Relentless focus on the mission.

Uncompromising devotion to the vision.

Insistence on “no more business as usual.”

These hallmark behaviors distinguish pastors capable of introducing change that results in new life and new growth in stagnant and dying churches from pastors who don’t.[1]

Do you know what’s implicit in these behaviors?

Demand for change.

A pastor’s ability to precipitate change rests directly on the ability to say, “No!” and stand firm. Pastors intent on rescuing stagnant and dying churches don’t enjoy saying no any more than anyone else. But they do it because they must.

There are at least 5 times they must say, “No how. No way. Not gonna happen if we’re gonna work our way out of this mess.”

1. Say “No!” to things that don’t fit the shared vision.

Someone once asked to use our church for a K-6 Christian school. The Deacon Board had decided to use the church’s limited financial and human resources help parents disciple their own children, so this was a simple decision.

I said, “No.”

Dropping kids off at church for someone else to teach didn’t fit our vision. Instead, we launched an AWANA program after receiving a high level of commitment for parental involvement.

Pastor, new opportunities will come your way. If it doesn’t fit naturally into your church’s vision then just say no.

2. Say “No!” to disruptive members who rain on the parade.

In my coaching I marvel that pastors let disruptive members suck up valuable time and sidetrack the mission.

One pastor I coach described his problem with the Youth leaders, a volunteer couple who became disruptive when scruffy neighborhood kids threatened to “pollute” their hermetically sealed youth chamber. (I’ve heard this same complaint many times, so maybe it’s common in smaller churches).

I asked, “How long are you going to tolerate this? Your church is growing. It is reaching new families in the neighborhood. These kids – with all their baggage – need to hear the gospel, experience grace, and grow in the knowledge of God. When are you going to pull the plug?”

Within a few weeks the disruptors were gone. Several families departed with them, but this temporary setback was but a speed bump A few months later new people had replaced the departed. Today the church is healthier for it.

How long will you let problem people suck up your time, Pastor? Pain will be involved no matter what you do. Do you think it will hurt less if you wait a little longer?

3. Say “No!” to complaints and announcement requests just before services start.

It’s happened to all of us.

We’re on our way to the front just as the worship team fires up the first song. Someone waylays you with an urgent announcement. Something that didn’t get into the bulletin. A last-minute decision about the Annual Spaghetti Supper and Hog Calling Contest. Or it’s a complaint about the way you (fill in the blank).

Now you’re steaming. Your heart’s not into worship. Now you’re off your game.

If you’re going to change the way your congregation “does business” you’ll have to put a stop to this informal, inconsiderate and ineffective way of conveying information from party to party. It may work fine in a church of 40, but if you don’t break this cycle nothing’s going to change. You’re stuck with a communications system tailored for a church of 40.

Here’s how you change it up.

  • Set a deadline – when do items need to be in the office to make the bulletin?
  • Set a limit to the number of platform announcements. I prefer zero, but most Pastors can’t withstand the pressure, so set it at two or three things everyone needs to hear.
  • Publish both and make sure everyone knows about the new policy.
  • Tell everyone you’ll not receive last-minute announcements or complaints before service.
  • The next time someone comes to you with either, hand them a 3×5 card. Tell them to write it down and give it to you after church.

I can promise you, it’ll only happen once. After that everyone will get the message and you won’t have to deal with it again.

4. Say “No!” to business as usual.

Stagnant and dying churches are like college football teams running the Double Eagle Flex Defense. 20 years ago it was brilliant. But change is the name of the game in football. Against the modern Zone Read Option or the Air Raid, that once genius defense gets you killed because it leaves the middle open to the short slant when it breaks down into a 4–2–5 for deep coverage, which also permits the offense to … Oops, sorry, I got carried away!

The point is, what worked twenty years ago probably doesn’t today. Things have changed. If your church doesn’t change to accommodate, it will decline over time.

So you’ve got to say no to business as usual. Here are some things you need to seriously think about rejecting for 2015 and beyond:

  • Baseline budgeting (Take last year’s budget and add 10%).
  • Vacation Bible School (Unless your vision is to babysit kids from other churches).
  • Business meetings (Replace them with vision casting and forecasting events).
  • Unproductive programs (There are plenty of oxen to gore these days).
  • Monuments that anchor you to the past (Can’t we rid the platform of that memorial American flag donated by Brother Gumball to commemorate his late wife’s passing?).
  • Doing the job others should do (You’ve got Elders, Deacons, Church officers, Ministry leaders and congregants who should do the work of ministry! Why are you enabling their indolence?).

Which leads to the fifth and perhaps most important denial you can utter to bring about healthy change in your church.

5. Say “No!” to “change back” messages.

You don’t need expertise in systems theory to introduce change into a church, but you need to recognize that stagnant and dying churches are like dysfunctional families. Change is a threat that introduces stress into the church.

Systems theory helps by preparing you for the predictable opposing response, the “change back” message. Some in the church will tell you go “go back to the way things were.” When you don’t, they form alliances and threaten trouble if you insist on the change.

How do you say no to these change back messages? By staying in close contact with them.

  1. Listen carefully and respectfully.[2]
  2. Center on the reason for the change.
  3. Re-state your reasons for the record.
  4. Love them unconditionally (Visit them, pray with them, listen to them, explain why the change needs to happen and the costs of not changing & etc.).

If you say no to the change back message with firm love, something odd happens. Other church members will respect you more for withstanding the pressure to change back. They will be glad you stood firm, often because they didn’t like the status quo ante but were reluctant to say anything about it!


How do you deal with the internal pressure to say “Yes” to a request when you know you should say no? Click here to leave your comments below.


  1. Malphurs and Penfold have identified these characteristics as hallmarks that distinguish Turnaround Pastors from Status Quo Pastors. “Revitalizers are focused and determined. They realize what’s important, focus on that, and push until it gets done.” Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon Penfold, Re:Vision, p. 116.  â†©
  2. Do not, under any circumstances, deal with these issues via email!  â†©