Leading your team through change can certainly be challenging. However, I believe it can make your team stronger by bringing you closer together as you rise to meet or conquer a challenge.
Most changes are due to a leadership decision concerning change in programming, staffing, or philosophy. Craig Groeschel said, “People don’t hate change; they hate the way we try to change them.” I believe that is true, so let’s discuss some ideas that can help us lead positive change.
3 Keys to Leading Your Team Through Change
1. Earn the right FIRST.
My best advice would be to hold off on major changes until you can build equity in the minds of your leaders. You can accomplish this by allowing people to see that the things you do add value to your ministry. Look for “low hanging fruit”—little things that you can do that enhance, improve, or simplify the ministry that you lead.
Some little things I did at my last church that helped me begin to build equity were to put a light in the snack closet and add a door stopper. For years, ladies would hold the door open with one foot, so they could see inside because there was no light in the closet, then balance on one foot as they picked out snacks. I had signs made that hung from the ceiling and took down the ones that were posted beside the classroom doors. Leaders then had a much easier time directing parents and kids to the proper classrooms. These were little things that made a BIG difference in the mindset of our key volunteers.
When staff and volunteer leaders begin to see the positive impact of your decisions/changes, you earn the benefit of the doubt when you are attempting to lead through a bigger change. Your track record is good and has made a difference in the ministry they help lead.
2. Include key leaders in the decision process.
Leadership by title only is a lousy way to lead. Don’t be a Lone Ranger. God has given you people to lead. Pray and think about who needs to be in this meeting, who would be offended or devalued if they were not invited. Leaders don't like being surprised, so gather your key leaders together. Explain the idea or task, ask for their input and opinion, and then pray and get back to them with the plan.
Remember, people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate what they could achieve if they are willing to let go of the “old.”
Henry Ford has been quoted as saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
You’re not asking them if you can make a change; you are simply coming to them so that they are a part of the upcoming change and know that you value their input. When they know the underlying reason and vision, they are better able to own the change.
I learned that my leaders and I handled change better if we at least understood why it was necessary. Then we could move forward, even if we didn’t agree on every element of the change. It is important to have your leadership team united. You need their help to lead successful change in your ministry.
A tremendous real-life example of this took place at the church I served in Michigan. My part-time coordinator and I had tried so many things to add volunteers to our Sunday morning preschool department, but we continued to lose them rather quickly. After much prayer and consideration, I set a meeting with our primary large group preschool teacher. This lady was a legend in our church, wrote her own lessons each week, and held a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Development. I shared with her how I believed we needed to change our entire preschool teaching schedule on Sunday mornings. I believed that one of the main reasons we weren't keeping volunteers long term was because they were not doing enough “meaningful ministry” each week. Our “legendary teacher” was doing most of the teaching, as she had been doing for many years, and the other volunteers were mostly facilitating. Because I had already worked diligently to “earn equity in her life and ministry,” she listened intently to my proposed changes. Because of her tremendous heart for ministry to kids, she offered her thoughts and suggestions, and we instantly began to make the necessary changes with her blessing. Then something wonderful happened: We began to see our preschool volunteers blossom. Our turnover rate went down significantly, while our overall ministry to preschoolers increased significantly.
3. Evaluate and Encourage.
We need to constantly evaluate how change is being implemented. However, after three months, personally reevaluate, and reevaluate with your key leaders. Make certain you are talking with the leaders who are actually seeing the effects of change firsthand. Maybe there are some tweaks that need to be made. Hopefully you will have some victories to report, discover ways that the implemented change has already helped, or learn how the change is moving you toward the desired outcome.
Be kind and gracious when correction is needed. Explain again why this change is so important. Acknowledge their complaint. Sometimes their complaint is much different than what you initially thought, and can be easily corrected.
It takes time to change culture. For some people, we simply must prove it is better or needed.
My best example of this is when we added elementary students to our existing nursery/preschool, electronic check in and pick-up tags system. Some of our key leaders didn't like the change, and many of our parents didn’t either, but the culture had to be changed. I found myself routinely explaining to leaders and parents the importance of what we were doing and why. After three months, we reevaluated and changed the way we were lining up parents and dismissing elementary kids, thus making the process much quicker and smoother, and gained more favor with the leaders and parents. Today, the process runs very smoothly and has become an unquestioned and valued part of the culture.
The truth is, if you don’t, can’t, or won’t change, then you will never be an effective leader. We know that not everything is up for change. The mission is constant, but how we accomplish the mission must change.
What are some things that you know need to change, but you’ve been putting off making the changes? What are some current changes that need to be evaluated?
Gather your key leaders and implement these ideas to help lead positive change.