One of the mistakes that pastors in struggling churches often make is miscalculating the manner in which real culture change takes place. Now, by struggling church, I mean those that have been plateaued or in decline for a number of years, where the people may be kind to each other and even seem to enjoy their church, but very few outsiders show any interest in joining them. These are places where inward focus has begun to dominate. Frustrations with ineffective outreach efforts has led to less willingness to try. In these churches, only a handful of people really want to help their pastor, while most seem to want to be cared for. Often, these are good people who have become stuck in some not-so-good habits.
So, now if we have identified that yours might be such a church, the mistake I initially referenced is the “how” that change can be achieved. Many pastors try preaching their way to a new culture, believing that the everyone-hearing-this-at-the-same-time approach will create a movement in a new direction. Didn’t work did it?
Others use guilt, either over the community needs we are ignoring or our refusal to embrace the new ways that led the church down the street to success. Typically, guilt (and even that other church’s new ways) did little to change us.
No, culture change–if it’s to be achieved in less than a generation–must start as a small movement. When a few people buy-in and begin living a new pattern and when pastor commits himself to a consistent message and model of that new pattern and determines to stay in place for at least a decade, the desired changes can take root. Let’s tackle these first of these two ideas this week:
Here’s a simple principle you may want to memorize–“Play with those who want to play.” Most of us can remember the occasional recess at school where we argued over what game to play until there was little time left to play it. There was always one kid that wanted to play dodge ball while the rest of us preferred kickball. So we spent the golden moments on the playground debating rather than just playing.
We do that at church too. We can find ourselves spending (wasting) time trying to convince everyone of what we should do while the opportunities to just do it keep slipping by. Guess what! No one can get everyone on board with changing a church’s culture. Most won’t want to play (at first). So, find those who buy-in to the heart of that change and get started with it. If that change is being friendlier to guests and to one another, don’t wait for the grumpy people to get on board, just do it. If you want to start small groups, start one with those who are ready and get the ball rolling.
Culture change only happens as a slow-rising movement. It’s never a majority choice. So play with those who are ready…and keep playing. Soon enough a few others will join…and then a few more. And someday (sooner than you might think) you’ll have a movement on your hands.
Remember, you’re trying to eradicate long-held behaviors. You’re trying to change culture, not just a program or two. Don’t let the naysayers stop you, AND DON’T MAKE THEM PLAY! When the new culture begins to yield some positive results (that Bible study is changing my life!!) some of those naysayers will become…whatever you are when you start saying YES!
Jesus talked about leaven spoiling a whole lump of dough and we also have a saying or two like that (one rotten apple…). Well, let’s try spoiling a few lumps with some sugar or cream filling or something good! Let a few people join you in pursuit of a new way of thinking and/or behaving and see if your new ways might spread a bit. Don’t expect those new ways to “go viral” in your church. New culture never moves that quickly. But be committed to a path and let those who see it’s potential join you as you walk, and slowly the day of change will begin to peek over the horizon.