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5 Common Objections to Change – And 5 Ways to Lead Through Them

One of the biggest, yet seemingly smallest, changes we have made in church revitalization was switching our service times. It seemed so simple, yet I was pulled aside and told several times it would be the last change I made in the church. The word was some of the seniors, who primarily attended the later service, had made so many changes they weren’t doing this one. And they were apparently extremely serious about it – at least some of them.

(Let me give a side note here to my pastor friends. Your seniors who don’t like change are usually more supportive than you think they are or will be. Granted, there are those few who are difficult, but those people come with all age groups. Good leadership can bring your seniors along, which is the point of this post.)

But, foolish as I can be, we changed the service times.

(Another side note. To all leaders. If you aren’t occasionally doing some things others call foolish – at least initially – you may not be leading.)

Frankly, I don’t believe we would have ever appeared on any “fast growing church” list had we not made the change in our service times. It was that critical to moving the church forward.

And, it wasn’t about style of music. The church had made a decision, before I arrived, to begin a contemporary service. It would happen before the established worship time, which had a more blended style of worship. That, in and of itself was probably the best they felt they could do. And, that’s just my opinion. (I don’t think anyone chooses to start a contemporary service early morning with a goal to reach young adults and college students, because it’s the ideal time.) They knew they needed to do something to reach younger crowds, but this was the best they could accomplish in their current context, or so they thought.

The problem was it took young families out of the room of the largest worship service. No matter how many younger visitors I could get to attend that service, which was the natural time visitors came, they would look around and see few people in their demographic. And, it wasn’t that they didn’t like people with grayer hair. They just couldn’t find people in their season of life. So, they left and never returned.

So, this was my first major leadership hurdle. And, it wasn’t easy. There was plenty of resistance. We even lost a few families. Not many, but a few.

For the most part, however, it was an enormously successful change.

Part of the reason is we were methodical in our process and about addressing objections.

I’ve learned in leading change there are a few common objections to change. If you know a change is necessary, understanding why someone is objecting may help you respond accordingly.

Here are 5 common objections to change, followed by ways for addressing them:

People are confused -These people just don’t understand the why behind the change. They can’t get their minds around it yet. It doesn’t make sense to them. They may lack information. Often they have heard misinformation. Or they heard one point about the change and came to their own conclusion about the everything else. Their resistance is based more on a lack of understanding than even what they like or don’t like.

Suggestion: Over communicate. When you think you’ve shared too much – share it again. And again. And, share in different formats. We created a brochure for a change, which seemed to many to be so simple to understand. We held multiple meetings – with large and small groups of people. We placed it in the Sunday bulletin. I talked about it from stage. Many times, in my experience, once the change is explained, people become supportive or less opposed. Understanding the why, what, how, and when makes gives people a level of comfort in the change.

People are personally conflicted – Some people object to change,, because they are objecting to life. It’s not as much about you as it is about them. They have past hurts they can’t resolve. They are injured. Maybe even by something, which happened to them in the church. Maybe something in took place in their life, which has nothing to do with you or the church, but your change reminds them of their pain. So, they take their pain out on everyone else. And, the fact you’re leading the change, which is stirring the emotion, makes you the target now. Frankly, some of these people can even appear mean – they may or may not be under other circumstances. These type critics can be the most hurtful as a leader.

Suggestion: Attempt to understand them. I have learned many times people are dealing with an injury, which never healed. Understanding their pain can often lead to helping them heal from something in their past. Unfortunately they usually influence others with negativity also. Sometimes these people will be critics unless they are addressed directly. If you know the change is necessary, and you can’t get them on your team, you may have to simply work around them. You can’t allow their personality or emotional injury to hold you back from what you need to do as a leader. But, as a leader who cares about people, and all good leaders do, you should at first attempt to understand them and help them process their pain from life. Get them help if they need it.

Believing you don’t care. – These people simply don’t think you care for them or their uncomfortableness with the change. They assume, for whatever reason, the changes are being made without considering their opinion or concern. They may feel this way regardless of how much you have communicated. They may feel the changes favor one particular group of people at the inconvenience of another. Whether it’s true or not it’s how they feel.

I’ve learned, such as in the example of changing worship services, this can be more true the further you are demographically from the people. If they are older or younger than you, have differences in gender, ethnicity, etc., they may think you don’t understand them – and, again, that you don’t care for them. (Again, that’s likely not true, but it’s how they feel.)

Suggestion: Spend time with them as you’re able. Or empower others to spend time with them. I have seen many times if these people are included in the decision process, and you acknowledge and attempt to understand their concerns they will come along with you. Good vision casting can alleviate some of their concerns.

You’re taking control – This objection comes simply because you stepped on someone’s power. You didn’t check with them first. This is so common in church work. I have found many times pride and selfishness is the driving force here. They don’t like feeling they’ve lost their seat at the table of authority. Frankly, this reason for criticism is probably the most frustrating to me, because there’s little you can do about it unless you’re willing to appease them.

Suggestion: Recognize the pain. As difficult as this type criticism is to accept, I have observed that patient, honest, transparent conversations, while remaining firm with the change, can sometimes keep these critics from working against you, even if they still don’t agree with the change. Then sometimes, you simply have to move forward without their support. And, yes these can be the most difficult people to confront and can be intimidating, but, remember, you’re the leader and you can’t stall leading, because it’s uncomfortable or difficult.

Its uncomfortable. – These critics, who are the most common group, in my experience, simply don’t like change. It’s uncomfortable. Resistance to change will be relative to the size of the change. I hear people say they aren’t change resistant, but all of us are at some level.

Let me give you an example. Imagine your day off has been Saturday for the last 20 years. Suddenly your employment changes your day off to Tuesday. You now have to work Saturdays. How comfortable is that change?

Don’t resonate with that example? Pick an issue where you’re currently comfortable and consider changing it. Try enough scenarios and you’ll find your level of resistance to change. That’s what most people are going through when you introduce change. They don’t know how it will feel after the change.

Suggestion: Sympathize with them. Change can hurt. Every change has an attached emotion. (I’ve posted on these emotions previously.) Understand the emotional response part of change. It’s normal. The only real solution to this one is to provide clear communication, cast the vision well, and be patient as people adapt. Most of these people will come along eventually.

Criticism is common in leadership and change. The only way to avoid it is to avoid change. I’m not sure that would even be leadership, but that’s the only solution to be criticism-free. The fact is, the more change occurs, and the more it becomes part of the culture, the less resistance there will be.

I should note, this post is not intended to help you avoid criticism, and certainly not completely dismiss it. As a leader, you must consider whether the criticism is valid, be open to other ideas and even rebuke if needed. Thinking all your ideas are great is an error in judgement and character. This post is intended to help you understand the basis of many objections. Even the best ideas will receive some.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • jimpemberton says:

    Good stuff here. One thing that may be helpful is to communicate how this was a change that wasn't dictated, but deliberated on carefully and prayerfully by a group of people trusted and appointed by the congregation. It lends itself to helping not simply buy into the change, but to own the change themselves.

    "We take your trust seriously. Given that we have 'X' as a goal, we have prayed about and studied this in an effort to be faithful to our stated purposes as a church. In that line, we think that this is the best opportunity we have to achieve it at this time."

    Then be prepared to answer any conceivable questions that might come up.

    Something else that is helpful is to have a covenant among your governing board – whether they be deacons, elders, church council, or whatever – that once they have deliberated, debated, and come to a decision as a body, that this is one of God's means of guiding his church and they should walk out of the meeting unified behind the decision whether they liked it to begin with or not. There is a mature submission to one another that should be a steadfast principle. A unified governing body makes a change they recommend more palatable to people who would otherwise disagree.

  • maurice ekidor says:

    As a young leader your great idea as helped a lot.
    God bless you

  • Daymond says:

    Criticism is part of our human nature we liket or not, but the difference is how we address criticism in the eve of change. Great post.

  • Kumar Gauraw says:

    Wow! I love this post and all the 5 reasons why we fight the change (deliberately or unknowingly). There can be many branches that can be spawned out of each of these categories, but essentially, these five are great place to being the categorization. Thank you for sharing.

    However, if I have to suggest another reason, how about "Fear of unknown" ?

  • Love this post ~ important to keep in the forefront why we all tend toward criticism. I've got two reasons that share the number one slot as to why people do this. It's been my experience in business people criticize change:
    To distract and protract the inevitable.
    ~ peace & blessings

  • bryankr

    This is a good post! I have run into all of these, especially Control and Comfort. There are those in my Church that just feel that if you change something they are doing, it is the same as fixing something that isn't broken! In some cases, they are right. In most cases, it has nothing to do with the subject at hand. All I know to do with them is try to lead, to instruct. I can't force. There have been times when I had to just leave that matter on the table for a while, and hope for a change of heart down the line.

  • great post ron. i think an understanding of change itself helps people embrace and work with change (cf.