Frenchman, Alphonse Karr is credited with the popular proverb that says, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” That’s not true in a growing church.
Larry Osborne, in his insightful book Sticky Teams, said, “NEVER FORGET. GROWTH CHANGES everything. A storefront church, a midsized church, a large church, and a megachurch aren’t simply bigger versions of the same thing. They are completely different animals. They have little in common, especially relationally, organizationally, and structurally. It’s not that one is better than the other. It’s just that they’re different. Leadership teams that fail to recognize or adapt to these differences inevitably experience unnecessary conflict or shrink back to a congregational size that best fits the structures and patterns they cling to.”
Osborne goes on to discuss the different stages of church growth using illustrations from the world of sports. For example, he compares the small church with a single pastor to a TRACK STAR. “The solo pastor may work out with others, but he performs alone, often without fanfare or support and usually before a small crowd peppered with close family and friends.”
The next stage can be compared to GOLFING BUDDIES. “The dynamics of a small group of leaders are very similar to those found among a small group of golfing buddies ... Doing what you like with people you like is hard to beat.” The next stage is the BASKETBALL TEAM. “When a ministry team grows larger, the relationships and functions begin to resemble those on a basketball team far more than anything you’d find on a golf course. Basketball is primarily a team sport, not a friendship sport. It requires working together, trusting one another and sharing the ball. But unlike golfing buddies, members of a basketball team don’t expect that everyone will be best friends. There are too many players for that.”
The final stage, Osborne says, can be compared to a FOOTBALL TEAM. “When a leadership team increases to fifteen or twenty-five members, and in some cases fifty, one hundred, or more, the game changes radically. It starts to feel and function more like a football team. This change can be very unsettling for those who prefer golf or basketball. And for those who still think they’re playing golf or basketball, it can be downright dangerous. Football is a game of highly specialized roles ... It’s no longer possible for everyone to know or have input on what everyone else is doing.”
Osborne goes on to say, “As a ministry grows, some players won’t be able to make the change. Some won’t want to. But there is nothing you or they can do about it. At this size, the game has changed. The only question is whether they will put on the pads or just stand there and get run over.”
A growing church is in a constant state of change. So is a dead or dying church. It comes down to a matter of what kind of change you want to be part of: change that brings life and results in more changed lives. Or change that brings descending degrees of decay, ruin and death. There is no in-between. Churches that try to “stay the same” die.
Dr. Spencer Johnson addressed the idea of dealing with change in his classic book, WHO MOVED MY CHEESE? Dr. Johnson said CHANGE can be a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. The same thing is true in a church. Change is either viewed as a blessing or a curse — depending on our individual perspectives. Some are for change no matter what, no matter where, no matter how, no matter who. Others are for change as long as it doesn’t mean they have to change. Others don’t want anything to change and therein comes the rub. A church, by its very nature, has to change. It cannot remain the same and be who and what God designed her to be.
Fact is, the church changes every day and every person who comes to join us changes it again.
Want to know the irony of all ironies? The person responsible for change in our church is you, me, all of us. In fact, the day we joined the church we changed it forever. It was good then. Remember? If anyone complained about this newest change, well, that was “their problem.” This change was good. Why? Because the change was “us” and we knew this change would be good for the church.
But what about all the changes after that? What about the changes we didn’t know anything about or no one asked us how we felt about it before they did it? Or what about the changes that knocked us out of our comfort zones or to our knees? Well, our response, as Dr. Johnson puts it, depends completely upon our perspective and our attitude.
When it comes to change in the church there are at least two things we all need to be aware of: (1) The quote by Alphonse Karr is not true in the church: “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Fact is, the church changes every day and every person who comes to join us changes it again. Forever. And (2) The people who will join our church this week, think this latest change is a “good” change and that anyone who complains about it, well, that’s “their problem.”
Larry Osborne continues, “Too often, organizations and leaders insist on playing with the equipment, rules and regulations they are most comfortable with, even when the game has changed completely. It’s a tough way to lead. The odds of success are about the same as for the world’s greatest golfer to drop a five-foot putt with a basketball. Some things won’t happen, no matter how hard we try or how talented we may be.”
“In contrast, successful leaders and healthy organizations play the game that’s in season. They accept the new conditions and rules. They discern what kind of leadership is needed and adjust their structures, roles and relationships accordingly ...
... And then they play ball!”
© 2019. Barry L. Cameron
STICKY TEAMS was written by Larry Osborne, Pastor at North Coast Church in San Diego, CA. North Coast is one of the largest, most influential and innovative churches in America. The book was written in 2010 and published by Zondervan. It is available through Amazon.com or you can order it through our bookstore, The Disciple Shop.
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.