Remember Newton’s first two laws of motion? Here’s a refresher…
- First law: Every object continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change that state by external forces acted upon it.
- Second law: The acceleration a of a body is parallel and directly proportional to the net force F acting on the body, is in the direction of the net force, and is inversely proportional to the mass m of the body.
In other words, things that are sitting still don’t move unless something pushes them, pulls them, or otherwise compels them by force… including churches.
I realize this post will most likely get me into a bit of trouble, but I’m going to state what I believe to be in keeping with the way God has designed things to work. Churches often don’t see much movement because they don’t see much movement. Churches who are unwilling to adapt will die. This is simply the law of the universe in which we live.
If that sounds radical, consider that God Himself tends to move and speak in different ways, in different ages, through different means. He has progressively revealed Himself through various dispensations and will continue to do so until literally everything changes when He makes all things completely new. Even within the New Testament era in which we live, God has used various churches and leaders quite powerfully to shape the direction of culture, but He tends to use them only for a season.
In his landmark book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren speaks about surfing spiritual waves. He points out that it isn’t up to us to make the waves, but rather to ride them well.
So if your church isn’t moving, growing, seeing fresh stories of life change, meeting new lost people, entering new missional territories, or raising up new leaders, then something must exert force upon your church to make it move again. Or as Newton himself might put it, something needs to happen to create new momentum.
One of the classic arguments I’ve heard from church leaders in the past is “change just for the sake of change isn’t good.” I disagree. Sometimes change is good for me, even when it has no particular purpose other than to jettison me from my current rut. In fact, here’s a word of personal confession: When asked what are my greatest leadership failures in the past, I almost always point back to pivotal moments where I chose to stay safe and keep everyone happy rather than pushing forward in the direction I thought best. If I could do it over again, I’d risk the approval of others in exchange for a movement of God any day!
I don’t know what your church needs to change in particular, though I’d be more than happy to coach you through the discovery and planning process, but it could look something like…
- Re-naming and re-constituting
- Moving, even from an adequate building
- Changing the approach to music and media
- Killing a key ministry that’s half dead already
- Starting a new ministry or service
- Giving away enough resources to cause a bit of pain
- Branching out in a church plant or new campus
- Hiring a new staff person
- Re-structuring the staff and the way the church does ministry
- Renovating a building that is dated
Just remember that trying to simply improve things as they are is always in order, but rarely gets a motionless church in motion again. God uses change to infuse new life into dead, lifeless things, including churches.
Don’t go wreck your church, hurting people along the way, and blame it on this blog post. I hope you’re a responsible enough shepherd to lead people well. But if your church has stopped moving, it may just be up to you to figure out what will move it again.