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Recognizing (and Channeling) People’s Fear of Change

Change is inevitable. I’m reminded of that every day when I get out of bed to the tune of my creaking joints or as I extend my arm to read a menu, which I have to say gives rise to great amusement with my kids.

On a personal level, we expect change. However, on an organizational level, it’s a little harder to see, measure, and prepare for change.

I was recently leading a training event with several Lifetree Café operators from around the country, and we were focused on how to prepare their churches for change. When I posed a series of questions and asked them to evaluate which one best described their churches’ tolerance for change, the number one answer (by a long shot) was that their churches embraced change at a rate that allowed them to accommodate everyone’s comfort level with the change. This was astounding to me because it meant that the least common denominator was driving these churches to delay important and inevitable changes. The gap between the need for the change and those willing to make the change was only getting wider as time passed. This unhealthy practice may provide some much needed insight into why people are becoming increasingly disconnected from the church and are struggling to find the church’s relevance in today’s culture.

I want to be absolutely clear that preparing your church for change does not mean abandoning orthodoxy or chipping away at the foundations of our faith. Quite the contrary. What it does mean is embracing the reality that change is occurring and it’s our responsibility as church leaders to change the way we engage, communicate with, and serve today’s culture. Think of missionaries sent to a faraway land. How accepted would they be if they never spoke the language or observed the cultural practices of the people? Maybe we need to think of ourselves more as missionaries operating in a familiar (but sometimes strange) land where our purpose is to make connections, build relationships, and share our faith along the way.

So how do you go about paving the way for healthy change within your church? Here are some proven steps from one of my favorite blogs, “Holy Soup,” which is written by my colleague Thom Schultz. Thom is the founder of Group Publishing, which has been resourcing the church for over 40 years. If anyone is familiar with change, it’s my friend Thom.

Here’s what he has to offer:

1. Accept your role as change agent. Good leaders lead change. They do not abdicate this responsibility. They lead. Even though it’s uncomfortable. Even though some other people will be uncomfortable—and critical.

2. Don’t procrastinate. Too many ministries and entire churches are collapsing today because people want to “wait until next year” or stall until all the information can be gathered. That day will never come. Claim a sense of urgency.

3. Share the bad news. Help everyone see the realities of the present situation, and the likely deterioration if present trends continue. People need to understand the current environment and begin to appreciate why change may be necessary.

4. Work with a small team—perhaps composed of open-minded staff, lay leaders, and members—to analyze the current situation, brainstorm possible changes, and propose solutions. Generate enthusiasm and support for the coming changes within this team.

5. Pray. Seek God’s guidance as you look to the future. Pray individually, with your teams, and with your entire membership.

6. Keep mission in mind. Evaluate possible changes on the basis of your true mission, rather than on lesser priorities. For example, are you more interested in reaching your community, or in satisfying members’ desires for nostalgia?

7. Focus on gains rather than losses. When confronted with change, most people default to thinking about what they will lose. Leaders help them see what they will gain. Paint a picture of the promised land. Show the future, using all communication vehicles. And do it repeatedly.

8. Act. Once you’ve explained the situation, demonstrated the gains, and garnered core support, begin implementing the plan. Be transparent and honest. Do not dabble or attempt to sneak changes in under the radar.

9. Communicate and celebrate. Tell your people, repeatedly, about the changes taking place, their purpose, and their outcomes. Celebrate your progress. Thank God.
Let’s all recognize the need for change. Let’s identify the things that must change. And let’s commit resources to making the change. If you follow these steps, you won’t have to drag your church toward the change; instead, you’ll get to channel that energy into successfully implementing changes for the health of your ministry.

If you’d like to know more about how Group partners with churches of all sizes to help them thrive in a climate of change, I encourage you to visit or call one of our ministry consultants at 877-476-8703.

Craig Cable is the national director of Lifetree Café, a ministry of Group Publishing. Craig also leads the Refresh the Church initiative, which advises churches on how to thrive in a climate of change.  Copyright © 2015 Group Publishing, Inc.

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