Few words can ignite a flurry of emotions like the word "change." This is especially true in the church, where worship is often built on strong traditional foundations.
For church leadership, knowing how to manage change in a church is key. Many pastors, however, don't have much experience in this type of management. But, by learning the fundamentals of effective change management, churches can continue to grow effectively.
Types of Changes Within the Church
In the years to come, you may encounter changes as simple as reworking a volunteer job description or as complex as building an entirely new worship center. As a church leader, it's important to know what kind of challenges you could be up against when managing change in a church setting.
In general, there are four common types of changes that you may encounter. These include:
1. Missional Change
Missional changes relate to the "why" of your church. What is it you are hoping to accomplish in your worship practice? When you make missional changes, you impact the message of your church most.
2. Directional Change
Directional changes relate to the "where" of your church. What are you headed toward? These types of changes will affect the vision of your church the most.
3. Cultural Change
Cultural changes relate to the "who" of your church. What are your cultural and personal values and priorities? These types of changes will affect the membership of your church the most.
4. Structural Change
Structural changes relate to the "how" of your church. How are you managing the activities of your worship? These types of changes can affect people, buildings and the general day-to-day life in your church.
Determining the Necessity of the Change
Before you even begin making any changes, it is important to ask yourself how necessary the change really is. Unnecessary changes can do much more harm than good.
There are a few things self-reflection tools you can use when you consider making a change.
Consider the Cost
All changes come with a price. That is the nature of change. But how will the cost impact your church?
Before deciding on any change, it is important to consider the cost. The cost of your change should not exceed the value gained.
Some changes are absolutely necessary. But, some changes just aren't worth it. If the cost is too great, the change likely isn't in god's plan.
Of course, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't go through with a change just because of some resistance. A key test of great leadership is knowing when to continue on.
Making Change Through a Biblical Lens
Effective change management is often spoken about from a secular, or corporate, viewpoint. Business leaders must make changes all the time for the good of their company.
However, a church is not quite the same as a business. When churches go through changes, it is important to look at these changes through a biblical lens. Making changes in a secular way can lead to idolatry and false promises.
An important part of making a change in the church is convincing members that the change is, in fact, necessary. The best way to do this is to show them the true reason for the change.
For many, recognizing that a change was made in god's best interest is a good place to start.
As a church leader, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you consider change through a biblical lens. These should also help you convince your congregation that a change is in everyone's best interest. These include:
1. The Intersections of Personal and Communal Change
God makes it clear that change is an important part of every life. For example, Romans 12:1 compels us to "Be transformed."
As a leader, it is important to remind your congregation that change is inevitable and ultimately enriching part of every Christian's life. It's also important to emphasize that change within our communities is as inevitable as change within our personal lives.
Additionally, you should make clear that god wants us to change. Stagnancy will only weaken the strength of his message and harden our hearts. It is only through change that we can find the tools to grow.
This simple reminder can help break down resistance to the larger changes within the church.
2. Welcoming Difference of Opinions
In any diverse church, there will undoubtedly be differences in opinion. When it comes to changes, not everyone will agree. But, this is not a bad thing!
In fact, having a diverse voice amongst your congregation is healthy. Disagreements can help further conversation surrounding change. These conversations can help to ensure that a change comes from a godly position.
Embrace disagreements and diversity in times of great change. Powering through them to reach an agreement can help to strengthen your congregation in the long run.
3. Learn How to Resist Change Appropriately
There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to resist changes. As a leader, it is pivotal that you know the difference between these reactions.
Tradition can be a great tool for providing structure and familiarity. But, we sometimes have a tendency to idolize our traditions over the actual word of god.
Resistance toward change should always reflect god's best interest. When we resist change because we think it goes against god's word, this is an example of appropriate resistance.
However, when we resist change for our own earthly comforts or attachments, this is inappropriate. We should not resist change for the sake of commitment to tradition. Instead, only keep traditions if they align with god's will.
Monitor discussions surrounding change that happen within your church. Knowing which resistance is appropriate can help when it comes to managing change in a church setting.
4. Lead with Gentle Wisdom
All changes should be the work of serious consideration. It is imperative that change comes from god's will.
Once you are certain about a change, you should then be unafraid to lead your congregation through the change. This can be a scary time for many church members, so it is important you lead with gentle strength.
Even when you are certain a change is in everyone's best interest, it can still be poorly communicated. When it comes to change management in churches, the best course of action is to avoid unnecessary aggression.
Help members imagine the positive impacts this change can have. Show them your thought-process, as well as your plan.
You should also encourage respect. Show respect toward your fellow leaders, as well as your congregation. People will often follow the example set by others, so when you show respect, respect will likely flow back to you.
5. Don't Forget the Gospel
The Gospel can help foster all other points in this list. Respect, resistance, consideration and even dissension can all be found in the Gospel. In the Gospel, your church can find strength through a potentially difficult time.
Church Change Management in Practice
Now that you know the foundations of managing change in a church setting, it is important to understand how that actually plays out in practice. Considering change and implementing change are two very different things.
Convincing yourself or your congregation to make a change is not enough. In order to actually make a change happen, try following these steps:
1. Prepare Yourself
Before announcing any changes, strengthen your own heart for the journey ahead. Pray regularly in preparation. Utilize the self-examination techniques outlined above, such as considering the cost and value.
It is important, as a church leader, that you are uniquely prepared for the challenge of change. In order to provide strong, wise and even gentle leadership, you'll need to be ready.
2. Seek Counsel
One person cannot manage change in a church alone. Seek out counsel from trusted leaders or members of the church. They can help you see all possible avenues that could come from change.
Use your counselors wisely. They can be good sounding boards, and help you facilitate conversations to strengthen your position. Counsel can also be helpful in pointing out any potential problems or pitfalls that you may have to face.
3. Prepare the People
Once you have decided upon a change, prepare your congregation to accept it. Introduce the concept gradually, focusing first on handling change in general. Remind them of scripture as it relates to change.
Then, once they are ready, gradually introduce them to the proposed change itself. Focus on the value this change could provide, but don't shy away from potential costs either.
It is natural for people to resist change. As a leader, it is your job to ease their fears. Be patient when it comes to introducing change, as this will allow your congregation to adjust to new ideas.
4. Create a Plan
Changes shouldn't happen abruptly. That's a sure-fire way to create confusion and conflict. Instead, build a careful, strategic plan.
Have a process for how you hope to implement change. Take the necessary time to carefully explain this process and your reasonings for it.
It is also important not to forget the fundamentals. Do you have the necessary resources for this change? How will the change impact other areas of church life?
Ask yourself key questions. Work with other leaders and trusted counsel to iron out the details before communicating your plan to members.
5. Communicate Effectively
Change comes with an abundance of fear and uncertainty. Effective communication can help ease these troubles. Things you should focus on in your communications include:
1) Reasons for the Change
Always inform your congregation of the reasons for any change that happens. What problem will the change solve? How will this change help us?
It is important people understand the "why" of any change. This can help clarify some of the uncertainty surrounding change.
2) How the Change Affects God's Will
You should always clarify the way this change can help strengthen your church's relationship with god. Rooting changes in your faith can help convince members of its righteousness. This will help ease some of the fear that can come with change management in churches.
3) How the Change Process Will Occur
Uncertainty is a major source of tension when it comes to change. To combat this, carefully explain each step of your plan. The process for any change should be clearly outlined to your congregation.
In this stage, it is important to listen to members of your church. Hear their concerns and disagreements. It is vital to make them feel safe and understood.
Open the floor up for discussion to help clarify the change.
Additionally, you should be honest when questions come up that you just don't have the answer to. Honest communication is always best when it comes to implementing change.
4) Utilize the PAUSE Principle
How you communicate can have a great impact on the success of your change. The PAUSE Principle by Peacemaker Ministries can be a useful tool for fostering effective communication.
- Prepare - pray, get counsel, gather the facts, build a plan.
- Affirm - build healthy relationships with concern and respect.
- Understand - listen to the concerns of others.
- Search - seek out creative solutions.
- Evaluate - consider all the options with peaceful evaluation.
6. Understand Dissension
Not everyone is going to agree with your proposed plan. In order to be an effective leader, you need to understand why there is concern, disagreement or opposition to your proposal.
Truly listen to members of your church. Acknowledge their concern, but remind them that change can be a wonderful thing when done correctly. Reassure them why the change is in their best interest.
If you come across valid concerns, be sure to address them. Utilize the counsel of others to come up with creative solutions.
7. Unify Your Team
Having a coalition that supports your change can be crucial. It is especially important to ensure that all church leadership is on the same page. If you are not unified in your vision, you likely will not succeed in change implementation.
Members follow their leaders. They need to have trust in both your change and in their leadership. Dissension among leaders can quickly diminish that trust.
Work with church leaders and have careful conversations about your plan for effective change management. Allow them space to voice concerns and participate in the planning process.
8. Take a Flexible Approach
A rigid plan likely won't be successful. Concerns will arise, and some of them will be valid. You'll need to be able to adapt when it comes to these concerns.
As one person, you won't be able to consider all the possible challenges or outcomes related to a change. Instead, make room for the input and wisdom of others.
Changes should always be in everyone's best interest. In order to do that, you must be able to adapt to the reasonable concerns of others.
9. Have Patience
Change doesn't happen overnight. Oftentimes, rapidly pushing a change through can have a worse outcome than taking your time to implement change correctly.
You need to give people time to come to terms with the proposed changes. Allow them to absorb the facts and reasoning behind your decision. Leave time for questions to emerge.
A common teaching in one denomination is "change is a journey, not a race." Take time on that journey and remain aware of the implications your change may have over time.
For a change to be long-lasting and efficient, it will need to be implemented with care, and that takes time.
10. Keep Up the Momentum
On the flip side of patience, is momentum. You don't want to lose momentum while taking your time to implement a change. Don't become bogged down by a single issue that completely stalls any forward motion.
Smaller issues may sometimes need to be ignored in favor of tougher challenges. That's okay! Focus on solving the big problems so you can keep moving forward.
11. Stay Grounded in God
God will help guide you and your congregation through any worthwhile change. Look to god when church change management begins to become difficult.
Keep up steady prayer both personally and as a community. This will help you choose the god-glorifying response in all your decisions.