When you want to make a significant change in your congregation

In 2011 this video of a guy with some, well, creative moves made the social media rounds. He is the embodiment of “dance like nobody’s watching.” Except that people are watching, and a second person joins in. Then another. And soon there’s a crush of festival-goers feeling the groove.

This is how it goes with innovation. A few people are eager to jump on board at the outset. Most hang back, though, waiting to see how those around them will respond.

In thinking about introducing change to a congregation, it can be helpful to remember that not everyone is going to embrace the new at the same speed. It’s essential for a leader do due diligence with ideas, communicating them and involving the appropriate groups in refining and rolling them out. There are situations, however, in which leaders might have legitimate cause to initiate a change when only the early adopters have bought in. In those cases, here are some ways to make the shift well.

Pray. Start with gratitude for the idea and the opportunity to implement it. Ask God to open hearts and minds – your own as well as others.’

Set meaningful metrics. Know what the goal of the innovation is and name milestones that will allow you and others to assess (accurately) progress toward the end game.

Accept that not everyone will be an early adopter. People have different leadership and followership profiles. And someone who might be an early adopter of one kind of idea might drag their feet on another type.

Roll out the change on a provisional basis. It is possible to try out something new before fully committing to it. (Consider carefully, though, what message having a provisional period sends about your own enthusiasm for the change.)

Stay in regular communication with enthusiasts and skeptics. Seek out feedback frequently. You’ll get encouragement to keep forging ahead as well as thoughts on how to improve the new initiative so that it sticks. (Be clear with skeptics about what constructive feedback consists of!)

Continue to discern. Discernment is a relationship, not a one-and-done. Ask God to give you wisdom about adjustments that need to be made and pastoral care that needs to be carried out with people most affected by the change.

Give frequent updates through many voices and means. Communication lowers anxiety, especially when it includes both stories of and data around  how the innovation is bringing positive results. (Here’s where those metrics come in.)

Remember that big shifts take time. A change that is forced might have good short-term results, but the strain it puts on relationships and trust over the long haul is hard to repair.

About what might you need to dance with abandon?

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