The old joke goes something like this. How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer, “None. Why would we want to change anything?”
Change is never easy and rarely sought, but change is going to happen. We can either adapt to it or use it as a springboard for innovative and effective ministry. In his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, leadership guru Peter Drucker encouraged leaders to see changes around them as opportunities for purposeful and systemic innovation. He pointed out seven sources for innovation: the unexpected, incongruities, process need, industry and market structures, demographics, changes in perception, and new knowledge.
Let’s consider how those in congregational leadership might use these sources to make effective changes in the church.
First, the unexpected might be the unexpected success, the unexpected failure, or the unexpected outside event. Perhaps you begin a new worship service and people flock to it. Why is it a success—time, location, style, leadership? If we know why it works, perhaps we can apply the principles elsewhere. A new ministry may fall. Rather than just sweeping it under the rug, take the time to do a post-mortem and learn from the experience. An outside event like a natural disaster, a new business in town that brings in people from another part of the country or world, or an offer to purchase your property may be the catalyst for reassessment and repurposing of the church’s resources.
Second, the incongruities you encounter in your church may be the difference between an assumed reality and the actual reality. Your church may have a long history of reaching young adults through its college and single adult ministries so you continue to budget and staff for those ministries, but in reality things have changed. Students no longer live in the local community and choose to commute long distances. The businesses that drew single adults have closed. Perhaps it is time to face reality and allocate those resources in new ways.
Third, the process that we use to do something may need to be changed. We already see this in the way that the church does publicity. We once depended primarily on print media—either done in-house or contracted out—to communicate with members, guests, and the community. Now we use digital media and less paper. What is the next thing that your church needs to discover as a better means of communication, information, or administration?
Fourth, although we hate to use the terminology, most church leaders realize that there have been major changes in the religious “industry” and “market structure” in recent years. We have seen the rise of megachurches (both denominational and non-denominational), house churches, and new expressions of faith (including many world religions) in our communities. People have more choices and they are exercising them. Each church must decide what it does well, what it can do better, and what it offers to the community that no other group does. This can provide new enthusiasm for creative ministry and new venues for your church to pursue.
Fifth, changes in demographics are both a challenge and an opportunity. As we discovered in the last Presidential election, age, gender, and ethnicity have a tremendous impact on the electoral process. The church is not exempt from these changes and many others. One significant change is in how we define family. Most churches are still programming for mother, father, and 2.5 children while the families that come through our doors (at least one time) are quite different. There are single parent families, blended families, and families where grandparents are raising grandchildren. The demographic reality calls for adaptation and innovation.
Sixth, the changes in perception, mood, and meaning that the church faces are often external. The church no longer occupies the same place in culture that it once did. Even for Christians, the church is only one part of a complicated lifestyle and may not even be in the top three places where one spends his or her time. We can see this as a negative situation or as an opportunity to help people redefine or rediscover the place of the church in their lives. Another change in perception that impacts the church is the role of women in society. The church’s response to the fact that women are more highly educated and increasingly prominent in secular leadership can be positive or negative. We can seize the opportunities this offers for a fresh wind of the Spirit to move in our midst or embrace a reactionary stance that stifles giftedness.
Seventh, we can use the new knowledge available to us to pursue new ministries or to be more effective in what we are currently doing. New knowledge may provide us with new tools to communicate, lead, or educate. All of the new knowledge is not equally useful, so we will need to be discerning in our evaluation of its worth but we will miss a great resource if we ignore it.
Life brings significant changes to us as individuals; some are for the good and some challenge us to do something different. This is true for the church as well. What will your church do this year to address a changing world?