Most roadblocks to needed change that congregations encounter are self-inflicted by its own leaders. Below I’ve listed the top six ways I see ministry leaders (unconsciously) sabotage change.
1. They send out mixed messages. Leaders must speak with one voice and vision. Change is disconcerting enough, but even more when the leaders are not on the same page. A clear and powerful vision, undergirded with a strong, credible strategy, is almost unstoppable. This vision must be focused, flexible, and easy to communicate. It must be communicated in a way that inspires action and guides people’s actions and decision making.
2. They fail to obtain adequate buy-in. Not only must your congregation have a clear picture of what the future will look like, that vision must be embraced by key stakeholders in the congregation. Before you announce a capital campaign, for example, you must have in place a guiding coalition, dozens of committed donors, and plenty of advocates ready to support the process. When considering who might be part of your guiding coalition, ask yourself: Who are influential people that shape the opinions of our people? Who has expertise in areas that would help move this initiative forward? Who has earned the respect of others in our congregation?
3. They fail to create an “actionable” ministry plan. Most plans I see only scratch the surface of what’s possible and are not designed to go deep within the congregation. Superficial efforts will not be sustained, and eventually you’ll hear people say, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If your plan does not identify action steps that will involve the majority of your people, it will most likely fail. All good plans help people understand the big picture, the next steps that need to be taken, and what role each person will play. If your plan leaves out any of these three items, expect to experience a few roadblocks.
4. They work on too many projects at once. Remember the phrase “do less and go deeper.” Focus on just one or two initiatives rather than a laundry list of projects. Many congregations create a theme for the year and address just one project at a time. Successful initiatives always have a sense of urgency built into them that provides a compelling reason for why others should get involved now. It’s very hard to communicate this urgency when you’re working on multiple projects at once.
5. They under-communicate. When it comes to change, there are three questions everyone wants answers for: What is the change? Why is it happening? How is it happening? The why answers are what motivate people to take action. The how answers help people understand how the change will unfold and how they can contribute to the effort. When leaders spend months working on a plan, it’s easy for them to lose sight of the fact that others aren’t as fully invested at this point. This is like being on a roller coaster where the people in front (leaders) are well aware of what’s about to happen and the people at the end (members) are clueless about what’s about to transpire. When in doubt, always over-communicate.
6. They underestimate the power of entropy. I’m often amazed at how quickly congregations will revert to their old, counterproductive behaviors. Resistance is always waiting in the wings to reassert itself. The consequences of letting up, becoming complacent about your communication and behaviors, can be very dangerous. Whenever you let up before the job is done, critical momentum can be lost and regression may soon follow. The new behaviors and practices must be driven into the congregational culture to ensure long-term success. Once regression begins, rebuilding momentum is a daunting task.
Jim LaDoux is the longtime Director of Coaching Services for Vibrant Faith. Jim lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife—he has two adult sons. He’s been a coach since 1992, and has a Master of Management Arts and is a certified PCC (Professional Certified Coach).