Some changes are more difficult than others, but these five steps will help you be more successful at leading your church through change.
By Brian Boyles
We’ve experienced some major changes in the last six years at the church I pastor, including launching an extensive renovation, changing the times of our Sunday morning services, adding a contemporary service, and (last but not least) taking a historic church through a complete rebrand.
These significant changes required leadership, and leadership—especially through change—can be difficult. Lifeway Research’s Greatest Needs of Pastors study found 47% of U.S. Protestant pastors say leadership is a skill they need to invest in developing. Another 46% of pastors say dealing with resistance to change in the church is one of the most challenging people dynamics they face in ministry. As a leadership team navigating these changes, we, like many churches, faced two major issues: changes needed to be made, and people might get upset.Church leaders often face two competing issues: changes need to be made, and if you make changes people might get upset. Click To Tweet
As I’ve led our church through these changes, I’ve learned five steps for leading well through change.
1. Be certain the change you’re considering is what needs to be done
I have seen churches make major changes only because they saw another church do it. As a pastor, any change I propose goes through a few human filters before it’s shared publicly. I have staff I can meet with, but if you don’t have staff, gather a small number of trusted leaders in your church.
Start by presenting the problem. For example, our facilities were falling apart around us. Anytime it rained, we had to put out dozens of buckets around campus. We also had asbestos, and we were out of code in multiple areas. This was a clear problem.
When I communicated this, everyone agreed it was time to fix the problem. Otherwise, we were risking the problems getting worse. In his book, Leading Change, John Kotter calls this “establishing a sense of urgency.” Once you agree on the problem, then you can propose a solution.
2. Ask for preemptive support from leaders
This is a tweak to what is often referred to as “buy-in.” It’s good to hear that my lay leaders agree with the proposed change, but it’s a lot better when those leaders initiate comments in support of the change.
For example, if one of them is at Walmart and someone says, “Did you hear what the pastor wants to do?,” they could say, “Yes, and I think it’s a great idea!” Proactive, preemptive support is much stronger than silent buy-in at a committee meeting.Proactive, preemptive support for potential change is much stronger than silent buy-in at a committee meeting. — @brian_boyles Click To Tweet
In addition, when it was time to present these changes to the church, many of these lay leaders took the stage with me. This visible buy-in is priceless.
3. Remember Egypt
Consider when Moses led Israel out of bondage. At one point all of Israel agreed leaving Egypt was the right plan. But before long, they were all grumbling. You will also face challenges when you lead your church through change.
If you don’t remind your people what Egypt was like, you’ll have a lot of grumblers on your hands. Remind them about Egypt. We frequently talk about the days when it would “rain indoors” here and when people would get lost on our campus. Our Egypt was no fun, and I don’t want them to forget it.
4. Communicate clear expectations for completion
For our renovation, we shared it would take about three years to be completed. When there were delays, I shared them with the congregation immediately.
When I shared the delay, however, I also reminded them how bad our Egypt was and set a new expectation of completion. Don’t make your people think they’ll be wandering in the wilderness for forty years.
For each of these changes we went through, I invited the congregation, in groups of 50, to open-mic town hall meetings. At these meetings I walked through the problem to be addressed, what might happen if we don’t change, and our idea for the solution. Then I let them ask questions.Never be afraid to explain your idea to your church. If your proposed change is the best idea, then you have nothing to fear. — @brian_boyles Click To Tweet
I expected people to be bothered by some of these changes, but with each meeting, there were more people who understood and were supportive of the changes we were proposing. Never be afraid to explain your idea. If your proposed change is the best idea, then you have nothing to fear. Just listen and respond.
Some changes are more difficult than others, but in my experience, these five steps will help you be more successful at implementing these changes among the body of believers.
Brian is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, Ga.