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How to change your church without killing it

Transitioning a traditional church to a church unchurched people love



“You used to be a good preacher before HE showed up.”

So said the person we were meeting with to discuss some of the changes that had taken place at our church. The meeting was with a few of our Elders including our Associate Minister who was the person she was addressing and the HE she was referring to was me!


Chris and his team at the Further Faster Conference in Halesowen, 2019


I was called to be the Senior Minister of the church I am serving nearly six years ago, and I was called with a specific mandate to lead the church through a change process to become more outward focused and relevant to those who wouldn’t normally go to church.


When I arrived at my current church it was strong and large. There was so much good stuff going on, lots of great ministries and a thriving community of people. But it was quite traditional and potentially quite difficult for unchurched people to access.


We had two morning services on a Sunday. The first one was attended by around 50 people and the music was led on an organ and a grand piano. The second service was more contemporary in style and was packed with well over 200 adults and 60 children and young people. The main hall was standing room only and the children and young people were squashed into rooms that looked tired and often had loads of stuff cluttering them up. Not the kind of environment new people would have found it easy to access.


We embarked on an ongoing change process which has not always been easy, but looking back we are so grateful that we have held the course.


During my ministry as a church leader I have had the privilege of leading two churches through that kind of process. I say ‘privilege’ - change is never easy and I have taken a fair degree of flack over the years.

Sometimes I have asked God why I couldn’t have had a simpler calling! But thankfully conversations like the one in the meeting I described have been relatively few, and the conversations with people who have found faith and grown in their faith have been far more common.


Sometimes I have asked God why I couldn’t have had a simpler calling!

Yes, some people have left the churches during those change processes, but more people have joined and the churches have grown.


Here are 5 lessons I’ve learnt along the way about leading through change without killing your church…


1. Keep your passion hot


Change is never easy and leading a church through change may be more challenging than in any other organisation. The variety and breadth of people who typically make up a church community make change really challenging. Change inevitably leads to taking some flack and for most of us, we are leading churches because we care about people and naturally it affects us when they are unhappy. That can lead to us compromising on necessary change.

The only antidote is to ensure that our passion for God and for the mission of Jesus to reach unchurched people is burning brighter within us than our need for the approval of others.


The only antidote is to ensure that our passion for God and for the mission of Jesus to reach unchurched people is burning brighter within us than our need for the approval of others.

2. Share the why


As well as keeping your passion and vision for reaching unchurched people hot, you need to share it with others.

Before any change you need to have laid a foundation of the why. Why is it important to reach unchurched people? When I arrived at my current church, I made a commitment to people that I couldn’t promise that they would all like everything we did, but that I would always make sure that they understood why.


I have found that whilst not everyone will go with you when you start changing things, the vast majority of people will go along with changes, even ones they disagree with, if they understand why they are happening.


3. Measure the right things


We all need to know if we’re winning. It doesn’t matter what it is or what we are doing, we need to know if we are making progress. If reaching unchurched people is a priority then simply measuring the traditional things we measure in church life won’t cut it, because you can grow attendance and membership by transferring Christians in from other churches. Our measurements must appropriately reflect our mission.


4. Work on the culture more than the strategy


I love a plan and a strategy. But what Covid has shown us more than ever before is that culture is way more important than strategy. It has been impossible to plan more than a few weeks at a time because things have changed so rapidly during the last two years. But a healthy culture has ensured that churches have continued to grow and serve and share Jesus even when all around is chaos. If your culture is toxic, unwelcoming, inauthentic, or insider-focused then it doesn’t matter how brilliant your strategy is, it won’t work. And culture needs working on.

Decide on the culture you need, then encourage the heck out of the things that reinforce that culture, and have the courage to go and face down the things that infringe that culture.


If your culture is toxic, unwelcoming, inauthentic, or insider-focused then it doesn’t matter how brilliant your strategy is, it won’t work.


5. Have an unchurched person in mind all the time


Who’s your unchurched family member or friend that you pray for all the time? Have them in mind in everything that you do: sermon prep, budget setting meetings, small group leaders meetings, worship planning sessions...

I am convinced that the first and simplest change we can make to ensure our churches are places that unchurched people love is simply to bear them in mind. Explain things in your services and your sermons. An unchurched person probably doesn’t know who Paul was and I’m pretty certain they don’t know who the Corinthians were. It costs you nothing in your sermon to say “Paul, one of the first followers of Jesus and a guy who started lots of churches, wrote a letter to a bunch of people in a place called Corinth and he said…”


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Jesus was clear that his primary mission was “to seek and save the lost.”

I’m pretty sure if that was his mission it should be ours too. The problem is that a lot of churches have forgotten that, or they have found it too difficult to make the necessary changes to ensure that mission stays at the top of the priority list.


Jesus was clear that his primary mission was “to seek and save the lost.” I’m pretty sure if that was his mission it should be ours too.

Change is never easy, it takes a special kind of leader to lead a church through this kind of change process. It may be costly, but it’s always worth it!



Chris Porter is the Senior Minister of Andover Baptist Church,

a Further Faster Network church.



Connect with Chris:

email: chris.porter@andoverbaptist.org.uk

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