Before Moving to a New Place: Understand its change readiness
“If you’re considering coming here and joining our staff and are thinking to yourself, ‘When I get there, I’m okay with some things, but I’ve got to change…’ then you probably shouldn’t come at all.”
That statement is a standard talking point I use in our minister selection process during our “cultural call.”
I received similar advice in premarital counselling. If when choosing a spouse you’re thinking to yourself, “I like Jane quite a bit, but once we’re married, I’ll change this or that about her,” you’ve got a problem.
One reason to hire staff from outside your church is to gain a fresh perspective. You want them to impact your culture in a new way. But there’s a difference between a new staff member adding perspective and influencing your culture, and one forcing their perspective in efforts to overhaul your culture.
Even if your church wants significant perspective and method changes, it’s rare they’ll accept those changes quickly.
I would assume some churches really want and need the changes brought on by new staff. If there’s something going on at a prospective church that isn’t great, and the leadership tells you in their recruitment, “It’s that way now, but we’ll change that if you come,” or worse yet, “It’s that way now, but when you come, you can change it!”… Run! Or at least deal with the reality of the present circumstances and determine if God is calling you to minister in them. If you’re only willing to go for the post-change version of them (a preferred version of them), then I would urge you to reconsider.
While I’ve seen a trend in churches of being more change-ready, they still move slowly. Churches are made up of people, and most people are change averse. Churches will talk change all day long, but know this: most churches are only aspirational-changers.
If there are clearly changes needed, and the church acknowledges them but haven’t yet changed it, then it’s probably not going to change (at least soon or easily). Churches will present you with the idea you can come in on a white horse and have free reign to modify, manipulate, and overhaul their church (and while on said horse, you can chase down a Pokémon too) – but I contend that rarely happens quickly or without trouble.
So does that mean you shouldn’t go to a church who needs change?
Nope, but do make your church-going decision based on reality, not only on your idea (or theirs) of the preferred future for their church. You need to pull back the change curtain.
Can you handle a change-free church for a while? Here’s a litmus test if you’re considering a new church opportunity:
If X doesn’t change within my first two years, is it going to cause me significant frustration?
If you can’t live with a church’s present reality and still minister well for at least 12-24 months, then I caution you about choosing that church. When you’re new to a church, before you’ve built up relational equity, it’s hard to minster well and also affect change simultaneously. If you’re changing a lot early on, you’re likely making a bad first impression, and worse, you’re spending too much of your energy on change and not on the people who need ministry from you.
Another test question: If when describing the new church opportunity to trusted friends, do you begin with, “They have a lot of things that aren’t right, but once there, I’ll change them”?
Even if you believe God and the church has called you as a change-agent for a new church, please know:
- Ministry needs to happen in the meantime (before change)
- Change will cause friction
- Change will occur slower than you want it to
Churches that need change also need great ministry leadership. Churches that are change averse also need great ministry leadership. So don’t not go because there are changes to me made, but do go with the reality in mind that you’ll need to be comfortable in a primarily unchanged environment, and you’ll need to find ways to thrive in ministry (in the meantime).