The Art of Effecting Change

By John Bisagno

handbookOur criteria for change is never the latest “church growth” fad or the newest innovation of that church down the street. Change must be from the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Change for the sake of change is never appropriate. “This isn’t working; let’s try something different” is a blueprintfor failure.

How does the wise pastor facilitate change? The Lord will normally give you the vision and direction He would have your people go — before He gives it to them. This is not to say only you hear the voice of God. It’s not to say that good ideas never come up “through the ranks.” It is to say that the job of leaders is to lead, and that means getting out in front.

The key elements of change are information and patience. When the Lord gives you a vision for a new ministry or a new direction for your church, gather your leaders and begin to discuss it. Remember to bring along those legitimizers — whose support you will need because of their influence with large numbers of your people.

Slowly begin to explain the issue, listing possible solutions, and share with your people what you sense the Lord is leading you to do. Every vision needs refining. The people will offer good suggestions, some of which may never have occurred to you.

Don’t call for a decision on the spot. Lay it before your leaders, discuss it, ask them to pray about it and meet with you at a later date.

The next step is to speak to the appropriate committee, then your leadership team: deacons or elders, and then the church. At each level lay it before the people as something in which you sense the leadership of the Lord.

If a person says to me, “God told me,” I am going to walk away. If they say, “God told me to tell you,” I am going to run. If they say, “I sense the Lord is leading me,” I will listen.

Before introducing a bold new program …

Before introducing a bold new program to win the world, spend some Sundays preaching about Jesus’ compassion for the lost. Before you introduce that million-dollar building program for a new youth recreation building, preach about the needs of a dying generation of teenagers and the responsibilityof the church to reach them.

Remind your people that the message never changes, but the means must beever changing. The telegraph has been outdated by radio, radio by television, television by the Internet, and the end is not yet. Take your time, give adequate information, instill the vision, and try to get everyone on board.

Provide a forum in which to allow questions. What will happen if we do this? What will we lose if we don’t? What are the risks? What is the cost? Are there other options? Will there be a committee? Will this be done at the sacrifice of other programs in the church? God’s people are good people, and they can handle the truth.

When you begin a new ministry, don’t be afraid to experiment. Everything doesn’t have to be forever. While this is true, make every effort to see it through. Give new ministries time. Even the best will often struggle at first.The most common things that tear up churches are [leader]-pastor conflict, worship wars, and changing too fast.

In a new pastorate members have enough of an adjustment to look up every Sunday and see a new face in the pulpit. It takes time to adjust to you before they’re ready to adjust to your changes. Reverse the order and you are doomed to failure. Don’t change anything quickly!

I could write a book on modern-day churches that lost hundreds, even thousands of members, in a few months. All were good churches with good pastors who had good ideas but bad timing. Too much too fast. Don’t!

This article is excerpted from Pastor’s Handbook by John Bisagno, B&H Publishing Group, copyright 2011. Used by permission.  

John Bisagno

John Bisagno is pastor emeritus of the 22,000-member Houston’s First Baptist Church where he preached for 30 years. He has authored 25 books and now serves on the adjunct faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Bisagno and his wife, Uldine, have three children and eight grandchildren. They live in Houston, Texas. Learn more at