Change is healthy, not something to be feared
You don’t have to drive far these days to enjoy the beautiful colors in the fall landscape. I have been keeping an eye on one of my young maple trees in my backyard and in the past several weeks it has gone from green to a brilliant reddish-orange color. Soon, the leaves will fall and we will enter the winter season which has a beauty of its own. In a few short months, spring will be upon us and everything will come to life and my maple tree will once again have green leaves and will be a bit taller. Change is healthy. Change is inevitable.
Change is God-designed and, just as we expect it in the seasons, we must expect it in the life of our churches. It would seem to be a natural expectation that God’s churches should be in a growth mode. And yet, the continuum runs the gamut from a few desiring change to some tolerating change to many outright fearing change in the church.
We live in a world where change is one of the few constants in our lives. In the past, business organizations needed to evaluate their operations every two or three years to determine what changes had to be made to keep them viable. Today, an organization will make significant changes every twelve to eighteen months. The world around us is moving at hyper speed and we must adapt or be left in the aftermath of the changes. It is human nature to be leery of change because we don’t know what the future will look like after the change takes place. Think about it; church is one of the few places in our life today that will be relatively the same next week as it is today. Church is a “no change zone” and we want to keep it that way. The church must never change its message but it must be willing to change its methodology. We must be willing to embrace the basic principles of effective ministry and for most churches, this will require change.
Let’s take a look at Sunday School as an example of an organization within the church that is in need of change. We must see our Sunday School class as an opportunity to reach the unchurched and lost in our community. If we truly believe this, there are several implications that must be addressed. The first implication of that premise is that the Sunday School class is actively involved in evangelism and outreach in the community. Is your class organized to accomplish this task? As a believer, we have a scriptural mandate to share the Gospel with the lost and unchurched. It also implies that we will be actively seeking people to invite to the class. The second implication is that we will be willing to study the Bible in terms and depth that an unbeliever can understand. By design, that eliminates in-depth Bible study in Sunday School. The Discipleship Ministry is where you go in-depth in your Bible study. The third implication is focused around the assimilation of the guest. That means that we will welcome guests into the class and we will reach out to them to begin the process of assimilation into the life of the church. We have to be willing to put the needs of the unchurched and lost first. In the church, Sunday School is the small group experience where a person can find true relationship and community. It can’t happen if we are not willing to be intentional about welcoming and assimilating guests and new members. The fourth implication revolves around the nature and frequency of class fellowship activities. The principle here is one fellowship every month with a minimum of two each quarter. Research tells us that if the new member or prospect does not make a connection with at least seven people in the first ninety days, they will move out through the back door. Remember, there are four categories of people that are invited to the class fellowship: attending members, non-attending members on the class roll, prospects, and those serving elsewhere on Sunday morning that are in your age-group and would be in your class if not serving. My guess is that, just in this one area of Sunday School life, most churches will have to make some changes and that will be resisted in some form or fashion by many.
Change is not something to be feared, but rather embraced as the church moves forward. One of the key rules in making change is to move as fast as you can but as slow as you must to be sure the majority of members are onboard with the changes being made. My prayer is that the vocational and lay leadership can effectively communicate the need for change, develop appropriate strategies and action plans, and then move forward. If you need help in this area of ministry or would like to talk about it, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-736-6227, ext. 410. (Bruce Morrison is the MBC’s director of Sunday School/discipleship ministry.)