How to Lead Change When Change is Hard

By Dr. Donald Lynn Hardaway

APPEAL TO THEIR RATIONAL SIDE USING THESE ACTION STEPS:[i]

  1. Direct their rational side by showing them a working example of what change will look like. At Central Baptist Church in Norfolk, I knew large words on the wall were better than tiny words in a hymnal, so we rented a projector and screen and used it one Sunday. They had seen words on an overhead projector, but not through a computer with Powerpoint slides; their reactions were all positive. When we explained the cost of installing a quality system with two screens and projectors would be $30,000, they did not flinch. Individuals brought checks to the church and paid for it!

  2. Carefully plot each step of the way and explain them as you go forward. Introducing multimedia to Central meant changing the face of the sanctuary with electric screens, but we planned for objections by explaining we would cover the screen casings with wooden boxes to match the stain on the front walls. You just have to give careful forethought to exactly what will happen and plan for every objection.

  3. Paint a picture of what it will look like when you arrive at the destination. “Just think about what we can do with computer-driven slides. We can show video clips to illustrate the sermons, add different backgrounds to the songs, use theme-oriented slides for the message series, show announcements. On the day we remember those who have passed away during the year, we can put their photos on the screen.” You want to think creatively and paint the picture clearly so they can see it in their minds.

APPEAL TO THEIR EMOTIONAL SIDE USING THESE ACTION STEPS:

  1. Find the feeling. Rational thought rarely outweighs emotional reasoning. If it did, smokers would not smoke and dieters would not struggle with overeating. Declining churches usually know they need to change; they just feel at home and comfortable in their present setting. You can be the leader they need by helping them feel something else, something greater than nostalgic comfort. Make baptisms a celebration. Lead folks to clap, express their joy when the person comes up out of the water; remind them how they reward a toddler with excited praise when she takes her first step. Each time someone joins the church, make it exciting rather than “matter of fact.” At Central, I explained how looking up in worship, seeing the words of the songs in large print, would add a new dynamic and feeling to their experience with God (and it did).

  2. Separate the larger change into smaller, “digestible” changes. People pause when faced with massive changes; it is just too large for them to handle. As the adage goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer, “One bite at a time!” The word “change” frightens people who are surrounded by a world that fluctuates so rapidly they have a hard time keeping up, so call them “improvements.” Their emotional side will resist large, whole scale changes, but is more open to smaller, incremental ones, even if those small steps are obviously leading to the larger and more significant changes.

  3. Grow the people. Revitalizing a congregation means leading them to a new sense of identity that is connected to, but different from, their past identity. Teach them that growth is a good thing, a healthy thing, a biblical concept. Give them a fair warning that growth brings change; new people will bring new ideas and new energy. When the growth is happening, and the congregation is feeling the tension of adapting to new ways, comfort them by expressing where the boundaries are as you change and challenge them by pointing out the benefits of growth and change.

No one who has led a church through revitalization will tell you it was easy; in fact, it can be very difficult and, at times, painful. But, if the statistics are accurate and 85% of churches are plateaued or declining, the need for revitalizers is greater than it has ever been. I hope you will consider joining the league of leaders who are so “caught up” with passion for the local church, we cannot sit idly by and watch the church of the living Lord Jesus Christ flounder away to a place of insignificant influence!


[i] Adapted from Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath, 2010.

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