How to Approach Change in a Church Revitalization

How to Approach Change in a Church Revitalization

Sometimes the amount of change that needs to be made in the church you lead can be overwhelming.

I’ve certainly been wrestling with overwhelm since stepping into the saddle at FCC (the church I transitioned to in late 2018). But then it hit me.

I was thinking about change all wrong.

And this simple shift in approach has released me from feeling overwhelmed and has allowed me to develop what the guys over at the Revitalize and Replant Podcast call tactical patience.

So what is that shift? I’m glad you asked.

How to Approach Change in a Church Revitalization

The Analogy

First off, we need a framework to think about ministry in. So, of course, we’re going to use football.

Think about ministry as an offensive drive in a football game.

Your goal? To get a touchdown.

Your starting point? Could be your own 10-yard line or 5-yard line. Or you could be a little further along toward the goal. Maybe you’re on your own 40-yard line or maybe you’re even on the other side of the 50-yard line.

Regardless, it’s important to know where your starting point is. Your starting point is where you gauge the church to currently be in light of where it needs to be.

It needs to be in the end zone or getting close. But in a church revitalization, it’s probably not there yet.

How We Tend to Call Plays (or Implement Change)

So if ministry is an offensive drive in a football game and the goal is to get to the end zone and score a touchdown, but your church is on it’s own 10-yard line, what play will you call?

What pastors can be tempted to do is implement all the changes they believe need to be made all at once. So they line the offense up in a 5-receiver set in shotgun and they have all those receivers run fades (straight up the field) and they try to throw a 95-yard touchdown pass.

And why not, right? Maybe it will all work out. Or…

Maybe it won’t and that play will end up in their quarterback getting sack and the offensive drive being stunted.

Let’s face it: trying to implement every change in the book all at once might seem like a great idea, but in reality, it’s just bad leadership because no matter how much people want to reach their community, they still need to be led through change.

And (forgive me for another analogy) dropping a grenade in the middle of the room, blowing everything up so that you can start fresh, and expecting everyone to be fully behind you and excited is quite naive.

A Better Approach

Good offensive drives in football are executed with rhythm. They are methodical and intentional. They will sometimes take what the defense gives them and when they’ve set up the run inside the tackles, they’ll be poised for a play action pass that will hit for 20 or 30 yards.

So here’s how to approach change in a church revitalization within the framework of an offensive football drive.

Call the play that will get a 5-yard gain.

Yes, you want to score the touchdown. You want the church to be thriving. You want everyone to be selfless disciples who make disciples. You want to see the church you lead reach her community. You want to see marriages restored. You want to see young people keeping their faith.

But you don’t have to repeatedly try for the 95-yard touchdown pass. It likely won’t work very well.

Instead, start stringing together some 5-yard gains.

And as the momentum builds and as people begin to see the fruit from those play calls, they’ll be more ready to execute on the 20 or 30-yard gains that will come in time.

Develop a Game Plan

But this doesn’t mean you call the plays that will get those 5-yard gains without putting together an overall game plan.

Quite the contrary.

A game plan will give you a picture of how all those 5-yard gains will build and build and build toward, eventually, the touchdown.

So put together your game plan and start stringing together some 5-yard gains.

Change will occur. Progress will be made.

What play do you need to run next?

With this approach, what change do you need to make? What would be a 5-yard gain? Let us know in the comments below (just scroll all the way down). Or connect with us on social media – tweet us or join our Facebook group.

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Lead Pastor of First Church of Christ in Bluffton, IN. He also writes at You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.


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  1. Great use of the team metaphor to illustrate why you call shorter plays in the long game of church revitalization.

    One thing I’d add is “make sure you’ve got the right players on the field.”

    A lot of revitalization pastors make the mistake of leaving the wrong players in the skill positions. This is a riff on the old saw that “what got you where you are won’t get you where you want to go.” Sometimes you’ve got to rearrange the team, move people to different positions, and bring in more talent. We counsel our clients to add three kinds of people to the “team:”

    1. Infuencers – these are people that others in the congregation look to when it’s time to put things to a vote or form a solid opinion. You need a couple of these folks on your change leadership team or you’ll spend years generating enough power to move the ball even a few yards.

    2. Innovators – these are the people, few in number, who respect tradition and the past but aren’t bound to either when those plays don’t work any longer. These are the people who’ll run the naked boot leg or the flea flicker in order to break out and look for more effective ways of conducting the mission.

    3. Thermostats – these are the people who are connected to those who don’t want things to change. Thermostats will tell you what’s possible and what’s not. And in addition to telling you the congregational temperature, they can help you change it. (Sorry for mixing up the metaphors here)

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