Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Implementing Significant Change

Facebook recently decided to revamp their entire newsfeed and home page. Again. Of course, everyone hates this new format. It's so confusing and muddled and new, why doesn't Facebook just get a clue and keep things the way they were? Now I have to relearn how to navigate something that felt familiar. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Yet many of us in church leadership openly claim that we value change, that we need it, that we even thrive on it. We implement significant changes in our ministry, then wonder why people aren't as excited as we are.

When I first arrived at my current church, our youth room was a mess. It needed a complete overhaul, and it took months to redo the floors, the seating, the lighting, and the paint job. We had these huge carpet-covered DIY bleachers that took up a third of the room. I hated them. Students could isolate themselves on the bleachers, and they communicated an environment of "come and sit and be entertained." So we got rid of them. And people complained. "We LOVE the bleachers," they cried. Even though I replaced them with brand-new leather couches, there were still grumblings for awhile. In hindsight, I think the heart of the complaints was less "we love bleachers" and more "we don't love change."

Change is hard, no matter what. If you're the kind of person that says, "I love change," I'm assuming you wouldn't enjoy the change of your home burning down or the loss of a loved one. Change--even the good kind--often leads to stress and internal anxiety as we experience a sense of disequilibration and must recalibrate our thoughts and emotional patterns to this new scenario or information. Church leaders can develop a few habits to help others navigate during significant changes.

Slow and steady. I used to believe that the faster the change, the better. It always bothered me when churches seemed to drag their feet on implementing changes, usually citing the metaphor about turning a large ship. (Nautical metaphors go over my head). Yet Jesus used similar metaphors about mustard seeds and long-term spiritual fruit, claiming that the kingdom of God is not coming in big flashy ways, but in small and slow ones. A slower, steadier pace allows room for listening to the Spirit's voice and prayerfully discerning what needs to happen next.

Check motives and ask questions. Why are we making this changed? (So I can have my own agenda and feel in control? Because it's the best possible move for our people and ministry? Just because we need to shake things up every so often?) Who does this change affect the most? The least? Who does this change affect that I don't initially think it could affect? How will we implement this change; what is our strategy? What happens if the change is unhealthy? When do we start the change, and what's the timeline for completion?

Communicate often. I've learned with my toddler son that I need to let him know far in advance when a change is coming. He's quite shy, and doesn't do well with surprise visits from friends or drop-offs in the church nursery. My wife and I are building the habit of letting him know hours ahead of time when a change is coming. "Daddy's friends are coming over for a movie tonight. They'll be okay to be around." He'll quietly nod, and keep playing with toys. I'll repeat the message every hour or so, until the fateful knock comes on the door and Daddy's friends arrive. If I had never communicated about the change, he would instantly freak out and cry; because I shared ahead of time, he was ready for the change to happen, even if he was still initially hesitant. I'm not sure you can overcommunicate these things. The bigger and more significant the change, the more communication it requires before, during, and after the change.

How do you implement significant changes in your life and ministry? Share a thought or story in the comments.

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