We talk a lot about the many innovations shaping the modern church — everything from digital screens in the sanctuary to e-Giving options such as kiosks and mobile apps and social media for engaging people of all ages.
Perhaps we should back up a moment and answer a more fundamental question: Do your members even want change?
The most probable answer to this question is yes. And no. Let’s explain.
Generally speaking, your church most likely will lean one way or the other when it comes to change. In some, it’s cause for upheaval, while others consider just about everything fair game for change. Think about a cutting-edge, member-driven church, where embracing the new is the norm, versus a more traditional institution, whose members might take more time and be more resistant to change.
But no matter what the general character of your church might be, it probably still serves a community whose members range in age and stage of life and have unique needs and expectations. Finding out what those smaller groups of people are seeking is an important first step in understanding whether the church is meeting those needs, or should consider doing something new.
Does your children’s programming delight your youngest attendees so parents can feel free to go to services in peace? Do older adults have ample opportunity to come together throughout the week? Are your young adult leaders engaging with the teenaged members on the social media platforms where they live?
You can’t make everyone happy all the time, so how do you decide where to prioritize change? Every member and group in your church community is important. The first step may be to identify who wants to maintain tradition and who is seeking to progress with the times. From there, you can dig deeper — why are people resistant to change and what kinds of innovations would improve the community and worship experience?
How do you find out what your congregation wants?
We’ve written about the benefits of surveys to connect with members and visitors and to communicate that you appreciate your congregants’ opinions. A survey can be helpful in determining the extent to which your members are open to and seeking contemporary ways of doing things. You may need to offer that survey in a variety of formats — written for those who are most comfortable with traditional pen-and-paper methods, digital for those who are more likely to carry a smartphone than a pen.
From the insights you gather, you can begin to understand:
- How open your institution is to evolution and on what scale
- Which changes make sense for your entire community and which make sense for groups within it
- Whose needs and desires to prioritize
- Ways to introduce and manage new offerings
- How to guide people through changes they may struggle with
- How to mitigate backlash from those who are unwilling to accept changes altogether
A checklist for change
The right set of questions can act as a lens through which you can examine new initiatives. When considering a change, ask your members:
- How would it affect your groups, programs or activities?
- How would it impact your Sunday morning experience?
- What would make you excited about the change?
- What would make you nervous about the change?
With the information you gather through those questions and perhaps a handful of others specific to your situation, you can determine who and what would be impacted by the change, how people may respond to it, and what you need to do to introduce and manage the transition.
Your church is a community. It may be a community of individuals, each with his or her own level of desire for stability or progress — but it’s still a community. You’re together because you share a central set of beliefs and values. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re walking in lockstep, but it does provide a platform for conversation. And it is through those conversations that you will know the path to take to keep the church progressing at whatever pace is most appropriate for your congregation.