Why Do My Parishioners Resist Change


Whenever the grandchildren visited, my brother made a point to spend special time with each child. For then five-year old Andrea, it was a trip to a nearby McDonald’s. On a whim, he thought she might enjoy the new McDonald’s across town, complete with a state-of-the-art playground. As he pulled into the parking lot, a tear trickled down her cheek.

“What’s the matter, sweetie. Don’t you like this McDonald’s?” he asked.

Distraught, Andrea blurted out, “But it’s not our McDonald’s!”

Change is difficult, for it means risk—trading the comfortable for the uncomfortable, confronting a deep-rooted fear, or surrendering a cherished tradition.

Instituting change in how worship happens in the church is probably one of the most difficult tasks pastors undertake. They believe change is needed, yet getting folks on board with the change is not only time consuming, the routine can cause untold controversy and friction within the congregation.

Whether that change is as simple as replacing the carpet or taking out the pews in exchange for regular chairs to dispensing with hymnals and using a projector for sermon highlights, resistance is a given.

I recently read an article on why congregates no longer are comfortable singing in church. It sited reasons such as too much professionalism in worship team, unfamiliar choruses, to the expectation of worshipers to be entertained rather than participate. While there may be some truth to all these concerns, the problem may not be that congregates are unspiritual. Their reticence may have everything to do with fear and insecurity, the basic human response to change.

Fear of change within the worship experience is most often rooted in a fear of loss of intimacy with God. For the worshiper, the corporate experience is embedded with spiritual memories. When worshipers have been drawn to God through “The Old Rugged Cross,” serving up a more modern version of the song, may cause disorientation. The old way brought tears, enriched their spirits. The unfamiliar distracts from the power of the experience.

Matilda Jones was saved at the age of seven and worshiped at the same church for sixty years. No one was more excited when the prospect of a new building became a reality. When all the bricks were laid and moving day arrived, Matilda cried as the old altar railing was dismantled, surprising even herself. She had found God clinging to the old mahogany structure, and there, twenty years later, she exchanged wedding vows. Whenever faced with a spiritual crisis, she mingled her tears with those that stained the century old wood. And now it was destined to be chopped up and thrown into a fire.

For most believers, fear of change is not rooted in a lack of spirituality but rather in a fierce love for God. They desire to remain where they have been one with their Father.

Pastors can take heart in that truth. It is the basis by which they can instill change, rather than become frustrated, accusatory, or bewildered.

As leaders, then, how do we help the faithful cope with change in the church?

  1. Most mature Christians will recognize the need for change. But, change threatens their worship experience. Sensitivity toward the fear will do much to help transition to the new.
  1. Some pastors have successfully initiated change through gradual implementation. Take what is familiar and add a smidgeon of new. Overtime, worshipers will feel more comfortable with what is new, once they realize their relationship with the Lord is not threatened by the change. Education and advanced knowledge may also assist the process.
  1. Rather than judge a parishioner’s reticence, appreciate their desire to be close to God. Praise and acknowledge this trait.
  2. Engage change by inviting your parishioners to express their fears and concerns. After explaining the need for the change, include your parishioners in the implementation. Ask what will help them to adjust.
  3. Continual evaluation of the process will help the leader sense if the change is indeed a good one that benefits the worship experience.

After a few visits to the new McDonalds, Andrea learned that Grandpa’s love for her was independent of place. In time, the new became as memorable as the old. By facilitating your parishioners in the new, reassuring that God is not limited by a particular order and kind of worship, for most of your parishioners, the new will be embraced as much as the old.

That said, the reality may well be that no matter how much preparation, prayer, and patience is used in implementation of procedural change, not everyone will come on board. Only you, the leader can determine whether the benefits outweigh the turmoil of resistance.

Award-winning author Linda Rondeau writes blended contemporary fiction that demonstrates, once surrendered to God, our worst past often becomes our best future. Retired from her long career in human services, she enjoys being able to play golf year around. Readers may visit her website at www.lindarondeau.com, her blog, Salt and Light, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and Goodreads. Her book, A Father’s Prayer, is available here on Amazon  http://ow.ly/TSpgL.

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