Somewhere along the way revitalizing the church was compared to turning an aircraft carrier around. I’m not sure who first used that term, but I suspect that the intention was to communicate the need for patience in the process of revitalization. Changing the culture of a church takes time, it does not happen overnight. In some cases, however, it seems that the metaphor has been abused to suggest that changes should not be made.
I’ve never turned an aircraft carrier, but I suspect that to make it turn, the captain must adjust the steering mechanism. The reason it takes so long to turn is not because it takes a long time to turn the wheel, but because the process takes so long once the wheel is turned. Many people compare church revitalization to turning an aircraft carrier, but we need not cling to that metaphor as a defense against making any changes. Revitalization is a long process, but for a church to make the turn, changes must be made.
Change is hard and can be scary in established churches, but here are a few steps you can take help make change and make change more acceptable for everyone involved.
- Find the Leader. You are the pastor, but that does not make you the de-facto leader. You may be the leader one day, but until that day arrives, find the leader of the church and invest your time with that person. When possible, allow them to present new ideas and suggestions for change.
- Love Your People. People need to know that their pastor loves them and cares for them. Change can cause people to feel disenfranchised, but you can help people feel more connected by loving on them. Your current members are not a means to an end; they are the people God has entrusted to you. Do not neglect your duties as a pastor to the people in your church for the sake of building your kingdom.
- Communicate…And Then Communicate Some More. Change is scary, but it is less scary if you have a good idea of what you can expect to happen. Do you plan to change the order of service? Talk about it, write about it, email about it, and then do it all some more. Surprise is not normally a good way to help change flow smoothly.
- Communicate the Why. Are you changing the order of service for fun or for the purpose of making the service more evangelistic? Communicating the why helps people to understand the reason and need for change.
- Start Small. The first steps toward revitalization should not be ripping out the pews and the organ. Instead, start small by changing one element of the worship service occasionally or by taking your tie off during the summer months.
- Celebrate the Win. When change results in a positive win for the church, celebrate it. Did a single mom get saved because the new children’s worship made her feel comfortable coming to worship without worrying about her 5-year old screaming? The church needs to know that.
- Keep Turning. John Maxwell talks about the value of momentum. When momentum is going your way in change and revitalization, make the most of it. Is the church responding well to the changes in the worship service? What other changes can you make right now?
- Be Patient. I’m terrible at this one, but it’s a work of the Spirit in our lives that we must strive to attain (Galatians 5:22). Alistair Begg is well-known for saying that we overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what can be accomplished in 20 years. This is especially true in church revitalization.
- Pray. Pray without ceasing. Change can be hard and painful, but it is a fact of life. Pray that God would direct the change in your church. You may be trying to turn an aircraft carrier, but unless the Lord plots the course, your work is in vain.
Revitalizing a church may be like turning an aircraft carrier, but you’ve got to turn the wheel at some point if you ever hope to get the ship headed in a different direction. Hopefully these steps can help make change easier in your church.