Managing change

Change is very much part of life. There are few situations where it seems to be more challenging to introduce change than church! Those involved in leading through change need to do so with a measure of skill and sensitivity - recognising that many people will find it difficult.

A process for journeying with people through change

  1. Create an environment where people accept that change is necessary
    This is about looking at the big picture and if you don’t do this, every small change will feel like a battle. To help with this, give people time to talk about what will happen if no change takes place and help them face up to the reality of this. It will raise doubts and fears that you will need to help people explore and work through with sensitivity but only after people have explored this will they genuinely be ready to move on to the next stage.
  2. Talk together about what you would like the future to look like and why
    This will help to draw people together and create a measure of trust. As you do this, try to focus on the big picture.  Encourage them to talk about what they would like to see and why - ask them to express their dreams and speak of their vision for the future. Also, encourage them to think through what this will mean for them. There is a cost involved in change (much of it an emotional cost as people lose something) and it is best to acknowledge this right from the very beginning. People will appreciate your honesty and so trust develops.
  3. Identify some practical steps you can take
    All you can do to begin with is take some small steps in the right direction. They will not take you in one step to where you want to be - but after you have taken the first steps, the next steps will become clear and likewise.

Some practical hints

  1. Give people space and time to talk
    Not only at the start, but all the way through, acknowledge people’s feelings and help them as they move through the changes. Don’t be caught out by strong feelings or become overly defensive. Instead, be prepared to listen and help people work through their feelings.
  2. Use outside facilitators
    Outside facilitators bring three things: an expertise in guiding people through the change process; an independence and an ability to moderate behaviour!
  3. Make sure the important voices are heard
    The most important people to hear from are not those who make the most noise at meetings! (See illustration below - the ‘noise’ curve is the dotted curve.) Instead, it is important to hear from those who occupy the middle ground, who represent the majority. They are usually the least vocal and it is important that they have opportunity to speak. One simple way of doing this at Kirk Session meetings is to break into discussion groups and then feedback from those groups.
  4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate 
    The most frequently heard complaint is quite simply ‘we don’t know what is happening.’ This can be misread as a desire by others to control, manipulate or hold back what is going on. Usually it is exactly what it presents as - a desire to know what is going on! So let people know what you’re thinking  right from the beginning and then find lots of different ways to communicate as decisions are made.
  5. Involve all generations in decision making
    Whilst this can be overplayed, if you want to build a multi-generational church which will draw in all generations then decision making needs to involve all generations. Many younger people are hesitant about taking on long term commitments and as a result most of our Kirk Session do not have a balance of generations. Look for other ways of genuinely involving them in decision making.

Full overview on Managing Change

Further reading and resources

David Cormack, Change Directions - New ways forward for your Life, Church and Business