Thom Rainer shares road map to leading change in the church

The email addressed to LifeWay Christian Resources President and CEO Thom S. Rainer sounded urgent. The subject line: A plea for help.

"I am a pastor and I'm about to give up," the email began. The pastor went on to share his frustration in trying to lead his church to make much-needed changes. "Every time I try something, I get hit hard by critics and bullies," he wrote. "My wife wants me to quit." He ended by asking Rainer for advice on how to lead change in the wake of so many obstacles.

Rainer receives multiple letters, emails and comments a month from pastors saying they are discouraged trying to lead their churches to change. His latest book, "Who Moved My Pulpit?," is a response to those asking for advice.

"I wrote this new book with a heart for those church leaders," he said. "Most pastors and church leaders don't know how to lead change. But it's an important and perhaps the most difficult aspect of leadership."

Published by LifeWay's B&H Publishing imprint, "Who Moved My Pulpit?" comes out at a time when many churches are in need of change. Research shows nearly nine out of 10 churches are either declining or growing more slowly than the communities in which they are located.

"Change is absolutely necessary in our churches," Rainer said, "but it is difficult and risky."

Leading change in churches is more difficult today than it was 20-25 years ago, Rainer said. That's due in large part to the pressure of today's ever-changing culture on church members.

"The world outside the church has shifted so drastically away from Judeo-Christian values that church members want to hold onto the methodologies, ministries and programs they know and are comfortable with within the church," he explained. "When change happens in the church, they are told they have to let go of those things they know, and that is yet another major frustration."

The book, available June 1, is a collection of stories drawn from the experiences of pastors and congregations navigating change. Readers will learn valuable lessons from the mistakes and successes of others. One of the biggest mistakes a leader makes when leading change is not praying first.

"Leading change in the church can only work if it is God-led, God-powered and God-ordained," Rainer writes.

Another mistake, he said, is moving forward without making sure the congregation is on board with the change—and not measuring how others are responding to change.

"The greatest determinant of whether change will be effective is how well the leader is being received as a change agent," he noted.

Rainer provides an eight-stage road map for leading change, which includes prayer, communicating a sense of urgency, building an eager coalition, providing a voice and vision of hope, dealing with people issues, moving from an inward to an outward focus, picking low-hanging fruit and implementing change.

"Who Moved My Pulpit?" takes some of its cues from retired Harvard professor John Kotter's "Leading Change." "Some of Kotter's principles have a biblical foundation even though the book was not written with biblical intentionality," Rainer said. "I had recommended his book to pastors for years, but many couldn't connect with it because it's a business book. I felt I needed to write a book for pastors and church leaders that would communicate some of these same change principles."

For churches unsure they need to change, Rainer offers these five signs:

1. The church is not growing.

2. There is ongoing conflict within the church.

3. Most of the church's ministry and budget are focused inwardly.

4. The church doesn't have a positive presence in the community.

5. The church has a high turnover of leadership.

If leaders take only one thing away from the book, Rainer hopes it will be to lead change with prayer. "Even if they only do that one thing, they are depending on the power of God to change the hearts of people more than any type of strategic methodology," he said.

"Prayer is not an option in leading change in the church."

Rainer hopes pastors will have the courage to make a difference in their churches and lead change well. Tens of thousands of churches are in need of revitalization. "God has called pastors to lead change for such a time as this," he noted.

To learn more about "Who Moved My Pulpit?," visit ThomRainer.com/WhoMovedMyPulpit.

Carol Pipes is manager of editorial services at LifeWay Christian Resources.

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