In a growing church or organization one thing is certainly inevitable: change. Resources change. Processes change. Methods change. People change. Let’s put it this way, if things aren’t changing then you’re dying. Paul said the very same thing in Romans 12:2 where he says,
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Transformation….the Christian life is transformation more and more to the image of Christ the further along we go, and the same is true for the church. Change is necessary and is evidence of health.
With that said, I learned a hard lesson recently. While change is inevitable, you must never take change for granted. In a growing church or organization everyone will get used to change, but you still can’t take it for granted. You can’t just assume change will be received well. Whenever you desire to lead others through a major change you cannot forget some universal principles of navigation. They are:
Leading change is not a one person affair. Autocratic leadership leads to automatic failure. If you want to fail, try to do it all yourself. Leading change takes buy-in and ownership. You must have teams of knowledgeable people you trust whom you share the vision with. Gather people in the room that you trust and that will tell you the truth and let them weigh in on your vision. Listen to their thoughts. Value their opinions. You’ll be amazed at how much the vision will grow if you just let other leaders own it with you. One of the greatest mistakes you can make as a leader is taking your people for granted. Don’t assume that your best and brightest leaders are automatically with you when you present change, and when they question change receive it. Just be quiet and listen. Bring them in on the concept phase so that when it’s time to execute they will influence others with you.
This goes right along with collaboration. Cooperate with your team. Hear them out and value their input. If you never compromise on methods, processes, and/or plans with your team you are destined for failure as a leader. This is a telltale sign of leadership by title or position only. Nobody follows a title, people follow leaders whom they respect and believe in, and whom they know believe in them. Get along with your staff. It’s amazing to me how many preachers are at odds with their staff. Make amends. Go have coffee or lunch with them and build a relationship. Be a team player. This is leadership 101 kind of stuff.
Once you have taken the time and effort to mobilize and energize your leadership team with a vision, now it’s time to communicate that vision. You have to walk layer by layer down the levels of leadership in your church or organization and get as many people on board beforehand as you can. This needs to happen early enough so that they have ample time to ask questions and get feedback and clarification from you before it’s implemented. If you implement change while your key leaders are still processing you will have to backtrack. You cannot over-communicate or over-justify change to those impacted by it, especially in today’s over-informed society. So much information filters through the eyes and ears of people on a daily basis that it’s a wonder they remember anything we say. Heck, I can’t even remember what I preached last Sunday half the time! A few more thoughts: the more important that change the more people you need to talk to face to face. If it’s a long-term vision that alters the life of the entire church or organization then you need to talk face to face with as many of your leaders as possible. If it’s a minor change that will not affect many people then face to face may not be necessary, but make sure you communicate long enough for it to set in and be understood. Remember, communicate…communicate…communicate…then when you think you’re being too redundant do it again!
Lastly, compensate for the change. One of my leadership mentors says it like this; the best leaders are able to think of all the unintended consequences. What are the consequences of this change going to be and who do you need to address these consequences with. Provide as many answers to as many of those questions as absolutely possible. Also, some people just will not go with you when you change. Is there a win-win scenario where you can compromise a structure or method for that group of people that will not affect the long-term health and growth of the church or organization? For example, a few years ago we shifted from a traditional Sunday school structure for our small group ministry to a Lifegroup model. We used to promote classes and push new involvement in groups once a year, now we have a trimester system where 3 times a year we assimilate new people and start new groups. This was great for everybody but our senior adults. They had been used to a Sunday school structure of every week small group bible study with no breaks for years, so this concept was foreign and extremely uncomfortable to them. Instead of forcing them to change and disillusioning the group we decided to allow them to continue as normal. We re-promote their small groups every trimester for assimilation but allow them to just continue their study every week while other groups take a short break. This didn’t affect the growth of our discipleship at all and showed our seniors that we value them. Be wise. Don’t be a know-it-all. Compensate for change by being considerate of everyone whom this change will affect.
Change is inevitable, but you can’t take it for granted. You can’t fast track change if you want to bring everyone along. Some just won’t change, but most will in a growing church or organization if they feel valued and are part of the process. Remember, seek the Lord for a vision and then take the time necessary to effectively lead change. Don’t get in a hurry. Do it right and wait on the Lord and you will grow with much less attrition.