chemistry, position, influence, expertise, and leadership.  

  8. Move from an inward focus to an outward focus. The church that just a few years earlier proclaimed the Great Commission is now focused on the great comfort. Change will require intentionally outward focused movement. Get out into the streets and reach out to those outside the church walls. When someone experiences a critical life situation, it’s common for them to seek refuge in a church. Be active in providing that place where they can seek solace and redemption when they need to start over.  

  9. Pick low-hanging fruit. Small change victories are necessary to sustain positive momentum toward larger change. Picking low-hanging fruit demonstrates the changed direction is worth it, affirms the changed leader, clarifies strategies and tactics, overcomes resistance, and builds momentum toward the larger change. 

  10. Stretch the Rubber Band - Every congregation has an “elasticity factor.” When you stretch a rubber band, one of three things happen. Stretch it far and will snap back on you. Stretch it too far and it will break. But if you stretch it slightly, it will become just a little bit longer. The increase in length is almost imperceptible, but nevertheless the rubber band has transformed slightly. 

Your brother in Jesus,