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Ten steps to bringing change and living to tell about it

Niccolo Machiavelli said, "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

Change is difficult for everyone, and yet change is happening all around us all the time. Part of the responsibility of leaders is to guide the process of change. The more effectively a leader can navigate the organization through the turbulent waters of change, the more effective both the leader and the organization will be. We will discuss the 10 steps a leader can take in making change and living to talk about it.

1. Win the trust and confidence of the people.

A leader will more quickly gain the trust and confidence of the people if he or she faces change realistically and makes right assumptions about change. A change agent must assume that change is constant, and possible; that people and systems can change; that a committed minority can win over a complacent majority; that God is in control and His will is paramount; and that our wrestling is not with flesh and blood.

Small successes and little victories help to build the confidence and trust of the people in the leaders. Honesty, integrity, and hard work also are essential to gaining the confidence of the people. Often people are disillusioned with leadership. Unrealistic dreams, broken promises, compromised values, and betrayed confidence have left people feeling skeptical, if not cynical, toward leaders. You need not prove yourself infallible but as genuine and competent. Tenaciously do your best for the group.

There are at least four character qualities a leader needs to develop to win the confidence of the people.

The leader needs to be empathetic. Like Christ who came to earth, the leader must put himself in the place of those who will be affected by the changes.

The leader needs to be an example, practically applying biblical principles to his own life. Change starts with the change agent.

The leader needs to be meek, demonstrating a quiet confidence in who he is and what he is called to do.

The leader needs to be relational. A leader must be able to relate openly, freely, and honestly with people; and people must feel they can do the same.

2. Pay the price of change yourself first.

When you understand how hard it is for you to make changes, it may make it easier for you to understand why it is difficult for others to change.

What is your changeability quotient? In her book, Making a Difference; Twelve Qualities That Make You a Leader, Sheila Murray Bethel says that every leader can find out how changeable he or she is by asking some probing questions.

  • In what specific ways have you grown and changed in the last 6 months, in the past year, as a result of God's Word and the Holy Spirit's work in your life?
  • What other changes have you experienced in the last 6 months, year, 2 years?
  • What have you learned from these changes?
  • Has your ability to lead been improved? How and why?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how comfortable are you with change?
  • How skillful are you at anticipating future change and its impact upon your mission?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how eager are you to face change at home, work, life?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, do you resist change?
  • Can you examine your perception of change candidly?
  • Can you maintain your creativity while working through the change?
  • Can you find innovative ways to affect the outcome of change?
  • Do you have a flexible leadership style in response to change?
  • Do you keep your perspective during change?

If you scored yourself low on any of these it may indicate that your flexibility and ability to change need some work.

3. Understand and respect the history of the group.

This is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that you as a leader value the people and the group. Second, it will give important insight into how to approach change. To ignore the group's history is a sign of disrespect to the people and is a sure way to experience failure in most instances.

Doing a diagnostic analysis of the situation will help both you as a change agent leader and the people you lead to see the changes that need to be made and why.

The following lists some diagnostic questions that can help you gain a better understanding and respect for the group.

  • Why do we exist as a church? What is our purpose? What are trying to do? What's the point of our church?
  • What is the history of the group? Have there been recurring challenges? Why?
  • What has been the average attendance for each of the past 10 years? What does the trend indicate?
  • In an average month, how many of your members were present on 1 Sunday out of 4? How many 2 out of 4? How many 3 out of 4? How many attend 4 out of 4? What do these numbers tell you?
  • Which areas of ministry and programming does your Sunday school do the best?
  • What is the best thing that has happened in your church in the past 5 years? In your Sunday school?
  • What new classes have you started in the past 5 years? In the past 2 years? Why were they started? Was the target audience of these groups the churched or the unchurched? What has been the growth patterns of these classes?
  • How many of your members joined the church in the past 5 years, the past 2 years?
  • What 10 words best describe your church?
  • What type of person finds your church most attractive? Least attractive?
  • List the needs of the people who find your church most attractive.
  • What reasons would you give friends for coming to our church?
  • What specific benefits or good do people (you) get from attending your church? What sorts of things do you see to specialize in that other churches may not?
  • List any and all things about your church that you really like--especially strengths or things that make you different from other churches you've attended. List them in any order.
  • List any and all needs of your church in any order.
  • Reach a consensus on the top five needs and list them in order--things you need within 6 months, 1 year.
  • Right now you are a fairly invisible church. Should you become more visible to the community of unchurched people who may not have friends who know about you? If so, how?

4. Identify, involve, and solicit the support of your influencers and stakeholders in the change.

Researchers have identified five types of people in the change process.

Innovators. They make up about 5 percent of the people in the group. They are the idea people -- the visionaries and dreamers. They tend to be entrepreneurial and often are misunderstood by the rest of the organization, and are generally castigated and ostracized by the organization. Often they are not viewed as leaders or policy makers but radicals, off in left field. They often have the gift of faith.

Early adopters. They make up about 15 percent of the people in the group. They are able to recognize a good idea when they see one. They have influence in the organization, and their opinions are valued. They often receive the credit for the ideas although they received them from an innovator. With their influence they will try to persuade others to accept the ideas.

Middle adopters. They make up about 50 percent of the group. They prefer to wait until the idea is tested. They are the "show me" people. They are the maintenance people and tend to be the followers. They generally reasonable in their analysis of the idea but prefer the status quo. They will be influenced by either the positive or negative influencers in the organization; however, they will lean toward opposing the change initially.

Late adopters. They make up about 25 percent of the group. They are the last group to endorse an idea. This group will generally throw their weight with the middle adopters after a period of time and evidence. They often will aggressively, publicly, and verbally oppose the idea. Seldom do they ever verbally accept the idea although they may adopt it if the majority supports it.

Non-adaptors. They make up about 5 percent of the group. They seldom adopt the idea and change. Some will take a subtle opposition posture while others will try to create a division within the group. They are committed to the past and the status quo. When they realize they can't get their way, they either will remain, sowing discord among the people as long as the group will put up with it, or they will run from it by leaving.

5. Involve the influencers in selling the change to the people.

There are some key points to keep in mind as you involve the key influencers in the process of change.

First the voice of authority/influence is more powerful than the merit of a wise proposal and plan for change. Second, the merit of a proposed change is weak if it doesn't also have the weight of those who have influence to support it. Third, not all votes are equal. Some are more influential than others. Fourth, it takes less authority to perpetuate the status quo than it does to initiate change within the organization. Fifth, there are various types of authority when it comes to any issue, and it is better to work from several sources of authority than from one or two. The basis of authority could be education, money, relationship, experience, or expertise. By involving as many sources of authority as possible in the change process, you substantiate the necessity of and plan for the proposed change.

If the influencers are not in favor of the change, it most likely will not happen. No leader can lead beyond the level that the permission givers, or influencers, will permit. Each influencer will sway between 12 and 25 people. If the influencer is sold on the proposed change, then the group he or she influences will most likely agree to the change.

6. Give the rationale for the change.

People resist change for a number of reason. In Circles of Influence: Expanding Your Leadership Capabilities in the Church, Robert C. Anderson identifies some of these reasons.

  1. Change is uncomfortable for them.
  2. They don't see the value or need for the change.
  3. They lack confidence in leadership.
  4. They haven't had time to consider the proposed change.
  5. They feel the change devalues their values.
  6. They don't feel ownership with the proposed change.
  7. They believe that other changes demand higher priority.
  8. They don't believe the timing is right for the proposed change.
  9. They fear the repercussions or implications of the change.
  10. They feel the change will create a division in the Body.
  11. They have not been consulted about the change.
  12. They are tired of continuous change.
  13. They fear failure.
  14. They have come to expect failure.
  15. They are afraid of losing something in the change.

Anderson goes on to say that people agree to change when:

  1. They see the climate as conducive to change.
  2. They believe that the change is legitimate.
  3. They see the old system no longer meeting their needs.
  4. They see that they no longer have the answers.
  5. Their attitudes about the change have changed.

Change becomes possible when leaders focus on three steps. First, inform the followers to expand their thinking. Give information and data to help substantiate the need, and rationale for change. let them know why the change is necessary, how they fit into the change, and the plan for the change. It is essential to address the psychological, social, and psychological, social, and physical impact the change will have.

Second, provide new ideas to spark creativity and broaden their horizons. Help them to see what can happen. Allow the group to dream together about the future and what could be. Paint a realistic but attractive picture of the future.

Third, provide new experiences to build a desire for and a belief in the value of change. Provide experiences that give them a feeling for and a picture of what it will be like after the change. This could involve visiting another church that is successfully doing what you are proposing. It could be experimenting with the change before it is actually implemented. Whatever change you propose, allow people to experience and see it in some way before it is enacted. This helps minimize fears and increase support.

A Checklist for Change
Before attempting to make changes in the organization, ask the following questions. The more questions you can answer with a "yes", the easier change tends to be. If you answer more questions with "no", it usually indicates change will be difficult.





Will this change benefit the followers?



Is this change compatible with the purpose of the organization?



Is this change specific and clear?



Are the top 20 percent (influencers) in favor of this change?



Is it possible to test this change before making a total commitment to it?



Are physical, financial, and human resources available to make this change?



Is this change reversible?



Is this change the next obvious step?



Does this change have both short- and long-range benefits?



Are the leaders capable of bringing about this change?



Is the timing right?

Taken from Developing the Leader Within You by John Maxwell


7. Help people to see the change will benefit them personally.

If people have the slightest sense that leaders are making changes for their own interests, desires, and benefit, they will react and resist the change. Take time to think through what the benefits of the change will be for individuals.

  1. List all the benefits of the change.
  2. Write down all the ways that the change will address the felt needs and mutual purposes of the people.
  3. Illustrate how the change better accomplishes the mission to which everyone has already agreed.
  4. Express the change in terms that reinforce the values of the organization and how the values themselves urge the need for change.
  5. Use word pictures and illustrations to help communicate the personal benefit of the change.

8. Keep communication lines open.

Listen to people. Try to discover why they do not want the change. If they fell they can talk about their concerns, it helps to keep the change process from becoming explosive. It also helps leaders to know what the issues are.

Assure people it is OK to reserve judgment about the change. Don't take criticism personally.

Get other people involved in discussing the change and explaining it to others.

Demonstrate flexibility, adaptability, and concern for people. Be willing to modify the "how" to accomplish the "what". Above all, sincerely love the people and keep integrity in all your dealings.

9. Be patient and flexible in the change process.

It is easier for leaders to be flexible and patient if they understand the process of change. Win Arn discussed this process (Growth Report Nol. 5, "Ten Steps for Church Growth"; New York: Harper & Row, 1977). He said every organization finds itself somewhere on the "Organizational Change Scale." Each church, ministry, organization, and every person is at a different point on the change scale. To effect positive change the leader needs to understand where the people are in the process of change.

The different stages follow. Identify where you, your key leaders, and your group are on the scale. Then note the suggested steps for moving along the scale.

A. Ignorance. There is no sense of vision or specific direction. Priorities are confused. People tend to be indifferent and apathetic or concerned only about their interests. The organization is self-centered and self-serving.

Preach and teach about the mission and purpose of the church and its ministries. Show vision-building videos. Get people involved in studies that establish a biblical base for God's purpose for His church--reaching the lost and ministering to human need.

B. Information. General information is given, and a general interest in learning more begins to increase. The idea of change is heard but resisted. More dialogue and information are important to continue the process of change. If the process of change is stopped at this point, increased apathy and indifference begin to build stronger walls of resistance to future change. The Great Commission is ignored and a sense of purposelessness sets in.

Enlist key influencers and a cross section of the early and middle adapters to serve as a task group. Their function is to study the past growth patterns and to dream again for the future. Conduct a community and church diagnostic study. Sponsor a church growth seminar or diagnostic clinic for your church. Involve more people in the study of church growth materials.

C. Infusion. As new ideas begin to infiltrate the mind-set of individuals and the organization, resistance increases. The challenge to change is threatening to the status quo and thus meets with confrontation. Tradition, control, and apathy react to the challenge of change. At this point change can derail with the tendency to focus on surface problems instead of keeping a strong focus upon the mission and dream.

Communicate the research and diagnostic information to the congregation. Give greater visibility to the vision and mission of the church. Get public support of the key influencers for the proposed changes. Provide forums for people to discuss and interact about the future and proposed change.

D. Individual change. The awareness of the change and the need for change increase. A few persons, the early adopters, begin to see the need for and benefits of change and begin to adapt their own thinking and actions. As the early adopters embrace the change, momentum begins to increase in favor of the change.

Establish the mission and vision statement. Involve the key influencers and early and middle adapters in the goal-setting and strategy process. Continue to emphasize the dream to the people. Identify areas of need, opportunities for new groups, and new ministries. Emphasize the changes as additions, not replacements.

E. Organizational change. Less defensive discussion increases between those for and those against change. With the increased openness toward the change, the momentum begins to swing in favor of the proposed changes. The organizational mission and vision become more focused and new ideas, strategies, and activities are introduced and welcomed.

Publicly recognize growth leaders and successful growth experiences. Continue to build on the little victories and quickly address the failures. Leaders need to model commitment and not waver.

F. Awkward application. With the attempts to change there are some successes and some failures. The process of change begins and the momentum for change increases. Morale increases and a sense of excitement and expectancy begins to build.

Focus attention on the middle adapters. Inform and encourage them to accept and support the change. Provide opportunities for the larger group to become involved in the process. Sponsor another church growth seminar to build support for the vision and proposed changes. Increase the focus on outreach, and develop new roles for people to become involved in outreach ministries.

G. Integration. The awkward application begins to yield to more and greater success. The changes become more refined, and there are fewer large changes being made. The changes are embraced by a large majority of the people. With the successes and increased morale comes a secondary wave of successes and results.

H. Innovation. As significant and positive results increase, confidence and risk taking also increase. People are willing to change more and take on bolder dreams and visions that will require greater and more demanding changes for the cause. Success breeds greater success.

Celebrate victories and successes. Involve more people in the ministries and make heroes out of your workers. Continue to expand and build the dream into the next level of growth and change.

10. Maintain the right spirit and attitude, trust God.

Leaders must keep their eyes on the Lord. Change is not easy. It takes faith, obedience, and courage. A leader must keep a right spirit by staying on his or her knees so the heart is filled with faith; the attitude is positive; and the spirit gentle, kind, humble, and meek. We must trust the Lord and realize that His purposes will be accomplished.


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