5 Types of Change-Resistant Churches

Where is your church on the change-resistance scale?
Where is your church on the change-resistance scale? (iStock photo )

One of the more frequent questions I get is somewhat related to leading change in the church. The expressions of frustrations are often the result of different expectations.

For example, a pastor search committee may tell a pastoral candidate they want to see change in the church. But their understanding of the level of change is far different than the perception of the candidate.

In this post, I look at five types, or levels, of change receptivity in the church. Church leaders should attempt to understand where their church fits on this scale. The level of receptivity to change is directly related to the type of leadership needed to lead change best.

Change Resistance Scale

  • R1. Fiercely resistant. These churches typically resist almost any noticeable change. An example might be a slight modification in the order of worship services. These churches need long-term leaders with the patience of Job and the skin of a rhinoceros.
  • R2. Steadily incremental. For the most part, R2 churches are change-resistant. Members of these churches, however, will accept change if it is slow in developing and methodical. For example, they may be willing to add a second worship service if the leader prepares the church for around a year in advance.
  • R3. Significant improvement. An R3 church will likely accept change readily if it is an extension or improvement of an existing ministry, program, or facility. Worship times, new small groups, and building programs do not meet resistance because they simply reflect improvement upon that which already is in place.
  • R4. Substantive change. Members in an R4 church understand that much needs to change in order for the congregation to have an impact in their community and in the world. Though multi-campus models may seem strange to them, for example, they are willing and desirous to move forward if leaders explain to them the benefit of the change.
  • R5. Leading edge. Members in an R5 church typically are moving faster than the leaders. They don't understand why change is not happening at more vigorous pace. They have a firm grasp of cultural realities. Though they would not compromise biblical truth, anything else is up for change or replacing.

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If you are a leader in a church, you must discern where your church is on the change-resistance scale. Many leaders lose their jobs because they lead the church like it's a R5 church when, in reality, it's an R2 church.

Though I am reticent to provide estimates, here is my best guess of the percentage of churches in each category.

  • R1: 50%
  • R2: 25%
  • R3: 15%
  • R4: 9%
  • R5: 1%

Where is your church on the change-resistance scale? R1? R2? R3? R4? or R5? What do you think of my categorizations? Let me hear from you.

Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

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