It has been said, there are only two guarantees in life, taxes and death, everything else is prone to change. This applies to churches of all sizes who will at some point experience a great deal of transition. It is up to the leadership to create an atmosphere of effective adaptation among the flock. We are living in a world where change defines a new order, and leading through it can be challenging. It requires real skill. The following are seven strategies that will help you.
1. The Starting Point
To be able to lead a church successfully through change, you must understand the changes yourself, believe in their necessity and communicate them with conviction. By understanding your context, and how to apply the change, leaders are able to convince others to follow. Knowing both the negative and positive outcomes guards against overzealousness. Fanaticism will turn people off, while enthusiasm grounded in conviction will encourage people to take notice.
2. Widen the Circle
Being an evangelist of change takes a lot of time and energy, but it can be more effective if you ask for help and don’t attempt to do it alone. The pattern of asking for help can be your savior. It is wise to form a coalition of key members who add their voice. Not only does that lighten your workload as a pastor, but it establishes a group of stakeholders who will help you lead change from the ground up. These leaders will help you test change and provide important feedback along the way. Consequently, this will create an environment of trust within the membership at large. Most importantly, we must make sure God is in the center of our efforts and we are asking him for help throughout the process.
3. Stay on Mission
During any organizational transition, it is normal to experience turbulence. When it comes, it is essential the leadership stay focused. If the pastors veer away from the purpose, how can we expect the membership to stay on target? Due to early criticism, you might be tempted to bail, but staying focused (by directing your energy to the change and staying on mission) will eventually help you succeed. In time, the membership will embrace the change.
4. Accept Responsibility
During a transition, it is vital for the leadership to accept responsibility. Each member of the guiding coalition should take ownership and help bear the burden of change. Along the way mistakes will be made and misunderstanding will occur within the membership. When this happens the leadership of the church should accept blame and work toward clearer communication.
5. Affirm the Membership
A pastor is responsible for guiding the church in many aspects. Leading change is just one of them. During this time, do whatever you can to encourage everyone in the church. Look around and see who needs reassurance. Go out of your way to spend time with them. Affirm your people by showering them with love and by inviting them to ask questions and speak to you. Reiterate your love for them. Openness and humility go a long way in gaining credibility.
Leaders face a lot of problems, but too much communication is not one of them. Most churches undervalue the importance of communication, especially during transition. When you get tired of casting vision, and you think the church is becoming irritated, they’re just starting to get it. Constant communication is nonnegotiable. Just as effective communication is the key to high performance in the workplace, so it is with the church. It reinforces vision, inspires change, and creates a climate for adaptation. Great communication requires vulnerability, which is scary for most people. But it will be easier to put aside fear when you remember that the rewards far outweigh the perceived danger.
7. Deal with Resistance
In order for a pastor to make progress, he needs to put effort into dealing with skepticism from members and church leaders. This starts with listening. If you are spending all your time trying to convince the resistors, it will be harder for them to accept change. The best way to move people along is to listen to them. You don’t have to implement all their ideas, but you must listen to them. Avoiding people because you are afraid of criticism is a mistake. Although it seems more comfortable, it will lead to cross-examination, more criticism, and a bitter attitude. Instead, listening to challengers is highly advisable since you will likely receive new ideas on how to tackle issues. Wisdom emerges from unlikely sources.
In summary, leading change is difficult because church leaders don’t have the luxury of just dictating change. Instead, they are left with the task of guiding a church to embrace change in the midst of a rapidly shifting environment. While that is hard, it is part of our growth, and when done well, is always worth it.