Navigating Change in Church Renewal

Written by Bill Whitt
January 31, 2023

Change is scary, but not changing is even scarier. Here are seven principles I've learned along the way about how to navigate change.

Change is scary, but not changing is even scarier. Just ask Kodak or Blockbuster.

  • Improvement requires change, so if you never change, you can never improve. This is true at camera companies, movie rental companies, and even churches!
  • If you work in church renewal, you will need to lead your church through big and small changes. Here are seven lessons I’ve learned along the way about how to navigate change.
Seven Ways to Lead Change in Church Well
Principle 1: Weighing in Leads to Buying In.
  • Most people would rather participate in the process of change rather than simply be told that they must change. Many people simply want to know their voice has been heard, even if they don’t end up getting their way.
  • As you plan the process of change, make sure to give people the chance to “weigh in” before you expect them to “buy in.” This takes time, but it is time well spent.
Principle 2: The Mission Stays the Same.
  • You should communicate that you are committed to your church’s mission, which will continue to guide the way forward.
  • Make it clear everyone is working toward the same goal. This will reduce animosity and mistrust.
Principle 3: Strategies Always Change.
  • While the mission remains steady over time, the strategies and methods you use to accomplish that mission constantly change.
  • By reminding people of adaptations your church has made to its strategy in the past, you can help them normalize the process of change. Together, you can celebrate the role adaptation has played in the church’s history.
Principle 4: Find the Right Pace.
  • Good change often fails because of bad pace. Either going too quickly or too slowly can derail progress. You will have to discern when it’s time to prod people out of complacency and when it’s time to pause to let changes settle in.
  • It is like cooking pasta. If the water isn’t hot enough, the noodles will remain hard and inedible. If your water is too hot, the pot will boil over. The right approach is often going at a slow and steady pace, while monitoring the water closely.
Principle 5: Make Regular Deposits in the “Trust Fund.”
  • One of the most important reasons to lead change slowly is that leading requires trust, and trust takes time to develop.
  • Every time you propose a change, you are making a withdrawal from your “trust fund.” If your withdrawals exceed your deposits, your leadership checks will start bouncing. Make deposits by showing genuine, sacrificial love to the people in your church.
Principle 6: It’s Ok to Mourn the Losses.
  • Changes at church will affect people in different ways, and it is important to empathize with the loss many will experience.
  • Let them know that you understand how good the past was and that you appreciate the part they played in it. Be present with them as they process the loss of something familiar and comfortable to them.
Principle 7: Paint a Vivid Picture of the Future.
  • All too often, we ask people to give up the old way of doing things without providing a clear picture of the new way. When we do this, we shouldn’t be surprised at their resistance.
  • People will naturally have a difficult time turning away from a well-known past in order to move toward an unclear future. The solution is to be extremely clear in talking about how the new method will achieve the mission in today’s world.
  • If you paint a vivid picture they can’t get out of their minds, they might move from resisting change to helping you lead change!

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