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3 Truths About The Accelerating Pace of Change and Leadership


by Carey Nieuwhof: accelerating change

When was the last time you had a productive conversation about the pace of change?

In many businesses, that conversation happens all the time. In church world….it rarely happens.

Instead, church leaders will talk about how hard it is to change and how slow the pace of change is. Other they bemoan the reality that their church will never change (here are 7 signs that’s likely the case at your church).

What if there’s far more at stake in the conversation around change than you think?

Like irrelevance, for starters.

What’s the fastest path to irrelevance? Simple. Don’t change.

Why are change and relevance connected? It has everything to do with speed and currency.

Rick Warren said it well in his Tedx Talk: when the speed of change around an organization is faster than the speed of change within the organization, the organization becomes irrelevant.


The fastest path to irrelevance? Simple. Don’t change. Click To Tweet

Here are 3 truths about the accelerating pace of change and church leadership.

1. Culture never asks permission to change. It just changes.

Ever notice that culture never asks permission to change? It just changes.

In the last decade and a bit, think about the change we’ve seen.

Long distance calls used to cost money. Now they don’t.  Weekday minutes were expensive.  Evening and weekend minutes were cheap. Remember telling your friends you’d call them after 6 p.m. or on Saturday? Now that’s irrelevant.

Payphones are gone. So have video stores. Record stores are almost extinct except for vintage vinyl places. Ditto with phone books, and even calling 411 (anyone remember when you used to call a number for information?).

What do all of these changes have in common? None of these changes asked for anyone’s permission…they just happened.

One of the reasons change will continue to be hard is because culture never asks permission to change. It just changes.

Culture never asks permission to change. It just changes.Click To Tweet

2. Culture will change faster than you

So let me ask you…what’s changing faster, the culture or the church?



The pace of cultural change has accelerated significantly in the last few decades for at least one key reason: everyone moved online and all delay was taken out of communication.

Social media has accelerated the pace of change even further, because trends catch on almost instantly now.

Think of fashion and design. Trends come and go faster than you post a selfie.

But it’s more than just preferences that are changing. Netflix killed video stores. Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi industry. Amazon and online shopping are making retail malls look like ghost towns.

As a result, culture is changing faster than many organizations, let alone churches.

So what’s the point here? Great question.

It’s simple: self-awareness.

Many churches have implemented some level of change and proudly proclaim themselves as up to date and current.

The truth is, the church might no longer feel like 1968. Instead, it feels like 1996 or 2004.

The church is contemporary compared to what it used to be, but it’s not at all current with the culture.

Add to that the reality that the change was painful enough that the leaders don’t want to change any more.

Want a quick test to see how current your church is? Check the copyright dates on the songs you sing most. Many ‘contemporary’ churches are at least a decade behind.

Then check the average age of your musicians and worship leaders.

I know, not a fun exercise. But it simply reveals this: what you think is contemporary isn’t.

What many churches think is contemporary, isn’t.Click To Tweet

3. Leaders who don’t understand the culture will never be able to speak into it

I fully understand that more than a few readers of this post will feel their blood pressure rising and anger growing.

After all, what’s the goal of this all? To mimic culture? Aren’t we supposed to be in the world but not of it? And isn’t the church an alternative to culture.

Well, the goal of the church is not to mimic culture. Our goal is to lead people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But those people live in a culture that we often don’t understand.

And here’s the hard news: leaders who don’t understand the culture will never be able to speak into it.

Leaders who don’t understand the culture will never be able to speak into it.Click To Tweet

You become like the older adult who can’t communicate with anyone under 40 because you only call people, never text, don’t do social media and think all of that is unnecessary.

You become like the carriage maker in the age of the Model T who can’t understand why no one wants to hitch wagons to their horses anymore.

Leaders who lose touch with the culture won’t be able to reach it.

Leaders who lose touch with the culture won’t be able to reach it.Click To Tweet

So What Do You Do?

So what do you do if you find both you and your church out of touch and ineffective at speaking into the lives of people living in 2017?

A few things.

1. Become a student of culture

My personal musical tastes don’t exactly run as current or mainstream as a 25 year old any more. But every month I’ll jump on Apple Music or Spotify and listen to a current Top 40 playlist to listen just to hear what others are listening to.

Ditto with film and TV. Staying on top of culture by growing sites like Entertainment Weekly or even People can help you stay on top of what’s current. Sure, they’re not exactly the literature of champions, but if you don’t understand the culture, you’ll have a harder time reaching it.

2. Surround yourself with younger leaders

Wise older leaders surround themselves with younger leaders. Personally, I love being around young leaders. They bring a fresh energy, perspective and joy to life and leadership that I value so much.

In addition, people under 30 are cultural natives. They get trends because they make them.

Having young thinkers, dreamers and leaders around your table in leadership and having them a part of your life will keep you fresh and in tune with what’s happening.

Better yet…let them lead.

Young leaders understand trends because they make them.Click To Tweet

3. Don’t freeze

The biggest challenge with change is most of us think at some point we’ll be done.

That’s just not true.

Most churches stop changing at some point. Walking into a church, you can usually smell a year. Some churches smell like 1977, some like 1989, others like 2010. You smell like the year you stopped changing. Churches freeze in particular years because the leaders stopped innovating.

So…don’t freeze. Keep morphing. Keep changing. Stay current, and you’ll always be relevant to the culture.

Every church starts to smell like the year in which it stopped changing.Click To Tweet

What Helps You Stay Current?

Want more on change?

I wrote about how to lead change in my book, Leading Change Without Losing It.

I wrote about the cultural and strategic issues churches need to engage to grow in my latest book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow. I even created a Team Edition video series for Lasting Impact so you could discuss it with your staff, board or team.

So…what helps you stay current?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

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