The Progressive Consequences of Refusing To Change
Disengagement. Disease. Death.
This post was written by Alter Live friend and advisor Dale Sellers. Dale is the Executive Director of 95Network and the author of Stalled: Hope and Help for Pastors Who Thought They'd Be There By Now. He has been in ministry for 40 years and is dedicated to helping small and mid-size churches get healthy.
We recently shared a conversation about how to create an atmosphere for organizational change. The five elements we discussed that help promote healthy change were:
1 - Do your homework first.
2 - Assess your leadership team to ensure buy-in. They must be all in!
3 - Starve the past.
4 - Embrace and celebrate positive momentum. (Highlight even the smallest of victories.)
5 - Understand the consequences of not changing.
It was that last point that sparked some conversation and intrigue. We identified three outcomes that result from trying to keep the status quo: disengagement, disease, and death.
To cast some more clarity around the consequences of refusing to change, here is what each of those outcomes look like:
Let me start with an illustration:
I love tractors. (I know... it’s a country boy thing!) Every fall, I have the opportunity to hop on a tractor and drive all day long bush hogging and plowing food plots at our hunting club. It always amazes me how much work can be accomplished in a day of bush hogging. In a matter of hours, a field that was completely overgrown and unkept is transformed into a beautifully mown work of art.
Imagine with me the disappointment I would feel if I had driven the tractor over the whole property but had forgotten to engage the bush hog blade. My efforts would be in vain, even though I was in the right location at the right time doing the right thing. Without blade engagement, I’m just driving in circles!
Sadly, this example describes thousands of churches throughout America. The people gather on Sunday mornings and throughout the week to go through the motions while following the normal routine. However, the life-changing results of communicating the gospel in a way that brings people into the a personal relationship with Jesus and the transformation which accompanies biblical discipleship is nonexistent. Many churches can be identified as having a lot of activity with very little Kingdom-advancing impact.
The church is called by Jesus to go into the world and preach the gospel. The next step to our evangelism is to make disciples. The very essence of a healthy church is the development of energy from constant friction produced by the battle of saving souls and transforming them into mature believers.
When the church fails to engage its purpose, it soon develops an atmosphere where the members become inwardly focused and outwardly calloused to those who desperately need the message of Jesus the most. Unaddressed disengagement will eventually lead to the next outcome, which is disease.
No one wants to get a bad report from the doctor. I will never forget being with my mother when the doctor gave us the bad news of her cancer report. However, after dealing with the initial impact, we had to follow a plan of action in order to treat it. The fear of the disease led us to take action. We knew the prognosis if we continued to ignore her disease and do nothing. So we followed our doctors orders and proceeded to fight it with everything.
Simply put, change creates tension. Couple this truth with the understanding that most human beings resist change and you can easily see why we avoid it. And the Church is not immune from this reality. In fact, an argument could be made that it is one of the greatest change resistors in the earth today.
The resistance to change comes from a fear of the unknown. Many pastors have said, “Why rock the boat when you are not sure the new idea will work?” Their mentality identifies a basic misunderstanding based on the assumption that things will continue to move along smoothly if they stick with the status quo. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Churches tend to avoid a realistic report of where they’re at, especially when it appears that everything is moving along just fine. Yet it’s possible that the disease of complacency has set in. Jesus referred to it as losing our first love in Revelation 2.
In his book The Unstuck Church, Tony Morgan identifies seven stages in the life cycle of a church. Tony refers to the fifth stage in the life cycle as the maintenance stage. What I find fascinating about the maintenance stage is that everything appears to be healthy and stable from an outside overview. But a closer evaluation reveals the church has become almost exclusively inward-focused.
The disease of complacency, when ignored, will eventually move a church from the mission of saving sinners to the contentment of satisfying saints. This does not happen quickly. It is more of a slow fade. But the results are always the same: a disengaged church becomes a diseased church, which ultimately results in a dead church.
Jesus continues to confront churches in various stages of health in Revelation 2 and 3. He actually addresses the church in Sardis by saying, “I know your works, that you have a name and are alive, but you are dead.”
How awful would it be to have the founder of the Church refer to our church as dead! There has never been a greater example of two words that do not go together... Dead Church.
If you find that your church is disengaged from His mission, I encourage you to take action now to refocus on His call and purpose for you in your city! Even more so, if you understand that the disease of complacency has set in, take appropriate action steps now to do whatever is necessary to bring your church back to sustained health.
There are too many people in your community in need of the life-changing message of the Gospel for you to ignore their needs and remain stagnant.