How To Lead Through Change In Your Church

Recently I spent a week in California at the Fuller Youth Institute at something called the Growing Young Cohort.

Recently, I blogged about the book Growing Young, which is a must read.

This cohort is a group of churches journeying together through the Growing Young research with some of the staff from the Fuller Youth Institute.

So far, it has been a helpful experience.

We decided to join this cohort because, although we have a lot of young people (18-29 yr. olds) in our church (22% of our congregation), we are growing older every year.

And yet, this post is not about growing younger as a church. (But if that is something you want to learn more about, I definitely recommend the book and possibly the cohort.)

What this post is about is change. In order for our church to grow younger, we will have to change some things.

I’m imagining that there are things in your church or ministry that you’d like to change.

Here’s the thing: Change is hard. Leading change is even harder.

If you have been in leadership for any length of time, you could probably tell a story about a time in which you lead through change badly and it led to problems.

And yet, leadership requires a whole lot of navigating and leading through change.

So, let’s talk. I want to share a couple of strategies that have helped me as I’ve led through change.

As usual, these strategies were forged in my own failures and missteps.

I hope my learnings from my own mistakes can help you avoid mistakes and effectively lead change.

1. People Don’t Like Change

For years and years, I was told that people don’t like change.

I’ve recently come to understand that this simply isn’t true.

In fact, people often love change.

Furthermore, it isn’t true that some people like change and others don’t.

The honest truth is this:

People don’t resist change. People resist loss.

Now, if you think I’m a genius…sadly I’m not.

I stole this line from Scott Cormode.

His statement has revolutionized how I think about leading change.

You see, when a person resists change it is because they are afraid of losing something they care about.

So, if you want to navigate change really well, you have to know what your people care about.

What do they long for and what are they afraid of losing?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions…you aren’t ready to lead through a significant change.

And how exactly do you find out the answers to these questions?

Well, the answers to these questions come out in relationship when we ask good open ended questions like:

  • What are your hopes for this year?
  • What is your dream for this?
  • What do you want to be doing in ten years?
  • What’s your favorite thing about our church? This ministry?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What’s your greatest fear about our church? This ministry?
  • Scott Cormode would say, you have to uncover your people’s “longings and losses.”

    This might sound crazy, but I believe that leading change mostly comes down to knowing your people – what they really want and what they are afraid of.

    When you know this, you can address the underlying anxiety that is driving their resistance to change.

    Or, you can tie the coming change to their driving hopes and dreams in a way that generates excitement and hope.

    In this way you can move people from resistance to acceptance or from ambivalence about the change to championing the change for you.

    2. Buying and Weighing

    Another catchy phrase about change that has impacted how I lead through is from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

    Here’s the line:

    People won’t buy in unless they can weigh in.

    In other words, your people probably won’t embrace and get behind whatever change you are contemplating unless they feel they’ve been allowed to speak into it.

    This is especially true with millennials, who since they were children have exercised voice and influence through social media.

    Then, they enter the professional world and are told they must wait until they are older, more experienced or higher on the org chart.

    This obviously doesn’t sit well.

    If you want people to buy into the change you are leading, give them a voice in the process. Pull them into the conversation before the decisions are made.

    Of course, I understand that there are times when it simply isn’t practical to ask for everyone’s input.

    In cases like this, take the time to explain the coming change to each person on your team individually and let them process the decision and ask questions.

    Even this small step can have a tremendous impact on how a change is received.

    Wrap Up

    Well, there you go.

    Two strategies on leading change that have impacted my leadership immensely.

    We’d love to hear about your own strategies or feel free to share your thoughts and reactions to ours.

    Leave a comment below to continue the conversation.

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