How to Ruin the Chances of Change Happening in Your Church (In One Simple Step)

Chances are you want to change something.

Or a lot of things.

You’re a leader. You have a vision. A passion. So do members of your team.

But so many visions die because of opposition to change.  And leaders grow disillusioned.

As a result, in so many churches and organizations, change seems impossible.




Here’s How to Ruin Change

There are a host of reasons change doesn’t happen. (I talk about those reasons and how to overcome the obstacles to change in detail here.)

But if you don’t solve this one issue that plagues so many churches and organizations, you will always sabotage change.

How do most leaders kill change without knowing it?

It’s really quite simple: give everyone a say.

Change is almost impossible when everyone has a say.


Why On Earth Would We Want Everyone To Have a Say?

There is this strange consensus in the church and in many non-profit organizations that says everyone should have a say when there’s a proposed change.


I mean, does any effective organization run that way?

I realize you are ready to hit the ‘comment’ button right now and fight back, but push hard. Think about this.

Can you ever find an example where an effective biblical leader tried to give everyone a say?  I suppose the best example is when Moses disappeared and Aaron took over and listened to the people (Exodus 32).

If the goal of our change is gold calfs and idol worship, giving everyone a say may be exactly what we need to do.

Think of what never would have happened if everyone had a say:

The Israelites would still be back in Egypt if everyone had a say. They wanted to turn back from freedom as soon as they left. 

Jesus never would have gone to the cross. His disciples thought it was a terrible idea.

The early church would have never been born. Very few people thought including the Gentiles was a good option.

Surgery might never have been invented. Seriously, who thought cutting open another human body to save a life was a stellar idea (even if it was)?

We still would be riding in horse drawn carriages. As Henry Ford famously quipped “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

You couldn’t run a business if you had to get people to vote every time you had to make an important decision. You couldn’t run a country that way for that matter.

The problem with giving everyone a say is that everyone has an opinion.  When everyone has an opinion, it’s impossible to get consensus.  And even if you pull off the Herculean feat of getting consensus from a crowd, the vision will be so diluted it won’t be worth sacrificing for.

So why would you run an organization in such a way that everyone has a say?


So What Do You Do?

Because it takes a leader (or team of leaders) to bring people to a place where they would not naturally go, you need a strategy to accomplish that goal.
So…what’s your strategy for that?

Here’s what I believe is key:

1. Have the humility to listen to all voices, but the wisdom to follow the most insightful voices.

Read all your emails. Host some meetings. Listen to people. Empathize (here’s how to do that). But listen most to the most insightful voices. The most insightful voices will provide both correction and direction.

2. Give people a time for input, but leave the decision making to leaders.

When you separate discussion from decision making, things go better. If you stop giving everyone a say in the future by reserving the decision making to leaders, you will have a much healthier organization.

So how do you get input without giving everyone a say in what you should do next? Hold a town hall style meeting for discussion, without a vote. At Connexus where I serve, we offer occasional Town Hall style meetings for information and so people can be heard. Often people just want to ask question, and getting together can be a great forum for that. The decisions remain with elected and accountable leaders, and that frees up the conversation with others to be far more healthy because a decision isn’t at risk.

Next week, I’ll share three tips on how to hold a non-voting Town Hall style meeting with your church with my Blog Insiders via email. If you’re not an insider, sign up today (fill in the box under my pic) and you’ll get that email on Monday. As a bonus, you’ll also immediately get my free ebook, 5 Strategies to Reach Unchurched People.)

3. Lead boldly

 Once you’ve listened, lead. If you’ve got a good team and a God-given direction, go for it. Often people will thank you for taking them to a place they didn’t initially want to go.

Input happens best


Get Going…

So here’s a new way of thinking about change that could help everyone in the end.

If you stop focusing on what everyone is saying, you might get everyone somewhere worth going.

What do you think? What has helped you navigate this obstacle to change?

I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment.



  1. Mark on April 28, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    I know what I am late to the discussion but I want to add one thing, homogeneous leadership. If everyone with a vote thinks the same way, then no one will think that change is necessary or that what is planned won’t work.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 29, 2014 at 6:37 am

      That is a great point Mark. Thank you.—
      Sent from Mailbox

  2. Sven Leeuwestein on March 27, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Thx Carey. I am part of a Christian NGO where they lead like you suggest. It works really well, but in some cases the tension between seeking bearingsurface and the wisdom of when to push decisionmaking isn’t easy.

  3. Ken Noble on March 15, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Carey, maybe u can make a distinction here btw a large church and a very small one. Large churches are like ‘organisations’ while smaller churches tend to have this ‘family’ outlook. So I think your post is more befitting of a large church. I mean, it’s even unrealistic if not ridiculous, to consult a congregation of say 200 or more people to make a decision. The outcome’ll be as good as the US Senate/House.

    To this extent, I agree with your post! The pastor of a large church can operate like this without being controlling; but there’s a thin line here though. So I’m a bit cautious too. It can be the sign of a controlling pastor. And if its a very small church, its even a bigger sign; though not always the case. Cos even a group as small as a small choir, the choir leader once asked members to decide what we wear on Sunday. By that he simply gave us the stage to rigmarole, and we did exactly that. Everyone was split between the rainbow colours.There was just no consensus even over a trivial matter as choice of shirt colour. I had to advise our choir leader he didn’t need to consult on a such an issue. He should simply tell us what to wear and we won’t complain. So, yeah, its relative. But in a small church, less of this leadership style may be more appropriate than in a large church.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 16, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Ken…thanks for this. I think maybe you’ve zeroed in on the the difference. Leadership isn’t all about control, and control isn’t necessarily leadership. We need leaders in all organizations.

  4. Donald Sensing on March 15, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    In all the Bible, I find no place where God gave visions to committees.

  5. ghartwell on March 8, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    I just landed here so I am new but taken back by the central thesis, except I don’t think you mean it the way you sound. I do not like the easy acceptance of the leader vs flock model of church. I have seen this reasoning used by pastors who are controlling, in the nicest of way, but controlling. It is their agenda and they are able, within the power structure, to ensure that it gets done while looking like they are consulting with everyone.

    Some who teach on Spiritual Abuse defined it as the ‘leader’ imposing his vision on the church and recruiting others into it. So I find the bald statement of your thesis, frankly, scary. It is too close to that definition, though I do not think that is what you intend.

    In addition you make the assumption that you are bringing people where they would not naturally go. Really? Can you not servant lead in such a way that you facilitate each one God has called to fulfill their mission.

    I am redefining your role as the servant leader not as leading ‘the church’ somewhere, but as creating the nurturing home base of support that allows each Christian to be effective in what God has called them to do in their life (not in the church, in their life in family, school and work-place.)

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      That’s right. This is not about abuse or control. And even when a leader shares a vision, if it doesn’t at some point resonate in the hearts of others, it’s a vision that’s not leading anywhere. So it is servant leadership for sure. It’s also a vision that ultimately resonates with others, even if at first it might not.

      • George on March 9, 2014 at 8:42 pm

        I like the sense of balance in that. 🙂

        • Carey Nieuwhof on March 10, 2014 at 1:15 pm

          Thanks George. Welcome to the conversations that happen around here. They’re almost always great ones.

  6. Kelli Espiritu on March 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Again, well done. Thanks for sharing the problem & offering solutions. Implementing the above is successful if the elders, deacons, pastors posses the utmost integrity. Insert here the link “5 signs you lack integrity”. Haha As one who has served in ministry for over two decades, In my opinion, giving everyone a say exhausts the system. Leaders need to believe in their God given positions, navigate against pride, have some sort of accountability and strive to hear the voice of the One who created them. I’m all for allowing input…people desire to be heard. That breeds some type of ownership.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 7, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Kelli…so true. Thanks! You’re right, the character of the leaders ultimate determines the integrity of the organization. Great point!

    • ghartwell on March 8, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      Is there a distinction, in your view, between ‘people desire to be heard’ and the objective of creating authentic community among the saints?

  7. clay on March 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    I think this sort of article needs a bit of caveat. At some level leaders have to make the call. That’s why they are recognized at leaders. Someone has to steer the ship or it runs aground. Before we push our change, I think we have to ensure that we are building Christ’s kingdom and his church – not serving our own agendas. Building our own little kingdoms and solidifying power into a smaller group (likely one loyal to us) is seductive to clergy. At the church I serve, our leaders practice servant leadership (and handle crises such as getting the roof fixed if it blows off) and one of the hallmarks of the church IS that everyone gets a say and has opportunities to vote on major issues (including a vote each year on whether or not to retain my services as pastor). This works for us because our folks are committed to the church and willing to agree to disagree on non-essentials. Regardless of context, leaders must decide what the change is worth. What are they willing to lose in the process. That is where the leadership team comes in. If they are trusted by the laity, they can help champion change in a healthy way by helping folks on the fence understand why the change is needed. Lack of understanding the rationale for the change is one of the primary sources of resistance. And many resistant folks deeply love our church and just don’t want to see it harmed.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 7, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      I agree Clay that servant leadership is key to all models, including yours. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Nancy Whelehan Leport on March 7, 2014 at 10:27 am

    I served a very small, aging church as an interim. The entire congregation (30) composed the pastoral search committee. At first I was worried but we spent months working together on criteria and visioning. By the time we were on to looking at resumes there was a consensus of what they needed. They were clear that it may not be what they wanted but they felt the future was at stake and realized that they were not the future of the church. The mantra became we are calling the church’s next pastor not my next pastor. It was amazing and nothing short of a miracle. They did indeed call the pastor they needed and some people were not happy with the changes. However, they also are mature enough to realize that this is the reality of today’s church and they support the new pastor. BTW I have not served any other church were I would even consider this so your article is spot on in so many ways. And from time to time God gives us an exception. Thanks Be To God!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 7, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      Nancy, this is quite a unique story. Never heard of a full congregation search committee, but I’m glad for the result. Wow! Great leadership on your part in steering them in a direction they might not otherwise have gone. And for sure…thanks be to God.

      • Nancy Whelehan Leport on March 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm

        Carey, it was one of the most exciting and satisfying experiences I have ever had in 25 years of ministry.

        • ghartwell on March 8, 2014 at 6:07 pm

          In a sense it is a miracle when real community is achieved at a time like this, but when it happens something wonderful occurs – the Gentle Dove settles in.

  9. Joel Zehring on March 7, 2014 at 12:27 am

    “There is this strange consensus in the church and in many non-profit organizations that says everyone should have a say when there’s a proposed change.


    I mean, does any effective organization run that way?”

    I agree that organizations, especially those of a certain size, need leadership-driven decision making.

    But is the church supposed to be an organization, or an organism?

    Maybe it’s not an either/or, but it should be noted that some believers have decided that church should be more like a family than a business, and the resulting churches look much different than your typical church down the street. Felicity Dale, Neil Cole, and Frank Viola have shed light on these alternatives to the “business as usual” churches in their blogs and books.

    There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to churches, but readers should know that leader-driven churches are not the only viable churches out there.

    • heidi on March 7, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      I agree that the church is more like a family than a business. But think about it… When change is necessary in a family, we do exactly what the author is proposing here–we listen to the concerns and the fears of the children, but in the end, taking all of the input into account, the leaders (parents) lead the change. The author is right–this isn’t merely a business model–it is also a biblical model.

  10. christoph on March 6, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    well, one lesson I learned: We have to take folks through the process of change. One Pastor in our region “forced” change. He got his way. But in the process lost about 50% of his members. Some of them are integrated in another church.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 6, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      That’s a tough one Christoph. Sometimes that can be the end of the road. But sometimes that kind of loss can be the beginning of something better. The quality of leadership and context determines which it becomes.

  11. John A. Giurin on March 6, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    It’s odd that the Pastor or Minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada is called the teaching Elder when so often they are looked on as the main leader. Their work with the ruling Elders must indeed be a shared task but even in that small group one person should stand out as the visionary and driver of change. It’s up to the Session to move the church forward but it can devolve into a “too many cooks” situation if folks don’t set aside their own personal agendas in favour of what God seeks to do through and with them.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 6, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Thanks John. Good to hear from you! It’s for those reasons that within the Presbyterian Church and now outside of it I always appreciate a smaller group of elders. A small group of strong leaders aligned around a mission, vision and strategy can accomplish much.

  12. Nikki Smalling on March 6, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Love this. There’s this overwhelming sense of “but everyone must agree because we’re a church” that has crippled us in so many ways when it comes to reaching communities, neighborhoods, and even each other. I’m in the middle of watching what happens when everyone has a say but nobody wants to (or can, even) move in a clear direction. The result is a large meeting that turns into smaller meetings which turns into confusion and has lead to the grumbling and mumbling among those who long for a clear direction and those who are afraid to sacrifice what’s “always worked”. The worst part is that we’re catching non-believers in the crossfire and perpetuating the myth that church doesn’t work.

    It can work. And it can be so beautiful when people all come together united under the same vision to launch the gospel into a dark world. Let’s have more of that which takes more leaders (like me) willing to lead with a boldness that can only come from God. Thanks Carey for your insight!

  13. Mike Scamihorn on March 6, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Explains so much about why the unity desired in the consensus of Quaker meetings limits the ability to act on anything to only a small congregational setting. Yearly meetings are dying because the things that keep life relevant are changing faster than the leadership can get approval from everyone to even repaint the meeting house. We will continue to struggle to have a voice unless we hear the call of our founding fathers to press into interventions in their communities that might offer hope and restoration and relevant relationship. Thanks for parting the fog….light bulb is on…time to listen and lead.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 6, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      Governance is going to be a major issue moving forward Mike. Thanks!

  14. Shelley Drake on March 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you for the insights and the balance. It’s always difficult to listen well but not necessarily heed. We struggle with this as we mature and move from the counsel of mom and dad alone to the counsel of others we deem wise. We struggle with this in all aspects of church ministry, never wanting to “upset” anyone. An interesting read that adds to this conversation is Edwin Friedman’s, A Failure of Nerve. It tests or questions some of the basic emotional principles in leadership and, in our case, Church leadership. You bring up a great point in Moses, echoed by the prophets. As I recall, Ezekiel was the only one lying on his side for days – he wasn’t joined by multitudes who agreed with his choice. I’m learning. And thank you for encouraging me in the process.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 6, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      Shelley…thanks for this comment and for the reference to Friedman’s book. Haven’t read that yet. Thank you!

  15. Keith Edwards on March 6, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Fantastic and thought-provoking! “The majority is always right….” Yeah, right? I’ve been reading “Who Runs The Church?” where various forms of church government reflect the healthy tension that must exist to prevent leaders from the extremes of ‘passivity’ – trying to follow instead of lead and ‘dictatorial domination’ where lone wolves destroy the flock.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      You’re right. It’s not absolute power to anyone. Agreed. But this idea that everyone gets a say has to die for change to happen.

      • ghartwell on March 8, 2014 at 6:15 pm

        I notice in the above comments that the sense of mission of the church is not the Body of Christ as salt and light in the world but the corporation, the worship centre. This has alienated every Christian from his or her own calling and mission – as if that was worthless – and focused on this big ‘church’ thing as if it had to do something. Lets empower, support and release the saints to be effective right where they are planted (and I do not mean the church they attend.)

        • Carey Nieuwhof on March 9, 2014 at 8:08 pm

          I appreciate your view point, but I don’t think the church as a place to gather necessarily alienates people from their true calling. A healthy church complements and completes a believer’s calling. It’s not either or. It’s both and.

          • George Hartwell on March 9, 2014 at 11:03 pm

            OF course it does not necessarily negate a person’s mission to belong to a church, but, in practice it does. It seems the leader in your post is focus on a mission for the ‘church’ – the one he or she leads – the local church – the organized church – the one that runs the worship center. If I am right about the leader’s vision, it will not encourage and support the individual calling to participate as a saint in their work, school or family – the places where they engage full-time. In my observation. few church’s teach (and mean it and implement it) a vision of mission as what everyone is doing day by day. I detect no different point of view in the above comments, which lead to my comment in the first place.

  16. davpettengill on March 6, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Carey once again awesome post! As I have shared before I am fairly new senior pastor (1 1/2 years) with about 10-11 years experience in youth and young adult ministry. I am 35 years old and am serving in a United Methodist Church that has had a drastic decline in the last 10 years. The church has had some pretty destructive patterns that have hurt the church over the decades. I still have tons to learn and your posts are very helpful to me as I want to help lead the church to a healthy place. I have made mistakes and I am trying to learn what I can to be the best pastor I can be.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      Dave…thanks for the encouragement and I’m so glad to make the connection with you. Keep leading boldly and faithfully. I have a heart for change in the existing church.

  17. Matt Brough on March 6, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Thanks for this Carey. This is bang on. It seems like everyone having say might be one of the problems for denominations as well. Do you think this also applies to denominational decision making?

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