Navigating Change When You Are New to a Church

Approaching times of transition as opportunities.

Over the years I've had the honor of both planting churches and helping churches revitalize. On several occasions, I've been the interim pastor at churches that eventually welcomed new pastors. In fact, summer of 2020, I finished an almost four-year interim at the historic Moody Church in Chicago.

I'm often asked about how best to navigate change as a new pastor. Times of transition offers opportunities, and we never want to waste an opportunity. Nevertheless, times of transition are also always challenging. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to stepping into the leadership of a church, but there are two general rules for navigating change as a new pastor.

Proportional Change

Think of it in terms of being proportional to the level of crisis the church is in. When stepping into leadership at a church where things are going well, you can afford to take your time as you establish what needs changing. In this kind of situation, steward your time well by learning as much as you can about the past and present of the church and who the power players are.

An example would be Moody Church where I just finished an interim pastoral role. Moody is a historic church, stable and not in crisis. The new pastor, Phillip Miller, is an effective leader. Someone asked me, “Do you expect big changes?” My response was, "Well, why? Things are going pretty well." There is no reason for dramatic, sudden, and swift change.

On the other hand, I served as interim pastor years ago at a church near bankruptcy. As I recall, I had to let 21 people go the first week. Most were part-time, but not all. This was a church averaging 3,000 in attendance at one time but had shrunk to two services of about 300 each. …

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