Neighborhoods change faster than the churches within their borders can adapt. Empty pews and a lighter offering plate lead to the congregation's demand that “something” be done. At the same time, churches, like all organizations, resist change. So, a tug of war begins between the fear too little change (reflected in the loss of members) and too much change (something of value is lost.) Conflict is unavoidable when a church faces change.
The awareness that things are not the way they were or could be brings pain. This pain must be processed if the church is to become healthier through positive, lasting change. Encourage dialog and position disagreements as different approaches to common goals. Listen to the fear and complaining. Do not try to win people over with a positive vision of a preferred vision.
Listening does not mean agreement. People will need understanding as they cope with their feelings of loss and fear of the unknown. Emotional language will dominate conversations during this time.
Although leaders may have already processed their feelings, it's important not to run ahead of the church. Wait for church members to catch up. Otherwise, a toxic atmosphere will be created that will have a negative impact on the church's witness.
A period of celebrating the past and understanding the church's initial vision can be followed by a time of quiet reflection. This can bring healing.
Discovering the neighborhood's needs and assets can be an exercise in doing “something” that is productive without making any changes. This time of analysis can be a wilderness experience of empty space where something new and wonderful emerges. We encounter God in the wilderness.
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven