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5 Surefire Ways to Derail Change


Go ahead, let the shiver run all the way up and down your spine. That’s the natural response to change. So many change efforts have failed for so many people that even the mention of change sends many into a cold sweat.

I’ve been managing change for 25 years across multiple disciplines and industries. I’ve failed—a lot—but I’ve succeeded a lot more because I learned what not to do. Knowing what not to do is often more important than knowing what to do. If you know what not to do, then you have more time to evaluate, analyze, and plan the right activities to get to your desired result.

What follows is my go-to “DO NOT DO THIS EVER List” to help you successfully lead change in your ministry.

Don’t: Plan a change without a realistic timeframe.

Change doesn’t magically happen just because we will it to. And all the best intentions in the world won’t make change happen without a plan.

Invest the time it takes to plan the change, and don’t try to lead it alone. This won’t work and will take years off your life from the stress of trying to manage the whole change by yourself.

There’s a theory that it takes seven days to create a new habit and 28 days to change a habit. These are good estimates, but establishing change is really about the frequency of the behavior, not calendar days. Church staff lives in the church world every day. Congregation members spend on average 1.79 percent of their week at church (three hours out of 168 each week). What takes a week for church staff to develop into a new habit will take seven weeks for the congregation—if they all show up every week and have opportunities to live with the change. The math on changing a habit is over six months if everyone shows up regularly. You need a plan for change in writing just so you can keep it going for six months or more. Stay realistic, and share that realism with your team.

Don’t: Overlook your team’s real-world talents and skills.

You probably have CEOs, school administrators, consultants, and all sorts of other leaders who lead change in their “real jobs” who’d be more than happy to assist you. People feel honored to be recognized and have their skills utilized. They can also bring new dimensions, ideas, and approaches to your efforts.

So ask for help. Look for these skilled people in your church, go to them (at home or work), and ask for help. Don’t do the “Oh, by the way,” recruiting conversation after services. Every time you show people you value them enough to come to them, you increase their sense of worth and the likelihood they’ll join your effort and help lead it to success.

Don’t: Forget that motivation moves people.

Every decision we make is related to the WIIFM. That is, the “What’s In It For Me?” question. Each individual has a different WIIFM, and it’s worth it to find out what motivates that person. Consider these examples of possible WIIFMs:

  • We’ll increase attendance. (WIIFM: “More kids means our church is growing and thriving. I’m motivated to contribute to the health of the church.”)
  • We’ll streamline our processes and keep kids safer. (WIIFM: “I’m frustrated by the current processes. We could do it in half the time and I’d be able to catch most of the worship service that way.”)
  • We’ll replace the carpet in the nursery. (WIIFM: “I don’t have to worry about my toddler getting sick from that nasty, sticky, smelly carpet.”)

The WIIFM has to be clear to your team members if they’re going to embrace the change.

Don’t: Miss opportunities for your team to “do” the change.

Change means you have to “do” before you “are.” Plan specific, safe, high-success events for your team to have the opportunity to “do” the change multiple times. “Doing” the change develops your team’s confidence that the change is realistic.

For example, if your goal is to be more focused on people in your neighborhood, a first step might be to rake neighbors’ yards. Participants experience the relative ease of “being” a community-focused church by “doing” the activity of raking leaves. The next activity might be singing at an assisted-living facility, and then hosting a neighborhood barbecue. With multiple successes under their belt, those “doing” the change will begin to look for opportunities to serve those in the community. That’s moving from “doing” to “being”—and that means you’re changing the culture.

Don’t: Ignore successes—even small ones.

Celebrate wins publicly. Tell everyone. If something goes wrong, tell everyone. But don’t assess blame. Instead, talk about how that failure will move the change in the right direction. You build trust from honest communication. Allow grace when things go wrong (“We had a couple of issues at the last event” versus “The raking team didn’t bring rakes or trash bags.”). There’s no benefit in pointing out individuals for failure.

Once the adjustments are fully implemented, schedule checkpoints in the future to ensure it’s what you envisioned. If it’s not, step back and see where the gap is. Then adjust your efforts to correct it.

Change rarely happens as quickly as we’d like, but if you manage your team’s expectations from the beginning, communicate effectively, and give them the opportunity to participate, you’ll facilitate the change you seek.

Michael Huss is the operations and planning manager for Group Publishing.

Looking for more leader resources? Check out these articles!

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5 Surefire Ways to Derail Change

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