How to Overcome Resistance to Change During Church Renewal

Written by Bill Whitt
October 26, 2023

No matter what your church's situation, it is possible to overcome resistance and to work toward positive change.

Growth requires change, but human nature often opposes it by default. As church renewal leaders, one of the best investments we can make is learning about the art and science of change.

  • In some churches, there is tight control over the decision-making process. In others, there have been bad previous experiences with attempts at innovation.

No matter what your church’s situation, it is possible to overcome resistance and to work toward positive change. Here’s how!

Six Ideas to Overcome Resistance to Change
Idea 1: Listen First and Listen Well
  • A common temptation is to start by talking, talking, talking — explaining the rationale behind your proposed change in great detail. By this won’t work. Why?
  • Psychological studies are clear–until a person feels heard, they will not listen to what you have to say. Their mind will be consumed with getting you to understand their point of view.
  • However, if you listen to their stance and reflect it back to them, that part of their brain will relax, giving them the bandwidth to really listen to you!
Idea 2: Run to Your Opponents and Critics
  • Who are the people you need to listen to most? Here’s an easy test: If you feel the need to avoid or snub a person, that’s the person you generally need to seek out and to engage!
  • When you sense a relational split emerging, that is the relationship that needs the attention. Relationships never heal on their own, and working for change in broken relationships never works.
Idea 3: Start With “Why”
  • When it comes time to share your proposed change, the temptation is to start with the “what” — the nitty gritty details of what will change. But doing so will cause resistance.
  • A more effective approach is to start with “why” (to borrow a phrase from the immensely popular book by Simon Sinek). When you lead with why the change is going to be effective at helping the church accomplish its mission, you can watch the resistance melt away!
  • If you don’t have an agreed-upon mission/vision of the church, a consultant from the Center for Church Renewal can help you lay this critical foundation for all your other work.
Idea 4: Frame Change as an Experiment
  • Change feels permanent and, therefore, scary. However, the reality is that nothing is permanent. Any change that does not produce the anticipated results can be undone or modified.
  • Knowing this will help those who resist change to experiment with new ideas.
Idea 5: Choose Your Battles and Stack Your Wins
  • The list of potential changes at your church is probably quite extensive. Where do you start?
  • If your first change is an easy one that has a low likelihood of failure, you will make deposits in your “trust fund.” People will learn that change can work, and you can be trusted to guide the process.
  • However, if your first change is difficult and fails, you will lose trust for the future. Choose wisely!
Idea 6: Find and Advocate from Inside the System
  • Some church cultures distrust pastors, especially new pastors who come to the congregation from the outside.
  • If that is the case, it is often wise to work closely with one or two elders who already have the trust of the church. They can be your advocate and sow the seeds of change without causing as much resistance.

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