You are a leader of a ministry to children or teens. For a reason you (and possibly others) believe is important, you have decided to make a change in your ministry. You had assumed everyone would be excited – or at least supportive – but all you are getting is pushback from volunteers, parents, students and church leaders. What excited you is becoming a huge nightmare.
While there are some people, who like me, enjoy change, most people hate it. Change can be scary. Will the change mean more work for me? Will it cost more money? Will things get worse rather than better? Who were the decision makers and how did they come to their decision? Was it wise or were they conned in some way? Will this decision be the proverbial slippery slope that leads to ruin? These and any number of questions can be the motivation behind people resisting the changes you are wanting to make in your ministry.
What should you do to make changing your ministry easier? Here are some of our favorite strategies.
- Include stake holders in the decision making process from the beginning. People accept changes more readily when they have been a part of the decision making process. Even if they disagree with the decision, they will at least know how the decision was made.
- Be transparent and totally honest. These should be Christian attributes, but they are often lost when making major decisions about ministry changes. When a change appears to be surrounded by secrecy, it gives it the appearance of being unethical in some way. Truths that are withheld or half truths that are told make the process look even more suspect.
- Include your critics in the decision making process. It may be hard to believe, but the Holy Spirit may be using that person to give you some important warnings. Of course you and the person won’t know for sure, but our critics can be our biggest assets. Encourage them to find those weak spots in your plan. It’s much better to find and fix them before you roll out the change, rather than after.
- Once the plan is announced, listen to criticism with a mind that is both open and humble. No matter how experienced and well educated the decision makers may have been, no one is perfect. Someone not involved in the process may see something you missed with their clarity of distance. Even if they are wrong, they are human beings created by God and deserve to be treated with love and respect.
- When announcing the change over explain and under sell. That’s perhaps a bit of an over statement, but the principles are helpful. People tend to explain things in ways that are confusing to others. While everyone may not want a lot of detailed explanation, prepare a document you can share with those who do. The other problem is attempting to oversell the benefits of a change in an effort to convince people it is necessary. Perhaps your change will result in more children remaining faithful to God, but it is unlikely even the best change will result in every single child passing through your program over numerous years remaining faithful as adults. When you over promise and then under deliver your entire change may be in jeopardy – even if it is already showing some positive results.
- Be willing to patiently answer the same questions a thousand times. The person who asked you the same question a hundred other people have already asked you does not deserve to be treated poorly because you are tired of answering it. It also helps to remember questions often come from a person who is either seeking to better understand your decision or is seeking to be reassured by the answers. Most people aren’t using questions to somehow punish you or make you miserable.
- Be prepared to reassure and calm people between the announcement and implementation. Change makes most people feel stressed and even frightened. Getting irritated with them will not make the change easier. Reassuring people that you are open to their feedback and willing to change back if the alteration doesn’t work can help people relax a bit.
- Give people time to adjust to the change once it is implemented. Even the best of plans have glitches and if the people implementing them are nervous or unsure of themselves, other hiccups can occur. Give the change some time to work or fail – not an excessive amount of time if there are obvious issues, but enough to give everyone time to adjust.
- Have a feedback instrument prepared to evaluate the results of the change. Once again, this should go to all stake holders – even those only tangentially impacted by the change. Avoid being defensive or being swayed by people who are overly positive to avoid telling you the entire truth. Have an impartial third party you respect review the data and discuss it with you if you are afraid you can’t be objective.
Change will probably never be easy – at least significant changes. People who are naturally adverse to change will probably never jump up with excitement when you announce a change. Using these strategies, however, should hopefully make the process less painful for everyone.