“That’s not how we’ve done it in the past,” a church member retorted when asked to participate in a new ministry program. “We can just do it like we’ve always done it.” This is an all too familiar response when it comes to church ministry. Change can be downright scary. I myself am a type-A, high- strung personality and like to have everything planned out when it comes to something new. However, I also know that any ministry needs to embrace change in order to adapt to the changing needs of the people they strive to serve.
Change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same forever. As cultures change, churches change, too. Instead of fearing it, churches would benefit from creating strategies to deal with the change effectively so ministries don’t just survive, but also thrive.
In the book Who Moved My Cheese? Author Spencer Johnson lists four different types of ways of dealing with change. The cheese, their source of food, has been moved to a different location. The four mice: Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw, have to deal with how they choose to find this new location. Each mouse deals with the change differently. Sniff detects change early and adjusts his life around the impending change. Scurry, upon discovering change, plans and prepares for it. He may not know change is coming, but when he does, he embraces it and tries to find alternative ways to find the cheese. As he waits, he wastes away, missing out on the place of solace change might have brought him. Haw at first stays with Hem and also complains about the cheese being moved to another location. Once he begins to feel the ill effects of not having cheese (his rumbling stomach and weakening frame) he decides to go looking for the cheese. Once he successfully finds it, he basks in the realization that change is not as bad as he once thought. 1
How do you deal with change? Do you embrace it, or do you fear it, dragging your heels at the very thought of it? Change can benefit all involved if leaders embrace it and plan for it instead of running from it.
The idea of change makes me shudder. If it is not broken, don’t fix it, right? Yet change is necessary. It prevents a ministry’s direction from becoming stagnant. It allows growth and freedom. When you look at your ministry as a whole, change can be a great benefit. Churches have to learn to deal with change if they want to move forward with their vision. Some churches may fear change, yet if the dynamics of ministry don’t change to suit members’ needs and new members don’t get connected, a once growing ministry will die.
If you have someone in your church on the cusp of change, here are five ways you can deal with it effectively:
Create a clear vision- it is not enough to know how a ministry will function now, but what does the leader want the ministry to accomplish in one year? Five years? Help members see where the ministry is headed, so they can decide if it is still a viable ministry for them. The biggest companies today all have vision and mission statements. If a church is poised for numeric growth, it has an overall vision and specific steps as to how to get there. If you don’t know what that vision and mission is, ask the pastor or a member of the staff. Equipped with that information, reframe your ministry as to how it fits under the umbrella of your church ‘s mission and vision. This will achieve unity and give it a unique purpose within the church as a whole rather than a side ministry irrelevant to the church’s function.
Create a plan together- Instead of leaving your church member with no direction help her mark out a clear plan of what the future of the new ministry will look like. Get important ministry heads together, and brainstorm ways to change that will preserve the goals of the old ministry but run it in a way that will reach the most people at one time. Get out a whiteboard and first identify the purpose and goal of the ministry. Then talk about ways that ministry seeks to meet the needs of its participants. Sometimes it means the format (or how that ministry operates) needs to change. In other cases, it may need to be scrapped altogether. This will take courage to scrap unnecessary ministries, but in the end, like a gardener prunes dead branches, this will leave room for the live branches to flourish. This will help her know how to move the ministry forwards, not backwards.
Help them process loss- Behind a member’s fear of change is fear that they will have nothing to offer the new ministry. Furthermore, a ministry head may fear not having a place to be needed even more. This fear, if not held accountable, may cause grumbling and gossip that when sown into listening ears, leads to dissension. Nip fear in the bud as soon as you can. Have a frank conversation with ministry heads whose ministries are no longer effective. Help them process their grief. Encourage them to redefine their role as a leader and help her discover how their unique gifts will enhance the ministry as a whole. Encourage them by letting them know that you appreciate their work up until this point. Help them redirect their focus in a positive way, not criticizing the ministry’s ineffectiveness, but use it as an opportunity to reach a new generation of church members. Remind them that their work helps to bring forth God’s kingdom here on earth.
Reproduce new leaders- Jesus began his ministry training leaders. He pinpointed the twelve disciples as those whom he could train and show them how to accomplish his Father’s work, hoping they would eventually replicate other leaders themselves. Help him/her to identify someone within the ministry as a potential new leader. Encourage her to mentor the other person and train them into helping them lead the ministry in the event of illness or unexpected absence. Mentorship may take on several forms, based on schedules and the amount of free time available. Encourage mentors and mentees to remain consistent, meeting regularly. Purchase a book that will help equip mentees to lead ministries. Have each person work how the frequency and duration of mentorship. Help him/her utilize his/her gift of leadership to create more leaders. It will not only benefit the other ministries, but the church as a whole.
Celebrate the unveiling- Communication is imperative at this point. Church members who fear change may be wondering what is happening. To help them ease into a new transition, have elders or other established leaders communicate changes at vital points throughout the transition. Encourage them to communicate it in a positive way so people are not conditioned to fear change. Help them to be an advocate for change, rather than someone who rallies members to buck against change. Once a new vision and mission are established, celebrate it. Put in on bulletins and other banners as a way for people to memorize the new vision and mission. Challenge them to pass out business cards and other advertisements to people in their community so everyone can be on board with it. This will create an overall sentiment of excitement and possibility of people coming to faith because everyone is in agreement about the church, where it is headed and where it is going.
Change is inevitable. We can choose to have a wrong perspective and ignore or fear it. But with the right perspective, change can enhance your relationship with God and allow your ministry to flourish.
1 Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese? (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998).