What if you had spent the last 40-50 years tying your shoes a certain way, and someone came along with a way of tying your shoes that was completely different? What if they promised you it would be much more efficient and simple? What if they promised you over time you would see greater personal effectiveness? You would most likely be immediately dismissive or skeptical at best.
When we begin a discussion about shifting a church to a neighboring model, we should expect the same responses. When we go from a “me” focus to a “we” focus and from an “attractional, come and see” model to a “decentralized, go and be” model, we are often talking to a group of people who have tied their shoes a certain way for the past several decades. You can change models or structures overnight. But you can only change culture over time.
Most of us are familiar with the Diffusion of Innovation ideas begun by Everett Rogers over 50 years ago talking about innovators, early adopters, etc. When we start to talk with some of the people in our church about neighboring, the unwillingness of people to change can discourage us. Another possibility is we may underestimate the time needed to change due to our own nature as innovators or our interactions with innovators and early adopters who attend our church.
So what should we do? We need to be very aware that changing a church culture will take five years. It might go faster, and it might take longer. We should expect, though, five years of work. With that in mind, what’s the best sequence for changing the culture?
I have found over the past twenty years the key to moving a church toward a neighboring movement is not vision, structure, design, or implementation. The key is transforming the heart. The best way to start changing culture is through prayer where we align our heart with the heart of God. So here is a five-year suggestion for shifting your culture.
Year 1: Prayer
Ask people to pray for their neighbors every week. Do this in the worship service. Introduce tools like the Block Map from Art of Neighboring or the BlessMy5 from Oak Hills Church. Spend an entire year leading people each week through prayer for neighbors to help them see the heart of God for their neighbors.
Year 2: Vision
Keep praying, but start to cast vision for what a church could look like more out in the neighborhood than at a building. Start to tell stories, use testimonies, and get people excited about what could be. Help your church keep praying and get hungry for what God might do.
Year 3: Design
Keep praying and casting vision while you begin to define the design of what neighborhood groups will do, how groups will be structured, and what this thing will look like in your unique context. This is internal work with staff and leaders to try to shape this thing to get ready for what God will do.
Year 4: Pilot
You are still praying, casting vision, and working on design, but this is where you find your innovators and early adopters to create some pilot groups. Get a few successes under your belt, and learn from your mistakes before you unleash this on your entire church.
Year 5: Implement
Now you are ready to really move forward. Most pastors will not “play the long game.” They’ll try to move to implementation too soon, and there will be a lot of trials, struggles, and wounds. Most churches that try neighboring end up quitting and going back to their old model by the end of year two. In my estimation, this is due to moving toward implementation too soon without prayer, vision, design, and pilots.
I pray you’ll take the long view of what God could do if churches all over the country moved in this direction. We would see revival like we have never seen. To God be the glory!