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December 14th, 2007

by Bobby Gruenewald

44 comments (+ Add)

swerve lab: Transitioning an Established Church

Thanks to everybody who continues to respond and help those who have submitted questions to the swerve lab. If you have a question that you would like for the readers of this blog to respond to, please send it to and put “Swerve Lab” in the subject line.

Our question today comes from Lance, who is a 10 year member of a church that has been a beacon in his community for the past 15 years, and a solid church for the past 50 years.

He writes,

“While we are mission-minded, Biblically sound and friendly, we are still operating very much the same way we did 10 years ago when I joined. We just changed one of our services to contemporary (yeah, just now), and that has been successful.

As you can expect, our pastor and staff are attempting to make changes to keep us relevant, and the older generation is resisting.

Everyone I have talked to has said it is simply better to find another church than to go through the pain of trying to move 3,800 members in a different direction when a good percentage just doesn’t want to go. But we are doing good things and I feel God is opening a door for us to continue to be a church strongly used by Him.

So the question is, how can an existing church transition? Do we do it slowly and try to bring as many along as possible? Or do we just do it and take a hit in attendance and giving in the short run?”

What advice can you give Lance? Have you been through a successful church transition? What are some things you learned?

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  1. Dec 14, 2007 at 10:59 am

    We were one of those churches that had gotten stuck in “maintenance mode” and did transition to “mission mode.” It took time, there was a lot of pain, but the fruit God has brought us shows that it was all worth it! I think the main thing for your church now is the leaders to pray about, come to consensus on, and declare who your church is going to be. It will allow everyone to make informed decisions about future opportunities for growth within, alongside, or apart from your current church.–Jason

  2. 2matt
    Dec 14, 2007 at 11:43 am

    The church I am part of just recently went through a “merger” of a church plant and an existing church. The church plants leadership was going to be the remaining leadership within the church (the existing church’s pastor retired) and with that a new direction was plotted for this new church. It was met with resistance from each side and attendance was hit, and so was giving. We went down to about 25 people, but in the last year, because we stuck with the vision God gave us, 24 people were baptized and our attendance is up around 100 people. I say stick to the vision God gives you. If it is His, He will carry you through and lives will be affected for His sake.

  3. Dec 14, 2007 at 11:55 am

    God is deepening my desire for transitional ministry. Personally I don’t think America needs more churches; I think America needs more of its existing churches revitalized. The church I attended for 8 years near Detroit, NorthRidge Church…has an amazing story of transition. Went from a strong Baptist heritage…old skool KJV, no drums but banjos allowed. Now they are a thriving 14,000 weekly attending non-denominational church that sees 100’s come to faith each month. I assure you they are still biblically based and arent “soft on sin” as some churches have gone to gain new members.

    You can check out the story of the churches transition in a book by its pastor titled; “Change Your Church for Good: The Art of Sacred Cow Tipping.”

  4. Dec 14, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Our church just left our denomination, our $1.6 million building, and have divided into two cities and two campuses, all within a span of about 3 months.

    Check out to read the blog of a leader who is a front-runner in transitioning churches to be more effective in their mission.


  5. 5Tim Coleman
    Dec 14, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Check out C3 Church in Orlando. They just sold a 60,000 SF traditional church property so that they could transition their church into a theater church. Their lead pastor, Byron Bledsoe is just about ready to release a book about the transition. See his post about it at


  6. Dec 14, 2007 at 12:00 pm


    Having just resigned a “transitioning church” I would say it is easier to start a new church. I brought changes like a contemporary service, changed Sunday PM to discipleship instead of preaching, encouraged investing and inviting instead of visitation, etc…

    The people at that church for the most part are wonderful people. But change is only easy for the one making the changes. Jesus said you can’t put new wine in old wineskins for a reason. I read books on transition, hung out with pastors who were “successful” and they all said if they had to do it again–plant a church.

    If you want to read about my experience read this:

  7. 7matt
    Dec 14, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    What happens to the existing church if the changes are not made?

  8. 8Raul
    Dec 14, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Read “Transitioning” by Dan Southerland. It’s a great book on how to tranistion your church.

  9. Dec 14, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Obviously, this is a good question and one that most church leaders face. Many run from transition in favor of not alienating people who have committed most of their lives to a particular church body. I disagree with that sentiment, especially if the sole reason is to keep a job.
    However, I also disagree with transitioning for sake of keeping up with the Joneses (the cool church down the road) or keeping up with MTV. One is unnatural and the other is impossible. I know that no church leader would say so outright, but the motive of many of them is to stay hip or cutting edge. That motive doesn’t cut it with the unchurched. They see right through it. It also doesn’t cut it with the Jesus.
    However, if cultural relevance is what you’re going for. And you’re motive is Biblical (i.e. saving the lost), then the unchurched will take notice and God will bless it.
    Also, for the record, planting a new church MUST come from a calling from God. If you’re planting a new church simply because you’re frustrated with you’re current church…IT WILL FAIL. You’ll become one of the 80% of churches that don’t make it to year two.
    Finally, my advice to help your church transition from stuck on themselves to moving for Jesus? Vision and patience. Without a vision from God that’s been clearly and earnestly shared, cast, and completely accepted by the church family, you’ll go nowhere. After all, if you can’t see where God wants to go, there’s no way you’ll find it. Also, it’s going to take time. And by time, I mean a year or more of constant harping on the same, God-given vision.
    Look at the churches that are exploding with growth. Many of them are the coolest thing in town. The rest are doing nothing extra cool, but just humming along in tradition. The ONE commonality among them all is that each one has a single, clear vision and every person that’s ever attended the church can recite it to you. The vision has become a part of everything their church family is. THEN, once a vision has unified the people, they’ll band together to make the transition. But watch out, you may see that vision is all they needed to get on fire for Jesus and a methodological transition was never needed.

  10. Dec 14, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    My experience is that when we started 10 years ago, emerging from a campus-focused ministry is this: the key and almost fatal mistake we made was to not make a clean break from past culture. It would have taken us “down” a bit then, but today (literally) we are dealing with the fallout. The biggest problem for us has been not being able to catch momentum and most of it goes back to that critical mistake of not making a clean break with what was.

  11. Dec 14, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    I pastor C3 Church in Orlando, FL - formerly Parkway Baptist Church. We’ve been through a total transition of style, structure, and philosophy of ministry. We dropped Sunday nights, moved Sunday School to Community Groups (in homes) dropped choir, orchestra, and any more changes including having just sold our 60,000 s/f buildings and 20 acre campus to relocate to Regal Cinemas in the largest outdoor shopping center in the state of FL. This has been the most painful yet most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of.
    I would agree - I believe it would be much less painful to start a church. The issue, for us, was obedience - we felt God leading us to transition rather than start. It will cost more than you can imagine, but it can be done and the results are unbelievable. The main thing is to know that you know that God is leading in this - don’t just try it - sell out to it.

  12. Dec 14, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    By the way, when we began the transition we were running about 1,500 people on Sunday mornings. Through this process we lost over 1,000 people - but it’s been the greatest thing we’ve ever done! Those people have found more traditional churches to be a part of and we’re reaching more people than we ever did. Over 90% of the people of C3 Church today were not in church a year ago.

  13. Dec 14, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    scott hodge’s story of the transition in his church has always been inspiring to me.

    Leadership Journal did an article you can check out here:

  14. Dec 14, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    I think the question that has to be asked is the big WHY. WHY is this in the heart of the leadership to transition this church? You’ve got to define that crystal clearly and without question.

    I will tell you it is much easier to plant a brand new church than transition even the healthiest of churches. I think others who have done it would agree. This is really tough stuff and you have to be willing to do 2 things…1. Dont take it personal when people leave, because there will be an exodus even under the best circumstances. It may take a week or it may take a couple of years, but people will leave. And 2. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul. You have to be 100% committed to the plan and execute it over a period of time and never give up.

    If you know this is something that God is calling you to do to reach more people for him, then go for it. If you are wanting to do it to be more ‘relevant’ then I would really thrown up a big caution flag.

    I have to second Byrons sentiments…it is one of the most rewarding things when you know it’s God, and you start to see the fruit of your commitment to follow His will. It is incredible to look out over a congregation on Sunday and see lives that otherwise would not be in church worshiping God.

  15. Dec 14, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    i am the lead pastor at a church in tucson, az. i have been here a year and in that time have begun the transition of moving from a ‘come and see’ approach to ministry to more a missional ‘go and be’ approach. this has not been easy, it has been met with resistance and i have had crucial people leave, while throwing rocks on the way out. just once i would like someone to leave and not say a word, that would be nice.

    the big thing i have learned is that people must feel the pain of something, they must feel the pain that you as a leader feel when it comes to a transition. if they don’t feel the pain, they will have no reason to go with the changes.

    it needs to also be seen as more than your vision. for sure, the leader must be on board and the most vocal, but he/she must not be the only one casting the vision. most of the vision casting that happens in churches happens at starbucks, restaraunts or in a parking lot. when someone seeks out another leader in your church, that leader must say the same thing, you must preach the same thing.

    another thing to keep in mind is what james meeks calls “preaching the announcements.” don’t just announce what you are going to do, don’t just say, “we’re going to have a contemporary service, or we are going to go and do this.” preach it. keep it focused on the vision, it must all come back to the vision. your church must know, that if you don’t do this, you will be missing out on what God is calling you to.

  16. Dec 14, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    [...] your church through those tumultuous seasons of change. Then today, there was a question over on’s blog, which I left a comment on, but thought I would share those comments here on leading [...]

  17. Dec 14, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    In 2000 I was part of a church that badly needed transitioning and the leadership realized it. The problem was that the younger preachers that might be able to lead that transitioning all preferred to start new churches. We resolved that problem by being the first of several churches to merge with We became the Edmond Campus.

    Any time there is major change you will lose people. It’s how you act that’s important. Craig Groeschel handled this by preparing a list of other Bible-believing churches in the area and making the list, and literature from these churches, available in the lobby. He also wished them Godspeed if they left.

    How do you treat people who leave?

  18. 18Dwight
    Dec 15, 2007 at 7:26 am

    This is my 25 year in pastoral leadership and I have come to the point that I’m not sure with a larger church it a good idea to transition. In light of the fact that we are soon approaching the point that we will have more people over 50 then we do under 20 (boomers population exploding). Why transition anything… The worship style of those over 50 is a legitimate form of worship even if it no long meets my personal needs. I am convinced that starting (planting) new ministries or services under one roof is a positive alternative. Be a church with more to offer rather then making everyone eat the same meal every week. Don’t change people, service additional people with additional offerings. Only in the small church do you have to one thing for everyone.

  19. 19Phil Rapp
    Dec 15, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Before coming to work on staff at I was part of a church in Ohio that was in this type of transition. Membership was around 3-4,000. I can’t speak to all of your situation as some of the others have done above, since I was not the pastor of the church, but I can throw out some practical ideas that are working for them:

    1. There are two senior pastors - one older and one younger. This is an incredible relationship that they have since neither is threatened by the other and they work hand in hand at growing the church. Each tends to appeal to a little different part of the church, so everyone feels that their concerns are heard. The team teaching also helps to free up time for them to be with the people.

    2. We opened multiple venues within the building on Sunday mornings and Saturday nights. Each room reaches a different type of crowd for worship, and they pipe in the sermon from the main room. While I was there, the Fellowship hall became more like a Lifechurch venue, with sound, lights, video and of course coffee and donuts to match. This room quickly filled up with a few existing members and many new members.

    3. WE loaned the sanctuary to another start up (made up of younger pastors from the church) on Sunday evenings. This was a more contemporary environment. This allowed them to birth a new church from their own location. That church has now moved on to their own location.

    4. Despite the obvious goal of pleasing as many people as possible, there was an acceptance from the beginning that not everyone would be happy with the changes. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

    If you don’t have room in your existing building to add additional rooms, consider additional locations as Lifechurch does. You would be surprised at how easily people accept the teaching from video. We even have a lot of people (and some of our network churches) who are wanting to use video worship. Regardless of what some people say, the upcoming generations are far more accepting of this type of technology (and many are attracted by it). Based on the number of churches that I speak with regularly about technology in the church, the church as a whole is waking up to the fact that the younger generations have been raised on technology, so if technology is not involved somewhere then they will not stay.

    If you have more questions about any of this I would be happy to talk. I have been gone from that church for over a year now, but I stay in touch with them.

  20. Dec 15, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Concerning Byron Bledsoe’s post and story…no disrespect intended, but it sounds like a story of hijacking a church’s resources and funding a new church that only 1/3 of the church wanted. I wrestle with transitioning a church and only being able to take 1 in 3 members with you.
    I lead a transitioning church and losing people is part of the deal. This sound more like killing one, harvesting resources from the remains and planting a new church.

    Was the leadership structure of the church on board with the plan that was executed?

  21. Dec 16, 2007 at 7:42 am

    I recommend you figure out WHO the objectors are. Seriously - list them. Then out of that list, consider who the “leaders of the pack” are.

    My experience has been that most of the older objectors are more interested in bickering than actually impacting the church. I believe that through love, you can tell them that.

    At my church, I was the youngest, newest pastor and many older objectors assumed I was personally the cause of all the changes (which of course wasn’t true). I was certainly in the hotseat. I actually said a word of encouragement to one elderly person, “Hey I’m really glad to see you this morning” and he responded with one sentence, “Adam, I don’t like some of the things you’re doing.” lol - how do you respond to something like that?!

    The fix? LOVE. Sounds like a pad answer - but seriously. I considered who the “leaders” of the bickering was and I started eating lunch with them. I started emailing them and laughing at their “fwd:fwd:fwd:fwd” emails. After a few months of that continuous love (even though I couldn’t stand how mean they were to me), they started to lighten up.

    That man I mentioned is now one of my “personal supporters.” I went after a leader, and now, (I’m told) that if someone complains about a change that “I’ve” done - that man (and others) actually defend me. They’ll say things like, “I know what you mean, but Adam’s got it under control.” They have turned to being a progressor of change simply because of the relationship I’ve started with them.

    You see, they were bickering because they felt we didn’t care about their influence and heritage. When the 23 year old pastor started eating lunch with them, that proved that we DID care. Once we showed we cared about them, they would care about us (and our vision).

    We are now living in a relatively “changed” and a still “changing” church - WITH old people who objected with change. But now they don’t complain. :)

    A great book on change is “Who Moved My Cheese.” Very easy and quick to read. It’s also told in a parable so you could give it to the “sticks in the mud” to read and they can indirectly get the message.

  22. Dec 16, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Watch Scott Hodge tell his story online here:

  23. Dec 16, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    I guess every church ought to be a “transitioning” church shouldn’t it?

    There’s has been talk for year about the importance of mission and vision in the church (which I completely agree is vital). But, I found that the personality or culture of a church can be one of the determining factors as to whether a church can transition successfully.

    Warning: take my thoughts with a grain of salt as I recently left the staff of a church that wouldn’t transition to a new church plant.

  24. 24Robbie Robison
    Dec 16, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Regarding Jim Ladd’s comments. It is regretful that you have chosen to judge and give comment without being involved and knowing the full extent of all God was, and is doing at C3 Orlando. Discussing strategy and philosophy is one thing, but using accusatory language like “hijacking” is quite another, especially when you know nothing of the situation.

    I will spare you the scripture that would harshly reprimand you for quickly commenting/judging the situation at C3 (especially not knowing the heart and life of Pastor Byron).

    I am amazed at those who so quickly give judgment as to the WHY’s on churches like NORTHPOINT, FELLOWSHIP, LIFE CHURCH, SADDLEBACK, WILLOWCREEK, C3, etc. We do know Scripture is clear on several things:

    1. God does not act or move according to a majority. (Daniel, Gideon, Moses, 12 Spies, Lot, Joseph, Abraham… we could go on).

    2. When God calls and leads we must follow Him, not man.
    I happen to be on the Board of Directors and have direct knowledge of the entire process at C3. The church affirmed this transition/change in a vote (with only 13 negative votes… thank God in the new structure we don’t vote anymore). Through the entire process the Pastor and Management Team functioned with absolute integrity. So, if your question was genuine, you have your answer…
    We cannot help those who later decided they could not handle the changes and bolted… some church people just don’t like ethnic diversity and economic differences, and unchurched people joining their “club” - which this kind of transition brings.

    3. Jesus came to seek and save what was lost, and the church is to do the same. In the previous 10 years at Parkway, the church reached an average of only 10 unchurched people per year. This year, over 230 people have publicly stated they’ve given their lives to Christ. It’s also interesting to note that in this year (2007) C3 Orlando has had 997 first time guests, most of whom are now regularly attending and a part of C3.

    Here’s the deal, what you would or wouldn’t struggle with has absolutely no bearing on whether God is in it for C3 of Orlando. Your personal feelings and struggles do not give spiritual credence to what you think to be correct. By the way, it wasn’t Pastor Byron who asked the question for discussion here on this blog.

    I would encourage you, the next time you feel something about another church or pastor to please contact that church and it’s leadership personally. Thank God He’s doing a great work at C3 and many other churches around the world, and hopefully yours as well.

  25. Dec 17, 2007 at 9:15 am

    One slow unannounced change at a time. I took over a church that was founded by my predecessor. I continued on like nothing ever changed, but slowly I am building up leadership that matches my thinking. In addition I have made several changes - most with little or no warning. I usually get one or two weeks of complaints, but many more compliments than complaints (so far). In the next couple of years every process and ministry will match the vision God has given me for the church.

    Occasionally people will be really resistant to an idea, in those cases offer to return the matter to prayer. If the Lord is still leading you in a direction then let them no it and proceed. See 1Samuel 23:1-5.

  26. Dec 17, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Let me offer an appropriate apology to Robbie Robison and the C3 Orlando team. I meant no disrespect and only voiced the issues I wrestle with as a leader. I understood this to be the purpose of the discussion. I apologize for questioning motives in a situation I know nothing about.

    What I intended to do was question strategy. Is it “appropriate”, “responsible” or “good leadership” to transition in a way that loses 1 out of every 3 members? That was and remains my question. And, I don’t know the answer!

    In our transition, we continue to lose people and some of our team say, “No big deal; let ‘em go”. My conviction is that the people who have vested years of their lives, hours of ministry effort and tons of dollars ought to be given every consideration possible, every communication possible and every contemplation possible (sorry for the teacher alliteration) in the transition process. This is, in fact, what makes transitioning a church in a healthy way so difficult and exhausting.

    Most of the time, in my opinion, we pastors transition quicker than we should due to our impatience and passion. The speed of transition and the impatience to help people “get it” is what causes more people to leave than necessary.

    Again, please forgive my wording in my previous post and know that I am rejoicing with C3 for the additions to God’s Kingdom that He is bringing through the new strategy. I am processing a whole lot more about my leadership in these comments than anyone else’s.

  27. 28Kendra G
    Dec 17, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Every single LC campus addition has been so different and unique–about half merges and half new. Although it’s great to get some ideas and advice from those who have been in similar shoes, waiting to hear clearly from God and following his timeline is the key. There are just no two situations alike.

    The desire should be to build the church God wants not the one that suits your own preferences. I have spent many years of my life in churches that I didn’t really like but I knew God wanted me there.

  28. Dec 17, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    As another pastor in the middle of trying to transition a church I can agree with a number of those who have posted here by saying that this is the hardest thing I have every tried to do. I have thought on a number of occasions that it would have been much easier to plant a church but that was not my calling. For some reason God called me here to try and transition this church.
    Most of the discussion here seems to be geared toward larger churches since that’s what Lance asked about, but my question is this, is it possible to effectivly transition a smaller church without killing it. Lifegate was about 90 members when I came 75% over the age of 55 and the leadership brought me in to help make the transition to a church that could effectivly minister to our community. I’ve been here for almost 2 years-the first 6 months as an Associate and the last year and a half as the solo Pastor and we’ve come a long ways but we’ve lost a number of people in the process. We currently average about 40 most Sunday Mornings and can barely pay the bills. We are seeing many visitors from the community-we had over 60 for our Christmas program, over 100 for our Halloween outreach, 8 new visitors last week, but it has been a hard painful process and if we survive and thrive moving into the future it will only be by the grace of God.
    As I look back, I wonder, would I have done this if I knew then what I know now?

  29. Dec 17, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I love the discussion of such a varied topic! The answers required are as varied as the individual congregations they impact. One key element is to equip leadership to live for purpose and not preference. Most (but certainly not all) resistance to transition is typically preference based. It is often rooted more in comfort than calling. That said, transition needs to occur with integrity and respect for those who have been faithful in building the church to begin with. Unfortunately, some will see their job of building the church as being done, and they won’t be able to easily adapt, but love them into a place where they can be led, don’t just cast them aside.

  30. Dec 17, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    oops! my blog is

  31. Dec 17, 2007 at 10:13 pm

    Paul Scanlon’s book and tape series, “Crossing Over” is phenomenal. Some of the best I’ve heard on the topic. Scanlon is the pastor of Abundant Life in the UK…

  32. Dec 19, 2007 at 12:55 am

    I’m on the transitional leadership team at my church, formed from the merger of two existing churches - one of which was non-denominational and had a membership of about 20 folks (renting space from another church). The other church (to which I belonged) was affiliated with American Baptist Churches, with a membership of approximately 50 folks, and jointly owns a church facility with a 3rd church. Our two churches shared the same pastor.

    We spent much of the past year in prayer trying to discern God’s will for the transition as we put together a leadership team comprising of our shared pastor, and 3 members from each church. We focused on name, ministries, mission statement, statement of faith, and governance, including some other members into that process. We met as a Body midsummer to discuss our proposed changes. We had the occasional joint worship service.

    Amazingly, those who were most excited by the merger were the elderly members who had been part of the Baptist church for over 30 years (one of whom had been a founding member and was also on our transitional leadership team). We only lost one family and our pianist during the merger.

    It hasn’t been easy - we have had several meetings as a church body to discuss the changes, proposed membership covenant (new to members from both former churches), and other topics. We still do not have a constitution or form of governance yet - it is still one of those topics we continue to work through and pray over. But we know that we are being obedient to God’s leading through this process. And we have not been afraid of questions, or to slow down the process as necessary when God speaks (particularly through the Body).

    My advice as you transition: to spend a lot of time in prayer, to listen to the voices of the Body. Listen to where they are coming from…is it from fear? How do you react when you hear their voice? Do you get a sense of God’s peace, or is it the Enemy trying to distract you? It is important to be in tune with the overall sense you get from the Body as a collective, because God will use them to speak to you as the leadership. Pray specific prayers during this time. The answers will be there.

  33. 35Jim Martin
    Dec 19, 2007 at 12:56 am

    Really, this is very sad reading all your posts on this subject. It seems like some of you are in a desperate situation and some have deep scars that may never heal.

    I think, like a business, if a church isn’t constantly evaluating themselves and making minor adjustments along the way, one day it will simply be irrelevant to anyone outside the building and, unfortunately, won’t even know it. The question is what is the method of evaluation? Is it the opinions of the members or the opinions of visitors or something else?

    I have heard some churches start a “church within a church” as a means of trying to move forward with new ideas while giving the folks the opportunity to be comfortable with their church the way it is. Maybe that’s the chicken way out, but success is contagious and if the “church within the church” is vibrant and growing and bringing in the unchurched, maybe, just maybe your members will become excited.

    Even then, don’t become stuck in a formula, keep evaluating and changing before your new church becomes like the old church - stuck in its ways.

  34. 36Jorge Harrison
    Dec 19, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    A significant percentage of 3800 of your sheep don’t want to change, and your options for them are “change” or “leave”?

    A new paradigm, the lure of having a “more successful” church, the desire to be part of the latest new big thing. They’re intoxicating. That desire can be overwhelming. Notice the pride with which a previous poster rolled off a list of “significant” churches, all in capitals, (as if calling on that list makes his point right) with his church tucked in the list. The big thing. Get asked to conferences. Great website. Maybe a book deal.

    How can wanting to reach new people be wrong? After all, as many posters have so stated, if you feel that God wants you to then off you go.

    But what happened to responsibility for the 3800 people in your flock? If leadership decides to change there needs to be, as part of that change, a plan for dealing with the substantial number of people who are (for lack of a better term, no wordplay intended) “grandfathered” in the deal.

    Sure, God wants you to reach new people and be relevant and inviting, but can you honestly tell me that God wants you to alienate a good part of 3800 people who are members of your church and count them as collateral damage? Members of The Body! No kidding they’re upset, I would be too!

    The “older” or “more traditional” or whatever you want to call them members of churches across the country are being tossed away without so much as a thank-you-for-your-decades-of-service-and-giving as churches leap on the bandwagon of being hip and relevant and modern.

    Yes, change needs to happen. I am as frustrated with the restraints of stale church as anyone else. But this wholesale abandoning of the current church in order to build the new one is terribly disturbing.

    Go ahead and dismiss this in the same way you did the others. No one can question results, right? And numbers = results, right?

    And numbers = depth, right? Oh wait…

  35. Dec 20, 2007 at 2:03 pm has a 5 part article on this subject entitled, “How to Transition an Established Church” by Church McAlister It’s worth a read.

  36. Dec 20, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Let me recommend a book and great resource to all that are trying to transition a church like what you are saying….

    “Crossing Over” by Paul Scanlon

    PS…out of everyone in the church world I have been exposed to….He is the best Thinker I have seen and heard…You will love it…Get every resource of His you can….

    Also highly highly recommend his new teaching series…”Others”

    It will help…

  37. 39Lance
    Dec 20, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    Awesome stuff guys. I’m trying to digest it all. I appreciate all the resources you suggested. I’m actually coming away more encouraged that this can be done.

    Jorge, I think you make a great point about “discarding” the older people who have been there for decades. We definitely do not want to do that. But what we have are a lot of people who have gotten comfortable. They get there 15 minutes early to find the same spot in the same pew. If a visitor happens to be there, some have asked them to leave before. They bristle because we don’t sing every verse of every hymn anymore. They bristle because we don’t hold our hymnals in our hands when we sing. We don’t want to toss anybody overboard. We simply want our church to be one that displays the love of God, not one that looks like it’s just a meeting place for certain people who’ve “invested” years and dollars into the place and had gotten it to a point they were comfortable and don’t really want to see it changed by a bunch of new people.

    2008 should be very, very interesting indeed. Thanks again for all the comments.

  38. Jan 23, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Something that is very important in transition is the ability to connect what came before with the changes you are suggesting now. The church I pastor is 185 years old. Trust me, there is nothing new under the sun. Our church had the argument about technology and relevance in worship when the organ was invented. They decided to use technology and be relevant, which is why we have an organ. When we put in our projection equipment, I appealed to the values that were present back then as well.

    So, whenever I am talking about something that will stretch the people, I appeal to points in our past where the church faced the same issues. If you can show people how what we are doing now is a faithful application of a deeply held value from the Bible and our tradition, you are heading in the right direction.

    I often say that the best way to honor what has come before is to be alive in mission in the present. Letting the church stagnate and die is not honoring the past. Refusing to lead with courage and vision in the present does not honor the past.

    In the end, what I end up unmasking is how most people are driven by what they like and want to experience - whether it is effective or not. I make them admit that. It’s not about tradition most of the time, after all, we are the church with an organ. We were cutting edge at one point. We cared about speaking to where people are. We just don’t like what that looks like today. We like what it looked like 50 years ago.

    My two cents,


  39. 41FreedbyJC
    Jan 24, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Again, we need to ask the questions are we identifing ourselve with the sheep or our we the shepherds of our flocks. Sure they do not want to change… Look deeply into the heart of our Shepherd and tell Him that its the flocks will and not His that you will be following and striving to accomplish.

    If the ‘church’ as it stands is diseased and spreading the rot, then a change has to take place…look to the evidence of the fruit in their personal lives and in the ministries of the body corporate.

    I will not allow them to glide into hell on their selfish desires.

    Let us not glide through this world and then slip quietly into heaven, without having blown the trumpet loud and long for our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Let us see to it that the devil will hold a thanksgiving service in hell, when he gets the news of our departure from the field of battle. C. T. Studd

  40. May 16, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    [...] can also read our last swerve lab on transitioning an established church. There’s some great conversation in the [...]

  41. May 16, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    [...] swerve lab: Reminder at : swerve on the post swerve lab: Transitioning an Established Church [...]

  42. 44Chris
    May 17, 2008 at 6:36 am

    I think you should deal with this situation very carefully so that your transition is biblical and not faddish, and so that your church can remain strong in the community and not fall into false teachings and harmful practices that will bring it into disrepute.

    What is it that the older generation is opposed to? Try to get at the root of this for each complaint that they have. Do they have a biblical reason for their opposition or not? If they do, then listen to them. If they do not, then you must show them why their objection is unbiblical and show them why the change is biblical. This is so important.

    Christ promised that the gates of hell will not prevail atainst his church. That does not mean that Satan will not try to destroy individual local church communities and lives. So you must be very careful. Everything that is popular and draws people does not necessarily bring people to saving faith in Christ. That is what you want more than anything. And it is only God who can do this.

    Stay true to God’s Word and He will bring people to true salvation. If you wander away from the truth of His World, you may draw a crowd, but you cannot save their lives with techniques and strategies.

    Just be so careful. Jesus told us to be. We should listen to Him. You can find more helpful guidelines related to this issue at Together For the Gospel ( You will be especially interested in reading the Affirmations and Denials page.

    God bless you as you serve the Lord…