The only way to succeed in a changing world is to change. That’s why it is essential that pastors and leaders grow in their ability to anticipate and actively lead change on a daily basis. In other words, successful churches embrace change and dying churches resist change.
Knowing that change is necessary doesn’t make leading change easier. Many pastors know that their church must change to be effective but they’re stuck because they can’t overcome the challenge to leading change.
So, how do you lead a church through change? Here are 8 steps for leading change in any church or organization outlined by John Kotter, the guy that literally wrote the book on leading change.
1. Create a Sense of Urgency
It is crucial to develop a sense of urgency around the need for change before initiating the change. When pastors ignore this step and rush to make a plan and take action they increase the chance of failure. Often times we want to skip to the doing rather than spend the necessary time it takes to get a significant number of our congregation to our same point of urgency.
When creating urgency, it’s not enough to have a compelling theological or theoretical reason for the change. Leaders who lead change well will “aim for the heart”. They will connect to the deepest values of their people and inspire them to greatness. They will make engage the senses, create messages that are simple and imaginative, and call people to dream of what could be.
2. Form A Guiding Coalition
Managing change isn’t enough…you have to lead it. No one person, no matter how competent, is capable of single-handedly leading change. This require strong leadership and visible support from key people within your church.
If you want the change to be successful, you must put together a team of the right people to lead the change with you. Your team needs to be made of up staff and key leaders that have a significant level of trust and are all bought into the necessary change. This group should have enough proven leaders to be able to drive the change process throughout your church.
3. Create A Vision For Change
When you first start thinking about change, there will probably be many great ideas and solutions floating around. Link these concepts to an overall vision that people can grasp easily and remember. A clear vision can help everyone understand why you’re asking them to change.
Here are some things to consider when creating your vision for change. Make sure it is focused, flexible, and easy to communicate. It needs to both inspire action and give guidance to your decision making process. Finally, it needs to clarify how the future will be different from the past.
4. Communicate The Vision
What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. You need to communicate it frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything that you do. Don’t just call special meetings to communicate your vision. Instead, talk about it every chance you get. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. When you keep it fresh on everyone’s minds, they’ll remember it and respond to it.
Remember, when communicating your vision, actions speak louder than words. Leaders who transform their churches “walk the talk”. Nothing undermines your vision faster than inconsistent actions by leadership. Nothing speaks as powerfully as someone who is backing up their words with their behavior.
5. Empower Action
Unleash your staff and key leaders to achieve the vision that you’ve placed before them. Remove barriers to your systems that may hold them back. Sometimes your policies and procedures need to be adjusted to implement the vision. Do everything you can to empower everyone in your church to realize the vision.
6. Generate Short Term Wins
Nothing motivates more than success. Experiencing short term wins will increase your ability to sustain the change process. Define the wins and celebrate them when they are accomplished. This requires planning and effort on the part of the leader. They are essential to undermine the cynics and give credence to the vision.
Short-term wins have a way of building momentum that turns neutral people into supporters, and reluctant supporters into active helpers.
7. Don’t Let Up
Kotter argues that many change projects fail because victory is declared too early. Real change runs deep. Quick wins are only the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change. Critical momentum is lost when churches let up too soon.
To avoid letting up, continue driving the change deeper into the church’s DNA. Make the vision a part of your culture for the long term. Without consistent leadership the change will stall.
8. Make It Stick
Finally, to make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your church. Your culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day-to-day work. Make continuous efforts to ensure that the change is seen in every aspect of your church.
Keep in mind that tradition is a powerful force. If there’s any chance of success for the long haul, it will require that our people truly embrace the new culture. This is only done by continuing to communicate and live out the new norms and reinforcing the culture every chance you get.