It's not always easy to fix long-term problems and implement needed changes in a church—especially when old, dysfunctional ways have taken root.
Sometimes we make our job harder than it needs to be, not by doing the wrong things, but by doing the right things at the wrong time.
Over the years, I've discovered three simple principles that have helped me and my church figure out when it's the right time to bring change:
1. As Soon as You See the Problem
The best time to fix a big problem is when it's still a small one.
Problems that get delayed don't go away. They get worse. Then they become invisible to us. Things get bad, then stay bad, so we get used to it and resign ourselves to living in a broken church.
Let's not get used to offering excuses, instead of working on solutions.
Churches with obvious, chronic dysfunctions can't keep new people because they can't stand unaddressed problems. Long-time members don't pitch in and help out because they've gotten used to it.
Sometimes, the person who sees the problems most readily is the guest. We need to resist the temptation to act like we know better because we've been around longer. Fresh eyes can bring a helpful perspective on problems we've gotten used to. A wise church leader will listen to new voices and fix problems they didn't know they had.
If you're the new pastor with new eyes, fixing chronic problems requires wisdom. Fix the problems you can. But when you get resistance on other problems, don't give up. Write them down, then wait for a better season to tackle them.
2. Immediately Following a Crisis
Right after a crisis, people are much more aware of the need for change. Good leaders let the storm pass without causing further disruption in people's lives. Then they seize the moment on the morning after the storm, so problems don't repeat.
In addition to recovering from crises, it's always good to have an assessment of every event, especially the big, new ones, as soon as possible after they happen. Get honest feedback on what went well and what could have gone better, before people forget. Then devise a plan to do it better the next time around.
People don't think as clearly or work as well when they're in the middle of emotional highs or lows. But there's a lot of clarity on the morning after the storm passes.
3. When Everything Is Going Great
When's the best time to fix a leaky roof? When the roof isn't leaking.
Healthy churches are always looking for ways to make good things better. They don't wait for something to break before they fix it. They keep fixing it so that it doesn't break.
Life will bring unforeseen challenges. Bad things happen to good people—and to good churches. We can't work or pray our way out of that reality.
But let's not add to the difficulties by not fixing the things we can fix.
No, this isn't easy. When the church is in an "up" season, no one wants to revisit problems. Especially if the "ups" are rare. But that's when they can be dealt with the most easily and honestly.
Just like a healthy body fights off diseases better than a sick one, a healthy church uses its strengths to fix its weaknesses.
Karl Vaters runs the NewSmallChurch.com blog, serves as lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, and is the author of The Grasshopper Myth. This post first appeared on NewSmallChurch.com and is adapted with permission.
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