Leading Worship Change…What Are You Reading?


changeWorship change is sometimes necessary as congregations consider the culture and context of who is present and who is not present…yet.  Available resources such as books, websites, and trusted leaders from outside the organization could offer assistance in facilitating healthier change.

In an effort to initiate worship change, leaders often push to do something…anything different than what is not working now.  The lack of planning and reflection often causes unnecessary transitional pain.

It can be just as painful, however, when a congregation is hesitant to change even when it is obvious that change is necessary.  Failing to initiate change when change is inevitable can cause a congregation to get stuck and force them to drift out of control for an undetermined season.  Craig Satterlee wrote, “Any change can be approached as either a threat or an opportunity, either a cause for celebration or a reason to despair.”[1]

Since change is often necessary for organizations to progress, the automatic assumption is that change will always require incorporating something completely new.  It is possible that the only new necessary is for the organization to do what they are already doing…better.  Chip and Dan Heath remind us that, “We rarely ask the question:  What’s working and how can we do more of it? What we ask instead is more problem-focused:  What’s broken and how do we fix it?[2] Leaders must also consider that the only new really essential to organizational success may reside in the revitalization of the attitude and resolve of the leader… not with the structure or practices of the organization.

Leaders often plunge into the stream of change without reflecting on the past and present circumstances that frame the structure and practices of their organization.  In their rush to do something fresh they rarely consider the consequences that could occur as a result of ignoring those circumstances.  Andy Stanley challenges leaders with the understanding that, “Designing and implementing a strategy for change is a waste of time until you have discovered and embraced the current reality.  If you don’t know where you really are, it is impossible to get to where you need to be.  What you don’t know can kill you.”[3]


The following book suggestions offer valuable insights into leading worship change with benevolence.  Please add your favorites to the list by clicking on the comments link under my article title above.

carsonCarson, Timothy L., Transforming Worship (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003).

“What we understand correctly is that the immediate past century may indeed take the gold cup for being the historical period of the greatest rapidity, volume, and complexity of change.  People of great longevity who lived for a hundred years between 1900 and 2000 witnessed an almost unbelievable breadth of change.  Many of them sat in our pews.  They were the ones who finally stopped saying, ‘Now I’ve seen it all.’”

“What we misunderstand, however, is that earlier centuries of Christians faced equally shocking and shaking developments.  We forget the innovative and sometimes heroic ways in which they adapted and often flourished.  By remembering, we can avoid the inclination toward either excessive self-congratulation or undue self-pity.”

SatterleeSatterlee, Craig A., When God Speaks Through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition (Herndon: Alban Institute, 2005).

“As living organisms, congregations are by definition in a constant state of change.  Whether the changes are in membership, pastoral leadership, lay leadership, the needs of the community, or the broader culture, a crucial mark of healthy congregations is their ability to deal creatively and positively with change.  The fast pace of change in contemporary culture, with its bias toward, not against change only makes the challenge of negotiating change all the more pressing for congregations.”

“During a congregational transition, faithful preaching ensures that the gospel – and not a program or agenda – is proclaimed and heard.  Effective preaching leads the congregation to experience God’s presence, grace, power, and direction amidst the transition.  Faithful and effective preaching illuminates the mystery inherent in the transition, rather than seeking to eliminate it, so that God provides orientation and direction as the congregation moves into what is still unknown.  Faithful and effective preaching models and declares that God speaks through change.”

Trouble at the tableDoran, Carol and Thomas H. Troeger, Trouble At the Table: Gathering the Tribes for Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992).

“Sometimes in the effort to avoid the pitfalls of acting autocratically and in hope that the conflict will disappear, leaders abdicate their role.  Their denomination has supplied them with hymnals and liturgical resources that are rich with materials for revitalizing their worship, but the threat of conflict and resistance is enough to paralyze them.  It is easier to keep choosing from the same limited selections of congregational songs and to keep the same ritual form than to invest the time and energy required to introduce and lead new material effectively.”

“A great deal of tribal warfare results from people using the power of liturgical leadership to impose forms and methods of worship that have at best a tenuous relationship to the depths and demands of faith. The internal pluralism of the congregation and the quickly changing values and fashions of popular culture make it harder to be ‘cohesive’ and to maintain a clear sense of ‘religious identification.’”

ByarsByars, Ronald P., The Future of Protestant Worship: Beyond the Worship Wars (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002).

“What, other than a pioneering spirit, drives these changes?  In some cases, it seems to be a passion for evangelism, and particularly for reaching out to generations largely missing from traditional churches.  In other cases, it seems to be an attempt to hold on to church members who are bored and reluctant worshipers.  Sometimes, it may be an attempt to duplicate the fabulous numerical successes of single-generation congregations.  But behind those various motivating factors, there is the inescapable fact of dramatic cultural change.  What used to work just fine (or seemed to) doesn’t work anymore.”

“Is anything really essential to Christian worship?  Or is worship simply a blank page, an empty hour or so to be filled with whatever seems religious?  Is it possible to worship in the idiom of popular culture without oversimplifying and even distorting the gospel?  Or, by turning its back on contemporary cultural forms, does the church become elitist, inaccessible to large numbers of people?  Should these questions even be addressed without at least some minimal consultation with Scripture, theology, and history, as well as sociology?  Interested parties have answered all these questions differently.  Since a great deal is at stake, it’s no surprise that passions rise when dealing with them.”

[1] Satterlee, Craig A., When God Speaks through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition (Herndon: Alban Institute, 2005), 6.

[2] Heath, Chip and Dan Heath, Switch:  How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 55.

[3] Stanley, Andy, The Next Generation Leader (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003), 75.


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