A couple of Sundays ago was a great day in my world. The church where I am currently serving as transitional pastor heard dynamic testimonies of how God is changing lives through the Celebrate Recovery ministry they sponsor.
The church I previously served in called a new pastor with excitement and anticipation for the future. Leaders of the church I served prior to that were at an event where I spoke, sharing the good things God was doing and how excited they were about their pastor. The common denominator is that I frequently have opportunity to serve as a transitional pastor, which I believe is a great ministry, and that we serve a God who is in the business of bringing change in His church.
Change is a difficult thing for most people to experience and embrace. Mark Twain said, “The only people who like change are babies with wet diapers.”
Change is inevitable in our world, and the church is not immune to that reality. While change is difficult, people tend to be more open to change when the reasons for the changes are clearly communicated.
In fact, I have heard many times from churches in difficult situations that the struggle is often not about a decision but how it was made. Here are some suggestions for pastors and church leaders in communicating change:
• Bring people along with you in processing the need for change. Often the proposed change is resisted because when people first hear of it is when they are asked to make a decision. Bringing key people into the process of the decision tends to make people more open to the change. Knowing that the people they look to as leaders have been involved helps lessen the anxiety about the change.
• When possible, give people time to think and pray about the proposed change before making a decision. There are some times when this is not possible (such as when dealing with moral issues or when a time-sensitive decision is required). But for most decisions, time will not impact the decision but can produce a great “buy-in” from the church. The people proposing the change have often lived with it for weeks and months and can forget that those who are just hearing about it need some time for their questions and concerns to be answered and addressed.
• Clear communication and answered questions about the change will help people embrace it. What people are not “up” on, they tend to be “down” on. Many people do not want their church to change because it is one constant in their life. Leaders have to help the church understand the need for change and how it will further their mission. Clear and consistent communication can help. The willingness to take time to answer questions both privately and publicly brings people along in the needed decision.
• Lead change through prayer and from a prayerful heart. We tend to underestimate and underemphasize the importance of prayer. We are involved in spiritual work, and we need to pursue that work with spiritual energy and insight. Prayer brings spiritual focus. When pastors and church leaders model seeking the Lord in prayer, the church will join them in the pursuit. Spiritually-minded people are more eager to follow leaders that demonstrate a prayerful spirit and call the church to seek the Lord together.
Change is rarely easy but often necessary. How that change is communicated is often the key to how the change is embraced and implemented in the life of the church.