Transformation is a Biblical process that takes people from where they are to where God wants them to be. Sometimes we call it assimilation; at other times we refer to it as the over-arching goal of discipleship.

We know (at least, by now, we should) that the primary reason for the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Transformation, not change, is at issue. Change is whipping two eggs thereby changing the consistency. When the eggs turn into an omelet, transformation has occurred. It is impossible to “morph” a machine into an organism. No matter how you modify, simplify, flatten, or paint it, it is still a machine. The word transition is often used because it is familiar, but we need to understand that we are, in essence, developing a new “threshold.” Revitalization is impossible today for most churches. We have to give birth to a whole new way of life. If you a passion for making disciples, you’ll find a way to transform. The passion for making disciples is not just taking care of people as we often define ministry. A passion for the mission is what leads people to change. We are about calling people to fall in love with the mission all over again!

Some may ask: “Why worry about transformation?” It is estimated by a lot of people smarter than yours truly that nine out of ten (90%) churches will have to make radical changes in the way they do most everything or else they will die within the next 20 years. Some reports indicate around 7,000 churches close per year. Statistical reports show that 80-85% of all churches in America are in decline. Just moving chairs around or throwing up screens and putting cappuccino machines in the Narthex will not work. We need more; we need to go deeper. The church in America needs to be transformed into the Church God calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keep us in the faith to be.

The stories from “declining” churches and “thriving” churches are different. A few years ago, focus groups were formed around the country to discuss their spiritual journeys. People in dying and thriving churches told a vastly different story about their relationships to the church. Note the differences:

Declining Church Members                                Thriving Church Members

Committed to the church                                        Committed to Christ

Managing committees                                             Deploying missionaries

Holding offices                                                         Doing “hands-on” ministries

Making “decisions” from people                            Making disciples for Jesus

Serving at the church                                              Serving in the world

Preoccupied with raising money                           Preoccupied with rescuing people

Doing church work                                                  Finding personal fulfillment

Retiring from church work                                      Pursuing constant personal growth

Surveying internal needs                                       Sensitized to community needs

Eager to know everyone                                         Eager for everyone to know God

Loyal to each other                                                  Drawn to the unchurched

Trained for membership                                         Life long quest for personal growth

Building faith on information                                  Building faith on experiencing Christ

Perpetuating a heritage                                          Visioning a future

Transformation, as seen from the comments of these focus groups, is more than just changing the furniture or the programming; it ultimately requires a change of heart! We discussed this on Sunday during our Bible class time. Looking at where we are (“as-is”) and looking toward what we want to be (“to-be”), we’ve started a “gap-analysis” where we are discussing what it’s going to take to get from “as-is” to “to-be” as a congregation. Strategic transformation is key to our shared, future outcomes!

Understanding why most attempts at transformation fail in churches is part of the process of developing a strategy for transformation. The most common reasons for failure are:

  • The leaders do not have a vision of a preferred future. Too much time is spent on solving or ignoring problems and taking care of the members. The most important thing a leader can do in the transformation process is to provide an atmosphere in which people feel as if it is okay to change. The pain of the transformation process is overcome by the promise of the future. For example: Moses had to paint a picture of a land with milk and honey in order for the people to see beyond the mud-pits. One could think it would be easy to help people leave the mud-pits. Not so. They were not willing to leave until the promise of something better overcame the pain and fear of leaving what is familiar even if it is filled with pain. For the joy that had been set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame. Developing and managing the vision is the most important aspect of transition. You don’t manage the transformation process; you manager the vision. Most organizations are over-managed.
  • Too much complacency exists among the core leaders. There is no sense of urgency, so leaders become at ease in Zion and ignore the warning signs.
  • No group of influential, authentic, key leaders exist within the congregation. They leaders which are present lead by power, force, coercion, or intimidation.
  • The vision is not constantly cast and managed. If there is a vision it is often cast and then quickly forgotten by the leader(s) and the organization. Too many leaders jump from one vision to another without managing one, single vision. One vision is usually all anyone can handle in their life-time.
  • The status quo is often too large an obstacle. Usually the obstacles are “controllers” or the number of meetings one has to go to or rules one has to follow.
  • It’s been too long since the church experienced a “victory.” The morale is too low to believer God can do much through them.
  • The transformation or vision has not become part of the culture of the church.
  • Failure to understand that change happens differently in churches than in business. Restructuring usually comes early in the transformation process in business, but seldom in the church. It usually comes later after new leadership has had some success at the transformation Restructuring is too confusing for long-term institutional people. Hiring is also much easier in business than a church. Too many churches do the hiring and firing through a committee, which seldom works. Most church members would rather “die than fire.”

So that this “blog” is not just a “throw-away”: Take some time to think through:

  1. Looking at the comments of “declining churches” and “thriving churches,” list the items on the left side of the column which your church regularly practices as opposed to those on the right side. These are things you must give up some time in order to transition.
  2. Determine which of the nine obstacles listed are hindering your church from

Even though you’ve missed much of the Bible class studies, that does not mean you can’t get involved! We continue to meet on Sundays and Wednesdays, and the door is always open for you!