When we were in South Africa for our first semester in the LGP program I was having trouble nailing down my problem and how to come at it in a way that would be effective. Dr. D, my advisor, had a great deal of influence on how I was going to address the problem but I also got to sit down with Diane Zemke because her Ph.D. dealt with congregational change. She was instrumental in helping me jump off into different writings on my subject, she even sent me her dissertation, NOW AND NOT YET: THE EXPERIENCE OF TEMPERED RADICALS IN CHRISTIAN CONGREGATIONS so I could start to look over the subject matter. In my opinion, she is an expert in church change and how we can help congregations move through change gracefully. Her book Being Smart about Congregational Change takes her work and makes is so accessible in helping church leaders work through very difficult times. In my work so far, I have dealt very little with the actual movement of the congregation and have focussed on the underlying causes of inward focussed congregations and what could cause them to adjust that focus to others.
While change is the preferred outcome for a church in decline or a church that has plateaued, as Diane wrote, “By the time a congregation hits a mid-point plateau, it hasn’t updated its mission for years if not decades. Indeed, the reason growth has leveled off is that the congregation is no longer working as constructively with its environment. It has also become more rigid and less willing to adapt.”  Most churches won’t admit they are in decline or plateau until it is too late. Getting an older congregation to move to a new way of doing things is hard work and comes with many slings and arrows if not done with a delicate hand. For example, the church I serve now, started in 1954 and has been at the location where it is now since 1960. One of the walls in the church has a picture of every pastor and his family lining the wall. With only three exceptions the tenure of these pastors is 2-3 years. Some are very young, some are very old but they share one thing. A congregation that has been static at or around 150. When I took over the number of people coming on a weekly basis had dropped to 45. One thing I told them is there has to be changes made in how we do “church”, if you are not on board with a pastor making changes then do not hire me. They assured me they were on board but the road has been slow. Most churches that hit the decline slope never pull out of the downward spiral. There is hope in renewal though. Diane points out that renewal is “not about getting more contemporary music or updating the sanctuary or the constitution.”  These things are changes that do need to happen but she points out, “At its heart, renewal is about reexamining and updating congregational culture and narratives.”  What Diane is getting at is this, we can make superficial changes and that may work for a little while, but if the congregation does not change its DNA, then eventually they will decline and die.
We see this in business, the Fortune 500 today looks nothing like the first iteration of its list. There are companies that were not even a dream over 50 years ago in 1955. Companies like Bethlehem Steel and Zenith Electronics were on the list in its infancy and are no where to be found, in fact only 60 companies from 1955 are still on the list today. Today the list features tech firms like Google and Apple. So if companies whose main goal is to make money, satisfy customers and find new markets can die so can a church whose goal it is to serve and proclaim the gospel. A church’s death, unlike a company who loses its customers and dies quickly, can hold on for way to long. Looking back at the history and narrative of the church and pine for days long since gone.
As a leader of the church, someone who is to be a change agent, as Zemke describes, needs to walk the church through the culture change with a wise but gentle hand. If you do not, then anger will flare. You are messing with a history of worship and service for God. Just because their methods are outdated, does not mean they were not relevant and a vital part of the community where they reside. I think to many pastors come into a church, see all the things wrong and just start changing everything all at once, never paying any heed to what or who has come before them. They end up hurting those they were sent to serve and, generally, end up leaving after a few difficult years. They look back and say, that church does not care about people any more. They just want to be comfortable, and that is sometimes true, but more often than not, they want to make a difference they just do not know how to do it and they need a gentle hand to help them move in that direction.
 Zemke, Diame. Being SMART about Congregational Change. , 2014. 39.
 Ibid. 46.
 Ibid. 46.
 Perry, M. (2019). Fortune 500 firms 1955 v. 2017: Only 60 remain, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity – AEI. [online] AEI. Available at: http://www.aei.org/publication/fortune-500-firms-1955-v-2017-only-12-remain-thanks-to-the-creative-destruction-that-fuels-economic-prosperity/ [Accessed 10 May 2019].