Something is stifling the church. It’s keeping the church from fulfilling its full potential.

It is characterized by these nasty words: “That will never work.” Those who utter these words have unknowingly been crippling the church—and many other endeavors. A few examples:

  •  “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” — Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, 1895.
  •  “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” — The president of Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903.
  •  “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

In other words, “That will never work.” I’ve heard these familiar words in my church and from people in the thousands of churches we serve through Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. And I see these words echoed in comments to ministry bloggers who dare to suggest better ways of doing ministry.

At Group we extensively test our ministry innovations to ensure they will indeed work. But that doesn’t seem to faze the naysayers. For example, after we pioneered, tested and proved multi-age learning groups for vacation Bible school, they still said, “That will never work.” The tens of thousands who did try the new way, however, saw the immediate benefits, and they’ll never go back.

So, what makes it so tempting to slam the door on new ways of doing things? Here are the typical snorts:

  •  “We’ve never done it that way before.” The famous seven words of a failing ministry.
  •  “We tried that before. It didn’t work.” It doesn’t seem to matter if times or circumstances have changed.
  •  “Maybe it worked for you, but it would never work here.” The often-false assumption that the home team is hopelessly peculiar and out-of-step with the rest of humanity.
  •  Personal discomfort. The leader’s unfamiliarity with a solution trumps the common good.
  •  Defense of the past. A change, even if advantageous, might make the past or the status quo look deficient somehow.
  •  Cynicism. Pioneers of new ideas are snakes to be avoided, along with all their ideas.

These excuses, and many more, hold ministries back. In fact, this kind of thinking is killing many churches. The hasty, knee-jerk dismissal of anything new and different dooms a ministry to the gradual decline that plagues too many.

But this negativity is a curable condition. Let me suggest a number of steps to cure this sickness.

  1. Drop your automatic defenses. Take a breath. Resist the urge to immediately bite back at those who suggest something new and different.
  2. Own the fact that clinging to the same-old-same-old methodology will result in no more than the same-old-same-old.
  3. Listen to the pioneers. Consider the new and different with an open mind. Honestly investigate the references, the record, the research, the results.
  4. Prepare your people. Invite them to join you in the adventure of trying something new. Tell them, “We’re going to try something new. Let’s see how it goes.” If they know they’re a part of a new experiment, they’ll feel like partners, not victims.
  5. Exude a positive attitude. If you demonstrate optimism, your people will pick up on your constructive desire to move forward. It’s contagious.
  6. Expect results. Implement the new plan. Give it adequate time to succeed. Then honestly evaluate the outcome. Involve your people in the evaluation. Iron out the wrinkles. And celebrate the new day.

Will it work? It’s up to you.

“New wine must be stored in new wineskins.” –Luke 5:38