HELPING PEOPLE ADJUST TO THE CHANGES CREATED BY GROWTH
By: Barry Campbell
During a recent Sunday School workers meeting, I asked our people to share some of the changes in our church that had been most difficult for them. Their answers were both interesting and enlightening. One woman remembered when all the women were in one Sunday School class. Adjusting to new Sunday School teaching units had been difficult for her.
A well-educated, talented man said he had found that learning to step out by faith into the unknown had been challenging for him because in his profession he is accustomed to detailed planning. An adjustment to a walk of faith had been hard for him.
A longtime member reminisced about the days when we were a single-cell church. Every church member participated in every church event at that time. We are now a multiple-cell organization. Many of our ministries are designed for more narrowly defined groups in the church.
Even though the workers spoke of the difficulty of adjusting to change, they recognized change is necessary for church growth. We are enjoying our fifth year of 20 percent growth in annual attendance and enrollment. We have witnessed dramatic changes. Our facilities have changed. Our organizational structure bears little resemblance to what it was five years ago. Our attitudes about newcomers have changed. We don’t spend our money in the same ways we did years ago. Even though some of our key leaders have been with us for years, many of our leaders have joined us recently. Our growth has brought about many changes. No church can grow without a willingness to accept change.
Every living creature is in the process of change. Consider the following practical steps church leaders can take to help members cope with changes that result from growth.
Make a Commitment
A commitment to reach and teach people is essential to coping with change. Without this commitment, people will be unwilling to make the sacrifices that come with change. One woman in the workers meeting spoke of her personal sacrifice. She had enjoyed singing in the choir for years. Then she agreed to help lead a newly created Mission Friends organization, which met at the same time as choir practice. Although the time conflict prevents her from singing in the choir, she was willing to make the sacrifice. This woman has made a commitment to reach people and see them develop as believers. She understands her personal sacrifice is making an important ministry possible. People can cope with the discomfort of change if they are committed to the priority of reaching others.
Learn About Change
As a leader in your church, gain as much information as possible about change. Consider others’ experience and expertise as you help peoplecope with changes created by church growth.
Understanding the Single-Staff Church by D. G. McCoury is a good place to start. The chapter “Guiding the Single-Staff Church Through Transitions” deals with change.
McCoury explains his use of the word transition to describe changes in the church. He said transition is a process. He stated: “A transition could be described as a bridge, or a boundary zone between that which has been and that which is to be.” He provides readers with biblical foundations on which to stand while dealing with change in the church. He described three stages in the change process and deals with change in a practical, helpful way.
Bruce Powers’ book, Christian Leadership, contains an excellent chapter titled “Implementing Change.” Powers said, “Do not try to sell people on change; help them to envision the advantages that might be gained from change.” Powers’ scholarly work will help church leaders deal with change.
Another helpful resource from the business world is Leadership: Your Competitive Edge by James J. Cribbin. Cribbin presents “Force-Field Analysis,” a useful tool for analyzing change. (Powers also discusses this tool.) Cribbin’s practical experience easily can be applied to church-growth situations. He said insightfully:
People do not fear, resist, or resent change. What they fear is the unknown, the unfamiliar, and the uncertain. What they resist is being forced to alter well-established habits. What they react negatively to,is any perceived threat to their authority, status, security, or comfort zones. What they resent is being changed by others unilaterally. People sometimes resist change because they are not intellectually convinced that it is in the best interests of the organization.
Earn the Right
Earn the right to initiate and lead your people through change. Change rarely should come as a surprise to your people. Give them sufficient time to adjust to change. Initiate only needed changes. An effective church leader will probably resist unimportant, unnecessary changes that will make people uncomfortable. Finally, be willing to change. If you can adjust to change, your people will follow your example.
Involve Many People
“If the congregation feels they are part of the process–not manipulated nor forced–they are more receptive to change,” McCoury wrote. Involve as many people as possible in the decision-making process. This involvement will help them adjust to change.
Create Change Agents
Leaders of growing churches should surround themselves with people who understand the growth and change processes. You, as a leader, can help create agents of change. Encourage key leaders to attend a conference or to read a book or article on change. Share information you have learned about change.
Make an adversary an ally. Approach a person who is likely to have difficulty with change, take him into your confidence, and share insights about upcoming changes. Reveal the compelling reasons for making the changes. Tell him about the expected benefits, and ask him to help interpret the changes to others. Let him be a part of the process, and allow him to help others adjust to the changes.
Communicate with your people both before and after changes have been implemented. Tell them that change is a process and that adjustment takes time. They should know their leaders recognize this fact. Communicate with your words and actions that you will be patient as they adjust to changes.
Assure them their concerns are valid; for example, if they think important traditions are being ignored, let them know you recognize the value of traditions. Understand and deal with their need for stability during the growth process. This can be accomplished without neglecting needed changes. Simply validating concerns and showing you care are sometimes enough to help people adjust to change.
Remind your people changes are taking place for good reasons. Uncomfortable changes often are needed and effective. Share success stories about change. Make a clear connection between making difficult changes and reaching and teaching people.
Listening is essential to good communication. McCoury wrote of people’s “inner rhythms.” He pointed out that leaders must not only be aware of those inner rhythms but also honor them. Every effective leader must practice good listening skills.
Listening to be a good leader is only one reason to listen. Recognizing people’s wisdom and gifts is another. Never forget that those people possess valuable insights.
Church growth can produce positive, exciting changes. I am convinced God’s people are willing and able to adjust to those changes.
(The above material appeared in the July/Aug./Sept 1992 issue of the Growing Churches Magazines.)
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