Why Your Church Won't Change

Why Your Church Won’t Change

Posted on Posted in Strategy

Whose fault is it when a church starts losing members?

Whose fault is it when a church isn’t adding members?

Whose fault is it when a youth ministry starts losing students?

Whose fault is it when a youth ministry isn’t adding students?

How you answer those questions says a lot about whether or not you will be able to turn your situation around. You will either accept responsibility for your results, or you’ll be like Curtis Gokey.

Who is Curtis Gokey?

In March of 2006, a city dump truck backed into Curtis Gokey’s car. The car was damaged badly, so Gokey sued the city for the cost of repairs.

The catch? Curtis Gokey was driving the city dump truck that ran into his own personal car. He didn’t want to take responsibility for the results he had created.

Many churches are like that.
Many youth pastors are like that.
Although, I’m sure you’re not one of them.

Don’t play the blame game.

I worked at a church that didn’t want to take responsibility for the results it had created. Attendance in the adult worship services had steadily declined for the last 7 years. Student attendance had dropped too.

When I was hired, I asked about the reasons for the decline. I was given two answers:
1. The economic downturn.
2. Former staff members.

Whose fault was it that the church was losing members?
They said it was the economy’s fault. People didn’t have enough money to give, therefore morale was low and people weren’t attending.

Whose fault was it that the student ministry wasn’t adding students?
They said it was the former youth pastor’s fault. He talked down to the students, so they didn’t like him and didn’t want to be involved anymore.

Meanwhile, the parking lot was cracked, the building was falling apart, the decor was dated, the services were unimaginative, and money was being spent in irresponsible ways.

Weren’t those things to blame for the decline?
I thought they were, but others wanted to play the blame game.

It’s not that those things weren’t factors; they were. The problem was that those things were being blamed for all of the problems, while the church leadership accepted the responsibility for none of them.

What stood out to me in my conversations with other staff members and key leaders was the fact that no one was willing to accept responsibility for the current situation.

Instead of accepting responsibility, they assigned blame.

They said that things went downhill when the economy went downhill. However, other churches in our area had grown and even gone through successful building programs in that same time period.

They said that former staff members had done irreparable damage. But who hired those people in the first place? The church did. More particularly, the church’s leaders did.

Were those poorly performing staff members fired? No. Who kept those poorly performing staff members around to perpetuate the cycle of poor performance? The church did. More particularly, the church’s leaders did.

No wonder the church was declining.

It’s like The Rivers and the Sea.

One of Aesop’s Fables is called, “The Rivers and the Sea.” Here’s what it says: “The rivers joined together to complain to the Sea, saying, ‘Why is it that when we flow into your tides so potable and sweet, you work in us such a change, and make us salty and unfit to drink?’ The Sea, perceiving that they intended to throw the blame on him, said, ‘Pray cease to flow into me, and then you will not be made briny.’”

The moral of the story? Don’t blame others.

The Sea was simply doing its job. If the rivers wanted to create a different result, then they should do something different or find somewhere different to flow. Until then, the Sea will continue to turn the rivers into salty water that is not fit to drink. That’s what it does.

The same thing is true for your church:
If you’re losing people, then don’t complain about what others are doing. Change what you’re doing. If you aren’t reaching new people, then don’t criticize what others are doing. Change what you’re doing.

Your system is perfectly designed to get the results you’re currently getting.

How the Mighty Fall

In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins identifies 5 factors that lead to the decline, and eventual death, of an organization. Stage 3 in the downward slide is marked by “denial of risk and peril.” Instead of accepting responsibility and adjusting their system, leaders blame external factors for their setbacks and continue with business-as-usual.

The blame game denies the need for personal change

This is an important lesson for church and ministry leaders:
Before you can take the first step toward leading change in your church, your church has to accept responsibility for what has happened.

Stop assigning blame; start accepting responsibility.

Until that happens, your chances of changing are slim to none.

Your Move

Acknowledging the need for change requires people to admit that they have failed on some level. That is hard because sensitivities are high.

Even so, the work of the church – and your ministry – is too important to suffer because we are afraid of hurting people’s feelings.

A church in decline should be ready for some candid conversations. Leaders should employ candor and openness as they talk about the way things are, as well as how they got to be that way. As long as those conversations are avoided, change will be an impossibility at your church.

If your ministry is losing students, you need to ask why that’s happening. Then you need to look in the mirror and ask what you can do differently to turn things around.

If you’re struggling to answer those two questions, then let me help you.

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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