If you want your regular churchgoers to keep coming back even through change, here are eight things you should avoid.
By Marissa Postell Sullivan
Churchgoers changing congregations may actually be tired of change. According to Lifeway Research, half of U.S. regular churchgoers (53%) say they have attended more than one church as an adult. Most of these church changes came after a residential move (60%). However, 40% of those who have changed churches as adults have done so for other reasons.
To better serve their members, pastors and church leaders need to understand the reasons churchgoers are switching churches. Topping the list, 3 in 10 church switchers (29%) who were not affected by a residential move say they changed churches because some things changed about the church they did not like.3 in 10 church switchers (29%) who were not affected by a residential move say they changed churches because some things changed about the church they did not like. Click To Tweet
When asked specifically what changed that they didn’t like, more than half (53%) said too many things in general changed. Around 2 in 5 (39%) said the church’s teachings on political or social issues changed in ways they didn’t agree with. For 1 in 3, the church’s religious teachings or beliefs changed in ways they didn’t agree with (34%) or the pastor or church staff they liked left the church (33%). Three in 10 (31%) pointed to a change in the worship style. Fewer said they switched churches because other members they liked no longer attended (18%), newer members of the congregation were too different from them (13%), a program they liked was changed or discontinued (13%) or other reasons (13%).
Based on these stats, your reaction could go to two extremes. On one side is the person who says, “See, change is bad. We must do everything we can to avoid change.” On the other is the person who says, “Change is good. They need to get over it and get on board.”
The truth is change is necessary, but it can also be challenging. With 29% of regular churchgoers who’ve switched churches for reasons other than a residential move making the switch because of changes happening in the church, pastors and church leaders need to be strategic and compassionate in their approaches to change (and those affected by it).
If you want your regular churchgoers to keep coming back even through changes, here are eight things you should avoid doing.
1. Change too much too fast
Instead, be strategic about what changes you make, when you make them, and how you communicate them. Maybe you’re new to your leadership role or maybe you’re just excited about a new vision for the church. You may be tempted to rush in and make many changes in a short amount of time. Especially if they are substantial changes, it is often not worth it to make rapid changes.
Before you implement changes, you need a vision and a communication plan. How do these changes help the church reach its desired vision? And how are you communicating that to the church? While there is a time for making changes on the fly, more often, the changes you implement should be strategic.
2. Stray from the Bible
Hold fast to Scripture. The foundational elements of faith do not change. Your church should have a written statement of faith that is accessible to churchgoers. One simple way to make this available is by publishing it on your church website. These foundational beliefs should come from Scripture and are not a matter of interpretation. They are of primary importance for the Christian faith. The truth of God never changes, so these teachings and beliefs should not change either.
However, other beliefs may be secondary or tertiary. These issues are still important but are not a matter of salvation. Christians can differ on their understanding of these doctrines and maintain doctrinal fellowship. Your church should have room for disagreement on secondary and tertiary issues. Don’t hold so tightly to these beliefs that you (or your church) become a stumbling block to believers who might land differently on that issue. Teach your members to distinguish between primary and secondary or tertiary issues. And help them understand unity does not necessitate uniformity.“Teach your members to distinguish between primary and secondary or tertiary issues. And help them understand unity does not necessitate uniformity.” — @MarissaPostell Click To Tweet
3. Make politics central
Magnify Christ over politics. While Scripture informs how we engage in political and social issues, politics should not be the church’s central message. Pastors and church leaders can help churchgoers apply biblical truth to political and social issues without elevating these as the primary mission of the church or even indulging church members with knowledge of their personal stances on political or social issues.
As believers living as exiles in this world, politics and social issues matter. But they are not the main point of the church. Don’t build your church’s platform on political or social beliefs. Build your church on the truth of Christ—He alone is a solid foundation.
Steward your platform well—to help others become better followers of Christ, not to flaunt your politics. As a pastor or church leader, changes in your personal stance on a political or social issue shouldn’t impact your church. If you are using your platform to shepherd souls to Jesus, there will be no room for pushing personal political opinions.
4. Try to be everyone’s best friend
Connect churchgoers with other pastors, staff, and church members. Pastors and church staff may come and go for a variety of reasons. And if a churchgoer is primarily connected to one pastor or staff member, when that leader leaves the church, they no longer have a reason to stay. Help churchgoers connect to multiple people in the church—pastors and staff as well as other churchgoers. The goal is for believers to connect to the local body of Christ as a whole, not to a singular part of the body. This creates healthier relationships for the churchgoer, pastor or staff member, and the entire church.
5. Downplay worship
Don’t assume everyone knows how to worship. The church should be a place where people learn to worship. Teach your congregation what true worship is. Make sure they have a solid theology of worship and aren’t idolizing a particular style of worship.
If you think your church’s style of worship needs to change, listen to your congregation. Based on the feedback you receive from churchgoers, evaluate the need for change. And if you decide to change the worship style, give some grace to those who need some time to get used to it. Introduce the new style slowly, not abruptly. And explain the reason for the style change. Over-communicate to your congregation as you introduce this change.
6. Facilitate cliques
Lead your members into community with the whole body of Christ, not a clique of friends. Small groups are significant for building community. But help your small group leaders avoid the temptation of protecting the group as an elite club of friends. Small groups should be constantly reorienting themselves to the mission.“Lead your members into community with the whole body of Christ, not a clique of friends.” — @MarissaPostell Click To Tweet
Invite church members to serve together. Two things happen when churchgoers serve together: They build relationships with more church members and buy into the mission. These two things make it more difficult for a church member to leave when one of their friends from the church no longer attends.
7. Separate new church members from established ones
As new people join your church, help them integrate into the church body. Look for ways to help them connect with existing members. Get them to serve together and give them a vision for being better together. Each member of the body of Christ brings unique giftings and personality. Involve your church members in dreaming together of what church unity looks like. Help them explore ways God might use their differences to build His kingdom.
8. Exalt programs
Again, focus on mission. What is your church’s vision and mission? How does each program in your church work to further that mission? Your church’s programs should not be an end in themselves. Each program should be a means to the end—the mission of advancing God’s kingdom. Clearly communicate your church’s mission and invite people to join that mission. Disciple your church to be committed to the mission, not a particular program. And consistently evaluate your church programs to see how they are lining up with the church’s mission.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Marissa Postell Sullivan
Marissa is the managing editor for LifewayResearch.com.