How to Be a Change Agent–Without Killing Yourself or the Church

James knows his ministry needs to make some changes. Without these changes, the ministry may falter and fall. But James also fears if he makes the changes, some people may be upset. So James chooses to do what most do in this situation. Nothing.

At my organization, Group, we talk with hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders every week. Many of them sound just like James. Their fear of necessary change has paralyzed them. And I’m afraid their stories will not end well.

Fear of change plagues organizations of all types–large and small. One of America’s large and iconic companies declared bankruptcy in 2012 after failing to make necessary changes. The leaders there too were crippled with fear. The company? Kodak. We profiled Kodak’s fears in our new film When God Left the Building. In this short clip you’ll see a former Kodak leader, followed by a pastor facing a similar state of paralysis.

Kodak’s leaders squandered their opportunity and responsibility to effectively shepherd change in their organization. We can learn from their mistakes.


In today’s challenging times, most ministry leaders sense the need for change. But they often don’t know how to encourage change. Here’s an approach to organizational change that works.

1. Accept your role as change agent. Good leaders lead change. They do not abdicate this responsibility. They lead. Even though it’s uncomfortable. Even though some other people will be uncomfortable–and critical.

2. Don’t procrastinate. Too many ministries and entire churches are collapsing today because people want to “wait until next year” or stall until all the information can be gathered. That day will never come. Claim a sense of urgency.

3. Share the bad news. Help everyone see the realities of the present situation, and the likely deterioration if present trends continue. People need to understand the current environment and begin to appreciate why change may be necessary.

4. Work with a small team–perhaps comprised of open-minded staff, lay leaders and members–to analyze the current situation, brainstorm possible changes, and propose solutions. Generate enthusiasm and support for the coming changes within this team.

5. Pray. Seek God’s guidance as you look to the future. Pray individually, with your teams, and with your entire membership.

6. Keep mission in mind. Evaluate possible changes on the basis of your true mission, rather than on lesser priorities. For example, are you more interested in reaching your community, or in satisfying members’ desires for nostalgia?

7. Focus on gains rather than losses. When confronted with change, most people default to thinking about what they will lose. Leaders help them see what they will gain. Paint a picture of the promised land. Show the future, using all communication vehicles. And do it repeatedly.

8. Act. Once you’ve explained the situation, demonstrated the gains, and garnered core support, begin implementing the plan. Be transparent and honest. Do not dabble (a big mistake that Kodak made) or attempt to sneak in changes under the radar.

9. Communicate and celebrate. Tell your people, repeatedly, the changes taking place, their purpose, and their outcomes. Celebrate your progress. Thank God.

Fear not. Embrace the change within your heart to make the change you’re called to make.

9 Responses to “How to Be a Change Agent–Without Killing Yourself or the Church”

  1. Excellent Article!! Hope many take it to heart.

  2. Let me suggest another important point of change. Be willing to cut your losses. I’ve been on both ends of that necessity. At times, as a decision maker, I’ve had to accept that not everyone will follow. At times, as the one following, I’ve had to accept that it’s simply time to leave. In all cases, however, cutting loses does not mean a bitter spirit. It has to be done in love, but at times it’s a complete necessity.

  3. I would add a tenth step: stand firm when people get mad. So many churches back off when someone complains. The thinking goes: “Wow, people are really upset about this. We’d better go back to the way we’ve always done things.” But Jesus showed us that it’s OK to follow God’s leading, even when it makes people mad or hurts their feelings.

  4. Important topic Thom. – Communication is key. No matter if change goes well or not, there is almost always a chance of fall out – You have to cast the vision and cast it often. The people need to know the why and see the positive future that lays ahead.

  5. Reblogged this on #sammoments and commented:
    So much wisdom here.

  6. The Holy Spirit is the real “Change Agent”. I would think it foolish to be trying to do a job only God can do properly. The best we can do is an out-side in approach which we’d end up killing ourselves with frustration trying to change people to be Christians the way we think Christians should be…active church members and probably a copy of ourselves. As much as I see the word “change’ throughout this article, I haven’t a clue to what is meant by “change”. I can say exactly what change the Holy Spirit is working toward in all of us. He is working within us to change our hearts in that we will bare in action the fruits of the Spirit in our daily lives.

  7. I have a concern when members and leaders of church rally around a book written by a person instead of The Book that’s written by God. You can put the name of any author,, but I’ll stay out of that minefield. While some churches may benefit from these books, some churches have been left desolate. A change or changes should be made prayerfully. There may be some changes made now, some over time, and some need to be implemented carefully. Church leaders have an obligation to keep their members informed, and not to act things secretely.


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