How to Lead Change Like a Pro
Published: April 21, 2023
Here’s what you need to know to successfully lead change through your ministry.
Lead the Way
Just last week a volunteer said, “Gloria, I’m so glad we’re making some changes. But when I start whining about the changes we’re going through, just remind me why we’re doing this.”
She couldn’t have said it better. Even people who love change still struggle with doing something that’s outside their norm. The bottom line: Many people want to experience the benefit of change but rarely want to go through the change because it takes effort and it’s uncomfortable.
I’ve had my share of transition in ministry. Teams usually meet it with anticipation and excitement. However, that mood easily shifts to resistance when you actually implement the change. About four years ago, we made a big shift to start a large/small group format at our new campus. While some volunteers quickly embraced the idea, others struggled with the decision. Some attacked the changes in a passive-aggressive manner, saying they supported the change but then doing things that would undermine it. Some went with the flow begrudgingly but made it clear they weren’t on board.
Leading change with volunteers can be particularly challenging—because they’re volunteers! This isn’t a job where they have to learn to live with the change because they’re paid to do so. They may be committed, but they can easily leave—and most of us can’t afford to have volunteers quit. Here are the key points I’ve learned about successfully leading change without alienating your team.
Explain the Why
You must clearly communicate the vision and philosophy driving the change. When volunteers see what your desired end goal is, they’ll start to appreciate the purpose behind the change. Change can’t just happen for the sake of change. Once you’re able to paint the vision of the desired end goal, volunteers will be a lot more open to enduring and supporting the change. In my situation, I gathered all my volunteers together to share the vision of our ministry that was in alignment with the overall church vision. I painted a picture of where we could be. I also let volunteers know that I was open to discussion and new ideas.
Involve the Resistance
I invited those who were still resistant to the change into an honest, open conversation. Then I took the time to understand their reasoning, which was often due to past experiences, assumptions, personal reasons, or fear of the unknown. I worked to help these volunteers understand that the change would propel us all toward our common goal. We found ways to involve these volunteers in the process. We worked to carefully navigate through upcoming changes together with lots of communication and opportunities for discussion. When you involve volunteers in the process, they’re more likely to own the change.
But remember: Change takes time. It’s not easy. I’ve had volunteers decide that they were no longer a fit in children’s ministry because of change, and that’s okay. Take care not to damage your relationships with people, but stick to your commitment to the change—even if you have to be flexible as to how you get there. Over time, as my volunteers started to experience wins from the change, I found they were all in—and they eventually became the change’s biggest advocates.
Gloria S. Lee has been committed to children’s ministry for more than 20 years. She’s a speaker, writer, and children’s ministry director.
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