Leading Through Change

How to Lead Your Small Church Through Change

Whether you’re the new pastor of a small church or you’ve been the pastor for a while, leading your church through change isn’t always easy. 

Not only will you need to spend considerable time and energy coming up with and testing new ideas and procedures to figure out what works, but you’ll also have to figure out how to get your church on board as well. This can be the most difficult part. 

While some of your church members may be immediately excited about your new ideas, others may be extremely resistant to any type of change, no matter how much it could benefit the church in the long run. 

That’s why, on today’s episode of the Hello Church! podcast, we’re sharing our best tips and tricks for bringing about change in your small church. 

5 Reasons Why People Resist Change

It’s been said that people only change for one of two reasons: 1. because they have to or 2. because they choose to. Unfortunately, there are many more reasons why someone might not want to change at all. Here are five of the most common.

1. They Don’t Want to Upset the Apple Cart

Some pastors, church leaders, and members of the congregation may resist change because either they don’t see a need for it or the need is so small it doesn’t outweigh the risk that something could go wrong. Why change something that’s working? 

2. They Don’t Want to Invite Confrontation

Similarly, many church leaders will procrastinate or avoid change because they don’t want to deal with the confrontation or backlash that could come from those who don’t appreciate the new changes. Why risk upsetting people if we don’t have to?

3. They Don’t Want to Lose People

Alternatively, anytime you announce changes, there’s always a risk that some offended church members may skip the confrontation and simply leave the church altogether, taking their families and their tithes along with them. Why risk a painful church split that could easily be avoided?

4. They Want to Be in Charge of Everything

Some church leaders resist change because they need to be in control of everything. They refuse to let others take the initiative or try new ideas out of a fear that no one else can lead, teach, or create as well as they can. Why risk quality when I could just do it (better) myself?

5. They Get Stuck in the Past

Finally, humans are creatures of habit. We like our routines, and it’s easy for us to get stuck in a rut when something has worked well before. If we don’t regularly question our processes, we may not even notice that they’re no longer working. Again, why change what isn’t broken?

4 Helpful Tips for Bringing About Change

Thankfully, you can often overcome each of these objections with a little care and pre-planning. Here are four helpful tips to keep in mind as you begin to introduce change into your small church. 

1. Consider the Personalities Involved

Do you typically love change, or do you tend to be more resistant? What about the person you’re trying to lead in this change? Every person responds to change differently, and you’ll want to take differing personalities into account as you plan your approach.

2. Build Relational Equity

Secondly, you’ll want to consider what type of relationship you’ve fostered with this person, if any. 

You may be familiar with the popular Theodore Roosevelt quote, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” The same is true of change. 

If you haven’t invested time and energy into your relationship with this person and you’ve never taken the time to share your heart behind this change, you likely haven’t built up enough relational equity for them to care what you want. 

Sometimes you need to build up a bit of good will and trust first before you ask for any meaningful changes.

3. Be Intentional with What You Change

If you’re someone who loves change (or your church needs a lot of work), you may be tempted to jump in and start changing things left and right. This is rarely a good idea. 

Rather than making several changes quickly, based on impulse or emotion, slow down and think through your changes intentionally. What actually needs to be changed, and what is fine as it is?

Be careful about making changes on a Monday morning or when you’re upset about a rare situation. Take your time and be strategic so you don’t waste your time making changes that won’t help (or may even hurt).

4. Change Slowly

Even if something does need to be changed, this doesn’t mean it has to be changed overnight. Assuming you aren’t dealing with grave and apparent sin, it can be more effective to change slowly rather than attempting to completely overhaul the church overnight. 

If you slow down enough to get your church on board, the changes are more likely to take hold.

An 8-Step Process for Leading Change

Once you’re ready to begin enacting changes in your church, this eight-step process can help you do so more effectively. It has been adapted from John Kotter’s book Leading Change

1. Develop a Vision

First, you’ll want to start by identifying and defining your core values. This way, you aren’t simply changing to meet your personal preferences; you’re asking people to live in better alignment with your church’s official values.

2. Create Your Strategy

Once you’ve decided on your core values, you can think through what these values will mean for your church, practically speaking. Will you start new programs or end old ones? Will you hire or fire certain staff members or volunteers? Will you need to adjust the budget or ask for more time or money? What will these changes look like?

3. Get People on Your Team

Before you announce any new changes to your church congregation, you’ll want to share them privately with a few people you can count on to be on your team. Not only will they help you avoid any potential pitfalls you may have overlooked, but knowing you have their support can be immensely helpful if and when you encounter pushback from other members of your church.

4. Communicate the Vision

Once you’re ready to announce the new change, it’s important not only to announce what’s changing but why it’s changing. 

Cast your vision for the new church body you would like to be and paint a detailed picture of what will happen if your church does change and if it doesn’t. 

One way to announce the change is through a 3-4 week sermon series, where you share plenty of Scripture and how your new vision lines up with it. You can also post these inspiring Scripture passages on social media, on banners in your church lobby, and in email so people are regularly reminded of your new vision.

5. Empower the Leaders

Change requires a great deal of work, and you won’t want to do it alone. Don’t forget to empower your leaders (both your staff and key volunteers) to make the changes you say you want to make. 

Your changes will be far more effective if you have a team working on them together rather than you simply telling your team what they need to do. You want that group buy-in. 

6. Generate and Celebrate Short-Term Wins

One of the easiest ways to get people on board with your proposed changes is to give them “quick wins” so they can start seeing positive results right away. 

Rather than focusing first on the most important changes, you may want to start with a few small, quick changes to help people better visualize the direction you’re going and what it means for your church. 

Then, don’t forget to celebrate these wins! Be intentional not only about noticing and complimenting others when you see the positive changes you want but also about sharing these positive changes with the larger group when it’s appropriate to do so. 

7. Produce More Change

Once you’ve had a few small wins, you should have the buy-in needed to start enacting larger changes. This is a good time to stop and re-evaluate your strategy. 

What changes do you most want to make? What is working and not working? Is your church ready to speed up the rate of change, or do you still need to go slow? You may want to change your plan as needed based on the feedback and results you’ve gotten so far. 

8. Anchor the New Approaches in the Culture

Finally, every time you see positive results in the area you want to change, continue to anchor the changes to your church’s new identity and mission. Be intentional about noticing the positive changes and letting people know, “This is who we are. This is what we do.”

People tend to behave in line with what they believe about their identity. The more proof you can give them that “our church acts this way,” the more likely they are to act this way in the future. 

Change is rarely easy, but these tips can help make it a bit easier on everyone.

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