Your children’s ministry has a problem-one you don’t plan to
live with much longer. It’s okay-every children’s ministry has its
issues. Yours might be a volunteer shortfall, an antiquated
check-in system, or anemic outreach efforts hampering your growth .
Whatever the problem is, it’s peeved you long enough. It’s time to
make waves and bring about healthy change.
Making waves, and creating change, can be tricky, though.
Remember, the same waves that guide a boat ashore can capsize it
with equal ease. Here’s how to generate powerful, change-producing
waves without capsizing your ministry-or career.
Effective change begins with an inner-cranial tsunami. Don’t
unleash powerful change forces on others until you’ve carefully
analyzed the dynamics at play in your situation.
Define the change. Grab a pen and write exactly what you hope to
accomplish. You can’t lead anyone into your preferred future unless
you can recognize it when you get there. Write a one-page, specific
description of the desired change and the necessary resources. Be
journalistic-include the who, what, why, and how. Your physical
description might include a statement such as, “By summer 2007, all
our nursery rooms will be equipped with state-of-the art systems
and care to protect infants and toddlers…”
Now be scientific. Grab a second sheet of paper and describe the
desired change in terms of a measurable objective. There are three
ways to measure change: speed (think deadlines), quality (think
excellence), and quantity (think volume). Your description might
include: “All nursery and toddler rooms will be equipped with two
security cameras. All staff will be first aid and CPR certified by
June 1, 2012.”
Understand the status quo. Social psychologist Kurt Lewin
developed a time-tested way to conceptualize change. Lewin believed
the status quo (in this case, the problem you’re stuck with) is the
equilibrium between forces promoting change and forces resisting
it. If Lewin consulted at your church, he’d say that forces working
in your favor are stalemated by forces working against you. Your
job? Break the status quo by strengthening the forces that support
change and weakening the forces blocking change. Consider the
example in the Problem box.
Check your motives. Check your heart before you start making
changes. Why do you really want change-to serve your congregation
or to meet your ego’s needs?
When I was fresh out of college and at my first secular job, I
decided to challenge and ultimately get rid of the workers union.
And I succeeded.
Why did I do it? I could spout my beliefs about economics and
opinions about how an adversarial relationship between management
and labor hurts everyone. But that’s only part of the truth. I also
had a personality clash with the union steward. I was young,
energetic, and unappreciative of what I perceived to be a
domineering leadership style. So really, why did I fight to change
my workplace? It was a cocktail of testosterone and pride.
Think of it this way: A baby makes waves in a tub. It’s fun for
the baby, but not productive. So test your heart. Congregations
don’t exist to meet your-or my-ego needs.
Now that you’re clear on the what’s and why’s of your change,
you might be tempted to start changing your programs and
structures. Don’t. Lasting change always starts with the invisible
and progresses to the visible. Change minds before structures.
Leading change implies creating a following, so set about making
some noise and building a consensus. Here’s how.
Craft your pitch. My wife worked as a telemarketer between
teaching jobs. Amy quickly discovered she had about two sentences
in which to sell change (convincing the customer to consolidate a
loan) before the customer hung up on her.
Can you make a compelling case for your change in two
Go back to those paragraphs you wrote detailing your desired
change. Condense them. Craft a statement that demonstrates the
superiority of your change over all competing options. “Let’s
implement state-of-the-art security and safety measures in the
nursery and toddler rooms to ensure they’re a place where children
feel secure and loved, and where parents feel totally at ease
leaving their children. It’s going to cost us time and money, but
imagine how the entire church will blossom if our children’s
ministry experiences growth.”
Remember two truths as you build your pitch. First tune into
WII-FM (What’s In It For Me?). Be able to discuss the change by
highlighting how others will benefit from it. How do you sell a
curriculum change to reluctant volunteers who’ve used the same
curriculum for the past 10 years? Explain that a new, compelling
curriculum will engage children’s imaginations and reduce
discipline problems (that’s a benefit for teachers!).
The second truth: Selling others on change is really convincing
them that your proposed future state is superior to the current
state. If the trustees respond with a no to your request to paint
the kids’ wing, it’s not because they don’t value children or
evangelism. They just value their stewardship of the church’s brick
and mortar more. Don’t tag the trustees as opponents; instead, get
them to dream with you about the beauty of a burgeoning children’s
ministry. Help them understand that they’re stewarding the building
for a goal-the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Identify cheerleaders and curmudgeons. You’ve honed your pitch.
Now sell it. Identify the two groups of people you’ll be selling
to. List your potential cheerleaders-those who are likely to be
enthusiastic and share in the heavy lifting. Then make note of the
curmudgeons-those inclined to resist or even oppose the change.
• Cheerleaders-Schedule meetings and lunches to share
your vision. Meet with cheerleaders in groups; enthusiasm is
contagious. So is grumbling-meet with your curmudgeons
individually. Meet with cheerleaders with the goal of converting
them into change champions.
• Curmudgeons-Meet with curmudgeons to acknowledge
their influence and ego needs. Your goal here is to move them into
a “live and let live” posture. If they offer criticism, you might
learn the weaknesses of your idea and have the opportunity to adapt
before you start unrolling your change. Don’t try to convert a
curmudgeon. It’s not going to happen.
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You’ve changed your thinking. You’ve changed the minds of those
around you. So now you’re ready to change your ministry in a
visible way. If you’ve generated sufficient brain and sound waves,
this phase should come more easily.
Execute with excellence. Work your plan with excellence. The
best plans, when executed poorly, look like bad ideas. Getting your
loving but timid volunteer base to implement that new curriculum
requires them to trust you. Earn their trust by getting the
curriculum in their hands early, stocking the supply room with the
materials they need, and providing excellent teacher training that
shows them how to properly use the curriculum.
Evaluate together. Build in regular checkpoints for your team to
assess the success of your plan as it’s unrolled. Be transparent
about any miscalculations or missteps along the way. Be prepared to
make midcourse corrections when necessary. It’s better-and builds
your credibility-to own up to a mistake or miscalculation than to
ignore it or hope others don’t notice.
Celebrate success. The change is complete-so celebrate! This can
be as simple as thank you cards or as big as a party. A well-done
celebration not only affirms your hard- working team, but also
elevates the core values that provoked your change in the first
place. Celebrate your volunteers, but also celebrate ideals such as
servanthood and evangelism.
Several years ago, I heard Harvard Business Professor Leonard
Schlesinger say, “By accomplishing anything of value, a whole
segment of the population will not appreciate what you are doing.”
If you lead change long enough, you’ll discover that you aren’t the
only one making waves. Someday you’ll be rattled by shockwaves of
discontent. Here are survival skills for dealing with
Listen graciously. Honor anyone who’s mustered enough courage to
confront you. The most helpless position you as a leader can
experience is sitting in your office knowing you’re being gossiped
about by the congregation. If someone comes to you directly, thank
the person and listen.
Lead with strength. Nothing breeds confusion faster than a
wavering leader. When you’re under fire you might be tempted to
acquiesce and give in to your critics. Everyone wants to be liked,
right? Don’t do it. If you’re convinced the change you’re leading
is God’s will, then keep marching. Your team needs your
consistency-chances are they’re enduring the same criticism you
are. Momentary waffling on your part will feel like betrayal to the
volunteers who’ve stuck by you.
Stick to Jesus. A few years ago, I led change in the form of an
outreach program that proved to be controversial in our community.
A few neighboring pastors learned of my outreach program, bypassed
the Jesus-style communication process in Matthew 18:15, and ran
straight to the press. I instantly had to deal with dozens of phone
calls from strangers who questioned my spirituality, my credentials
as pastor, and even my salvation. The criticism hurt. If it hadn’t
been for my devotional life and my circle of ministry friends, I
might’ve buckled under the pressure.
When the shock waves come, be healthy. Pray, turn to Scripture,
excercise, eat right, and get adequate sleep.
You can make change-producing waves. God doesn’t give any of his
shepherds a vision for change without also giving them the ability
to make a splash.
Finding Authority to Change
Part of the consensus-building change process is being perceived
as having the proper authority necessary to make a significant
change. Leaders in most church cultures draw their authority from
one of three places:
• Personality-In many churches, the authority to create
change lies with an influential, long-tenured leader-usually a lead
pastor or a prominent church member.
Act: If you’re in a personality-powered church, you need this
person on your side.
• Legal Documents-In some churches, power is
manufactured by being aligned with the church constitution and
Act: If you’re in one of these churches, know your constitution,
know Robert’s Rules of Order, and be prepared to work the system.
Your ability to work within the system will lend you a sense of
authority to advance your cause.
• Values-In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of
core-value driven churches. These fast-paced churches hold a
handful of ideals, such as evangelism, servanthood, or excellence,
Act: If you’re in a value-driven church, appeal to one or more
of these core values to give your change initiative authority.
Larry Shallenberger is a pastor of children and student
ministries and is the author of Lead the Way God Made You:
Discovering Your Leadership Style in Children’s Ministry