How to Be a Change Agent–Without Killing Yourself or the Church

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James knows his ministry needs to make some changes. Without these changes, the ministry may falter and fall. But James also fears if he makes the changes, some people may be upset. So James chooses to do what most do in this situation. Nothing.

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At my organization, Group, we talk with hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders every week. Many of them sound just like James. Their fear of necessary change has paralyzed them. And I’m afraid their stories will not end well.

Fear of change plagues organizations of all types–large and small. One of America’s large and iconic companies declared bankruptcy in 2012 after failing to make necessary changes. The leaders there too were crippled with fear. The company? Kodak. We profiled Kodak’s fears in our new film When God Left the Building. In this short clip you’ll see a former Kodak leader, followed by a pastor facing a similar state of paralysis.

Kodak’s leaders squandered their opportunity and responsibility to effectively shepherd change in their organization. We can learn from their mistakes.

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STEPS FOR HEALTHY CHANGE

In today’s challenging times, most ministry leaders sense the need for change. But they often don’t know how to encourage change. Here’s an approach to organizational change that works.

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 comprised 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 (a big mistake that Kodak made) or attempt to sneak in changes under the radar.

9. Communicate and celebrate. Tell your people, repeatedly, the changes taking place, their purpose, and their outcomes. Celebrate your progress. Thank God.

Fear not. Embrace the change within your heart to make the change you’re called to make.

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About Author

Thom Schultz

Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

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