Before You Lead Your Church Through Change


TransitionIf your church has plateaued in its growth for a while or shows signs of being unhealthy, things may need to change, and the Pastor is the point person to produce positive change in any church’s culture. Having said that, leading a church through change is difficult, and sometimes can be detrimental if you don’t consider some important questions before starting the process.

Three aspects of change you should evaluate before shaking things up are:


  • Is this church in the right place for growth?
  • Are there more people around this church that we should be reaching?
  • Does this church actually need to die and be reborn somewhere else?
  • Is there a more receptive area where we could reach more people?
  • Could I be a more effective leader somewhere else?
  • What is the realistic potential if the church is renewed successfully?


  • Am I the right Pastor to lead this change?
  • Is this the kind of church I should be pastoring?
  • Do I match the congregation? Do I match the community?
  • Is the existing leadership likely to support me in change?


The final question you need to wrestle with is, Am I willing to give the rest of my life to this church? If you aren’t willing to stay the course, don’t start the painful process of changing things. What you will wind up doing is messing up someone else’s church.

If you are going to stay as long as it takes for change to bear fruit, then make a public commitment to stay. The fact is, churches don’t grow by changing pastors every two years. They grow because the Pastor stays and grows into the leader God means him to become.

Photo by Terekhova.

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Rick Warren About Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

  • Rev. Paul Rib


    I am serving right now as a re-development pastor after three other interim pastors who served before and the church went slowly through a step by step experience and did not have a pastor from last September until February 2013 when I came on board.

    The church survived and its leadership did well. However, right now I am here to complete the transition, but I do not have – unless people change their minds – a perspective to lead the change process for more than two years.

    The church pattern has been – from long ago – to manly count on the minister to reach out to people, and I have been telling them it is impossible to do that on my own. I must count on people who are available, and most of them are elderly people. It would be better to count on younger people to work as a team, but they are busy.

    QUESTION: As far as the church leadership is willing to see changes but we did not count on a large group of younger people to be really involved, is it effective to pursue the changes, although I will not be here longer than two years?

  • Bud Brown

    There is a recently emerging body of scholarly research indicating that the most important change must happen within the pastor himself (or herself). The questions you pose about Leadership are cogent, but these questions probably need to be sharpened and taken to a deeper level of self-analysis:

    * How have my leadership behaviors led the church to this plateau or contributed to its remaining here?
    * How is my commitment to evangelism and disciplemaking expressed in my daily behaviors?
    * How does my personality or temperament profile contribute to change agent leadership behavior?
    * What is my degree of willingness to accept a few scars and bruises in order to bring about meaningful transition in this congregation?
    * Do I have a crisp, clear and memorable mission statement for my ministry?
    * Are my decisions, behaviors and actions actually guided by that mission statement?

    It takes two elements for meaningful movement from the plateau: a willing congregation and a skilled pastor.

  • Tom Barnard

    Thank goodness the United Methodist Church is keeping pastor’s in pulpits as long as possible to produce kingdom productivity. Short pastorates usually end up with a church declining because of no consistency in leadership by the shepherd. The sheep are forced to take over and you know here that leads.
    Pastor Tom

  • Pastor

    Being in ministry 10 years with 3 pastorates has been challenging. How can pastor stay when most churches in America are set on dying even though they say they want to grow? Any type of change is usually leads to the changing of the guard (pastor) because most churches are run by congregations that don’t seek God at all, but simply want to keep things like the good old days.

  • Doyle

    I am an associate pastor, with longevity, committed to our ongoing change to more of a discipleship culture. Yet, I also sense that before long I will need to vacate some space I am taking in our church organization in order to allow other, younger leaders to emerge and grow there.

  • pastorbrad

    Longevity- it always amazes me how in the U.S. pastors change assignments so frequently. In the Bahamas where I am from usually you have pastors who stay at the helm for long periods of time.


    Location, Leadership, Longevity – real food for thought. It becomes a great challenge when applying this good message to an over hundred years old congregation with a long history in a particular location/neighbourhood, aging leadership (upwards of 65 years) who are set in their in ways, and transfer of pastors at the discretion of the bishop or stationing committee. Any wisdom to share on this, Rick?

  • James Streib

    Great advise, # Longevity, was very interesting. I have seen pastors make all those changes, only to pack it all up and leave before giving it the time it would require. If it didn’t happen right away, they left for something else. This is not a sprint to be in the race of ministry, it is truly a marathon.
    Pastor Jim

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