Change is healthy. While God Himself is unchanging (Heb. 13:8), He does facilitate change. He changed the lives of Moses and David from humble shepherds to mighty leaders. He changed the status of Israel from a man to a group to a nation. He changed, and continues to change, the hearts and lives of millions through the Gospel.
Change in ministry, while also healthy, is a lot less elegant and charming than what you just read. It isn’t always fun. The process of change isn’t positive at every step. Change can bring out the ugliest sides of a person. This is because change is often uncomfortable, difficult, and stressful.
Demographics, attitudes, and ethics are changing in our world at a break-neck pace. Personally, I feel the time is right for changing how we put our beautiful theology into practice. But how do we do that effectively? Hopefully these “Do’s” and “Don’ts” below can help you navigate making changes in the ministries you lead.
DO – PLAN
You can’t change something effectively without a plan. Planning should start and be constantly surrounded by prayer.
You should also research the change you want to make in your youth ministry. For example, if you’re changing the fundraiser for your youth group you’ll want to know what the other ministries in your church are planning. It is also important to know what youth organizations in your community are doing and when they are doing it. If changing an entire program, ask other leaders in similar contexts to yours what works for them, how they went about change, and more.
Once you have a plan, and I would argue that you can do this during the planning process, you’ll want to engage key leaders. These key leaders should help you prepare, research, and execute change. They should also be champions for the change you make – sharing the what, when, and why’s in the most positive way possible.
Finally, your plan needs to include the logistics of how you are going to execute the plan. Think through the calendar of events and actions you (and your team) need to accomplish to ensure as smooth a change as possible.
DON’T – ASSUME
You know what they say…
Seriously though, assuming isn’t just bad – it’s dangerous. When making change to our confirmation program, I assumed A LOT. It led to some deep wounds that took a good two years to process and recover from.
Don’t assume that everyone knows the changes you’re making/proposing. That is under communicating. One email, bulletin blurb, social media post, text, etc. is NOT enough. No, two isn’t enough either. When I changed the confirmation program at my first call, my pastor and I thought that two mailings and one informational meeting over a 5-month span was enough. It wasn’t, and parents (rightfully so IMO) felt blindsided. For some, the letter was lost in the mail. Others admitted that they didn’t read the letters carefully.
Also, don’t assume that everyone is going to love change. Everyone won’t. There are some people who you are going to face as you make a major (or sometimes even minor) change. Thom Rainer[i] calls these change resistant members: 1) Deniers – They say, “Nothing is wrong, so change isn’t needed” 2) Entitled – They pay (give an offering), so they should get their way 3) Blamers – They personally don’t need to change, so the change shouldn’t happen 4) Critics – Difficult, devious, and deceptive “Super Blamers” 5) Confused – Don’t understand why you are making the change in the first place. Take your time to listen to these members and take in any helpful insight and information they have. You should be able to clearly share the change you hope to make why you are making it, and what you hope the outcome will be. Take the time to help as many people as possible understand the change and hop on the change-train with you and your leaders.
DO – OVER COMMUNICATE
Regardless of the scale of your change, saturate your community with communication. Communicate why the changes are being made, how they are going to be made, who made the decision to change, who to voice questions (and complaints) to, and more. You may need to communicate why the change didn’t need to be voted on by the Voting Assembly of your church.
Make sure to communicate the BENEFITS of the change. This might be the most effective and win-some way to change the mind of the five people listed above. People tend to respond well when they are receiving something out of change – so what is the benefit of the change you are making?
Saturate your people in communication.
DON’T – KNOCK THE PAST
The past has its place. In fact, many times the programs, ministries, and events you change were once thriving. Parents may have cherished memories of when their kiddos went through “the old way.”
Don’t dunk on the past. Instead, remind people that while it was good it might not be meeting its goal or fulfilling its purpose anymore. Share with your people that this is okay (and healthy) to recognize that something worked well for ministry in the past but doesn’t any longer.
DON’T – REACT
When people are uncomfortable, afraid, and stressed – the emotions that change often brings – they act differently. Some lash out with words and actions that can cut deep. Others back-bite and gossip in the parking lot, which eventually makes its way back to you.
It’s easy in these situations to fight fire with fire. That is reacting. Reacting is saying to the mom who told you that you aren’t qualified in a discussion (okay, argument) on recent changes to Vacation Bible School, “If you think you can do a better job, YOU do it.”
If we’re honest, reacting is childish and the complete opposite of building each other up. Instead of reacting to the barbs of others…
DO – RESPOND GRACIOUSLY
The Bible warns of the dangers of the tongue (James 3:5-8). Instead, we are told to have our conversations seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6). When others spit fire from their tongue, we are to respond graciously.
This requires you understand where the other person is coming from. The biggest question I ask myself when trying to understand the stance of another person is: What is going on in their life?
When my pastor and I met to discuss my, “If you think you can do better, YOU do it” remark (yes… that was me…) he enlightened me on some crucial information. The mom I was arguing with was going through A LOT. Her husband was being sued, her kids were rebelling, and she was trying to hold it all together.
Knowing these things helped me better share Jesus with this mom. Our program pre-change was the one constant in her life in a season where everything was upside down. Parents could be struggling with divorce, work, rebellious kids, the actions of others, and so much more. Take a moment in times of conflict over change to ask, “What is going on in their life?” It can help you respond graciously.
Essentially, responding graciously is modeling positive leadership. Don’t put others down. Don’t belittle their opinions. Hear them. Take a deep breath. Process their comments. THEN respond to their questions, concerns, and comments with grace. Positive leadership in those instances looks a lot like swallowing your perfectly worded response and pride. Positive leadership isn’t winning people to your side. It’s shining the light of Jesus even when it’s difficult.
DO – R*E*L*A*X
Healthy change, for the most part, takes time. God is patient, even when He is enacting change! The Bible is filled with accounts of God spending hundreds, even thousands, of years enacting change.
God’s plan for us spanned from telling Adam, Eve, and the devil that He would save mankind (Gen. 3:15) to come into the world, live the perfect life, die our death, and rise again to save us from sin.
Take a breath. Lean into the long game. Remember that the best changes can take time.
[i] RAINER, THOM S. Who Moved My Pulpit?. Lifeway Christian Resources, 2017.