Collateral Damage

Any time leaders change something significant in their churches there is collateral damage; someone is going to get upset and possibly leave the church. The bigger the change, the greater the potential for collateral damage.

Collateral damage is the reason some leaders are afraid to change things in their churches. They are afraid of hurting people’s feelings, or they are afraid of losing people. After all, if people leave the church, they won’t be there to give. If they aren’t there to give, the church won’t have the money to operate. If the church doesn’t have the money to operate, the mission won’t be accomplished. This kind of mental gymnastics is a cop out.
Collateral damage is also why some leaders make sweeping changes too quickly. They have a “growth by subtraction” mentality that says, “If people aren’t going to back the vision, then they need to leave”. While I believe that one of the best things for a church is for the complainers to leave, we must be careful of alienating potential allies. There’s a difference between a complainer and someone who is slow to change.
Both of these kinds of leaders are ungodly. The first puts satisfying the flock before the mission. She second is willing to divide the body of Christ for their own agenda. Interestingly, in my experience the first kind of leader tends to be older while the second kind tends to be younger. That’s a very stereotypical statement, but it is what I see in much of my consulting. In any case, the first kind of leader needs a stronger back bone, and the second kind of leader needs a softer heart.
So how do we leaders navigate change and minimize collateral damage?
  • Communicate with “opinion shapers” and lovingly try to win them over.
  • Commit to love people, even when they don’t agree with you.
  • Publicly set a future date for the change to be implemented.
  • Give people time to mourn the thing they are losing.
  • Give people the opportunity to talk with you and share their concerns.
  • CONTINUALLY share how this change will help your church fulfill the mission (cast vision).
  • DO NOT give in to the pressure to recall the coming change.
  • Make the change on the set date (don’t miss this).
Even after all of this, it’s likely that someone won’t be on board with the change. You might still lose someone from your congregation, so keep your mission in mind. We are in a spiritual war and there is far more at stake than disgruntled church members; people’s souls are on the line. In a war there will be collateral damage. Don’t be so afraid of it that you stop leading your church forward. On the other hand, don’t be so comfortable with collateral damage that you are willing to leave a trail of bodies in your wake for the sake of your goal. Be a leader with a strong back bone and a soft heart. In doing so, you’ll be better equipped to navigate change in your church.
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Alan Danielson is the Lead Pastor of a church that’s probably a lot like yours. New Life Bible Church is a church of a few hundred people, but not long ago he was on the executive staff of Life.Church in Edmond, OK. Now, along with pastoring New Life, Alan is a consultant and has worked with many of America’s largest churches. Despite this, Alan has a passion for the small church. That’s why he lives by the personal conviction that no church is too small for him to work with. Alan founded Triple-Threat Solutions to help leaders of and churches of all sizes grow. Learn more from Alan at