If you have pastored for any length of time you have certainly experienced opposition, criticism, and rejection when it comes to implementing change. I have seen the worst of it. I have been there when a simple change in leadership means loosing over half of the congregation, and the remaining “leadership” disagrees with every decision, insisting that the former was better. People naturally do not like change. People, by and large, like familiarity and routine. The huge difficulty for many is coming up with a way to make the necessary changes to carry the ministry forward without crumbling the ministry that currently exists. So I have outlined a eight practical tips to help people embrace change.
- Ask yourself: Is the change fair?
- Get your team on board first
- Tell the why
- Give time to adjust
- Include them in the outcome
- Make it a cultural norm
- Look after those effected
- Show the big picture
The first thing to do is ask the hard questions about the change itself. Is the change justified? Is in necessary? Why is there change? How will the change be positive in the long term? Does this negatively effect certain people in particular?
It is amazing how frequently changes are made and announced before they are mentioned and talked through with the team. You need people to be the culture that embraces the change from the beginning. Who better to carry that culture than your leadership team? They can make a huge difference on the perspective the congregation haves on the change, just by their personal influence in the conversations that follow the announcement.
It is not enough to have a “because I said so” attitude toward leadership. Change has to be justifiable and it has to serve a purpose. You will be surprised to see how understanding people are when you just tell them why the change is better than the status quo or another option.
This is a HUGE WARNING: Do not throw big changes on people overnight. If you are going to move the piano from the left of the stage to the right, move it an inch at a time. Make the announcement of the coming change well in advance to give people time to adjust. A change in pastoral leadership, addition of a campus, time changes and other things can cause huge problems if not handled delicately. Announce things far enough in advance and walk people through it enough times, so when the change happens it is like it already has happened.
Often times change is rejected because they do not see the change working. By encouraging the congregation to carry the change, they are more confident in its success. Get people to pray over it, to facilitate it, to get behind it. When starting a new program you can get people to be thinking about it, launch an info session on it, have people sign up to get involved. During the switch to being a multi-site campus for a church, I saw people go from being totally against the notion to actually being the key leaders at the new campus because they prayed, learned more, and got involved.
For a church to maintain growth, there is always the need for change. To avoid opposition to change, get the church used to it by making that the only constant, and forming a culture that receives change well. This is often established through trust and confidence in the decision making of the leadership. So build rapport through small effective changes that are also intentionally setting a culture that responds to change well.
Sometimes a decision can mean the end of a program or part of the ministry. Or it can mean a new direction entirely for a portion of the church. Notice what people will need more attention to cope with and adjust to the changes, and make sure they are looked after by someone on the team, if not you personally.
Where there is not vision, the people parish. People come together when there is vision. A church is all about doing something bigger than oneself to make a difference in this world for the kingdom. Churches all are called to different things in different areas, but the biggest help a leader can do in communicating change is pointing the change back to the vision. Showing that the change will help advance and forward the vision that we are all gathered together to accomplish.
Change is necessary in reaching an ever changing world, and although we change strategy, style, and leadership; although we expand and prune, build and destroy, it is all centred on an unchanging Gospel to advance an unwavering purpose. My hope is that you go unhindered by the fear of resistance to change, through a well thought strategy on communicating change to your congregation.