As a pastor and leader, I am continually dealing with change. Everyday. Change is a part of life – for all of us. There are some critical steps that should be realized prior to initiating major change.
Some change occurs without us doing anything. In my context, we adjust our Easter calendar every year – without much thought of whether we will or not. Sometimes it’s in March – sometimes April. And there is nothing we do to influence this change. There are lots of other examples of this.
Some change is so routine it requires little thought or preparation by the leader. For example, leaders will move and new leaders will replace them – almost naturally over time. If you’ve been in leadership for very long at all you’ve probably seen dozens of leaders in the organization change.
But when making major change – change which impacts everyone – change which may be controversial – there are some steps to take prior to implementing the change. Failing to understand this or do most or all of these, in my experience, could derail the effectiveness of the change.
I am going to share steps I take. You may have a better system in place. If so, please help me learn from you. Certainly, however, there are steps that must be taken in advance of major change. It’s naive to think otherwise.
7 steps prior to initiating major change:
Establish trust authority.
I wrote about this principle HERE. Leaders shouldn’t attempt to implement major change until they have enough trust of the people to solicit the support necessary for the change. You will need people to follow your leadership and this requires an established relationship of trust.
Leaders need to be careful not to move until ample trust is in place for the size of the change – and knowing when this is in place takes years of practice and lots of people speaking into the process. This doesn’t mean people will trust, or even like, the change, but it does mean they have trust in the leader.
Personal confidence and conviction.
Check your heart. Have you prayed about it? Do you sense any reason you shouldn’t do it? In my experience, God gives tremendous freedom to us in how we carry out the mission. This is why there are hundreds of styles and structures of churches all carrying out the same Great Commission.
Yet, before you do anything else, make sure you are in this enough to see it through. Would you be willing to fight the naysayers on this one? Are you willing to lose people over it? I’m not saying it will come to this, but it is the level of commitment you need to have before you introduce major change.
Leadership is in place.
Make sure you get buy in from those who will most likely end up implementing the change. Personally, I’m seldom willing to move forward if the staff or key volunteers I’ve surrounded myself with don’t believe in the change.
There may be times I need to vision cast better and help them see the need, but their support is critical if major change is going to be successful.
Consider using a focus group.
On major changes, I like to bring in a group of people who are generally supportive of my leadership, but represent all the major groups within the church. I cast the vision for the change, get their feedback and answer questions. Again, they may or may not immediately agree with the change, but I know they will be a respectful audience.
I always tell them as a leader, I will have to follow the direction I feel God is leading me, but I value their input in the process of discernment. (And, I genuinely do. Make sure you are open to this as a leader.) This step always makes the change better by their input and helps build a base of support for the change.
Consider a stakeholder analysis
I wrote about this concept HERE. I try to know the most interested and influential people in the particular change. We attempt to reach out to them first. Again, this step builds support among influencers and usually further enhances the change with their input and hopefully their support.
Many times this group become supporters of the change, or at least they don’t work against it, because they feel included in the process. (Again, leader, make sure you are open to this input. You need people to make any change effective. The more buy-in you get early the more effective you will be.)
Make sure major questions are answered.
Or at least have plan to get them answered. One of my goals is getting as many answers to questions as possible on the table before the change is implemented.
We can never anticipate all the questions or scenarios which will arise, but the more we can address them in advance the better prepared we will be to handle them when they do. In each of the groups listed here, I always ask what questions are in the room and what questions they may sense others will have.
Plan a timetable for implementation.
It is impossible to do this perfectly, but having a planned approach to implementing the change makes the change more successful. This needs to be planned, as much as possible, before the change implementation begins.
People WILL ask this question. Be realistic with your timetable, but don’t be afraid to let it stretch you either. The best change requires an element of faith.
Those are some of the steps I think through before making major change. As a pastor, I know God has called me to lead a church – with an unchanging mission and message, which will always need to be changing methods as the people we try to reach our changing. Refusing to change simply diminishes our effectiveness and shortens our lifespan as a local church. The more I can do to prepare people for change, the more effective that change can be.
Any steps you would add?