Leading through change is one of the biggest difficulties for me as a leader. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I don’t want to run people off. I don’t want to rock the boat too fast or too much. So my tendency is to try and lead through changes gradually. But there are some pretty significant reasons why gradual change may not be the best.
Dramatic change works better than slow change. Take the transition from being a traditional church to a contemporary church, for example. Your church won’t become contemporary by introducing one contemporary song into a set of hymns with a pipe organ. Surrounding one uncomfortable change by a bunch of old comforts only magnifies the discomfort of the former and the comfort of the latter. If change is to happen effectively, it should be dramatic. You can’t lose weight effectively by eating a salad once a day and whatever you want for the rest of your meals. You have to change every meal.
Change has to be committed to long term. Trying something a few weeks doesn’t work. You have to give it a chance to become habit. You have to give the change a chance to change you. Several years ago I changed the way I ate. Nearly a year into it I had lost 60 pounds. But more importantly my tastes were changed. The change changed me. I began to crave a really good salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I even started craving brussels sprouts!! This principle applies to organizations too. What may not be very palatable at first, will become an acquired taste, and as people continue seeing positive changes, eventually the preferred taste.
Change must happen to accomplish your desired results. Churches often talk about reaching people. They have “reaching people” in their mission statements or core values. Yet in many of those same churches you can’t really see “reaching people” in their traditions or habits. What we DO communicates what’s important to us. If financial responsibility is REALLY important to you then you cut up the credit cards and commit to NOT get new ones. If being healthy is REALLY important to you then you’ll purge your house of processed foods, sugar. You’ll instead eat clean, organic foods for an entire year. If your church REALLY wants to reach the next generation, you will shed the things that reached the previous generation in favor of the things that are reaching the new generation. Your desired results will never happen without uncomfortable change.
Change has to be communicated clearly and honestly…over and over again. Why do you want to change? This is your vision. When leading others through change, you need a long version of your vision as well as several elevator speeches. You also need a list of talking-points for other leaders in your organization. Here is a talking-point example for a church’s construction project:
- Our church is building a new building.
- Our leadership has prayed through this decision and believe it’s the right move.
- This change will be hard, but worth it.
- It is our privilege to set our personal preferences aside in favor of reaching more people.
- It’s going to cost X amount.
- We’re going to raise the money in ways A, B and C.
- We are making this change because we don’t want to stop growing.
- This change will help us reach people we in the following three ways.
- Way 1
- Way 2
- Way 3
As a leader, you must talk about these points over and over again. Talk about your mission and vision over and over again. Set a date to begin the change and stick to it. Keep talking about this vision for at least a year into the change. Talk about it over and over again until you think you can’t talk about it anymore.
Gradual change seldom works with people. It tends to make everyone unhappy. Besides, how many people who could have been reached, die while we are making tweaks and adjustments? The answer is simple: even one is too many.