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?

Feeling the pinch

I’d had pretty much the same hairstyle for twenty years. Somewhere between chin and shoulders in length, with long layers. This look suited me well enough, I guess. There was no complicated styling involved. I didn’t have to buy any product. I could throw my hair in a ponytail when I wanted. Still, I was craving something different.

I researched short hairstyles, asking friends with cute hair to send me pictures and details on what it took to get their coiffures to look that way. I set aside some money for a cut in a real! salon! because it seemed too risky to make a big change for $7.99 at Great Clips. I asked around for stylist recommendations. I was ready…or was I? I kept putting off making the appointment. No time for a haircut this week…I don’t want to still be figuring out how to tame my new ‘do when X event rolls around…I remember being confused when I was in preschool and my mom made a drastic hair change, and I don’t want to do that to my son.

And then said son began protesting whenever I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, which was most of my at-home hours. “No! Take it out!” He even became quite adept at pulling out my ponytail holder before I even realized what was happening. It was time for the haircut.

So I did it. I went to the grown-up salon and had all the hair that had been weighing me down whacked off. I had been wanting and plotting for a while, but I had to feel a pinch to get myself in gear.

This is the state that many of our churches find themselves in. They want to follow their evolving call from God. Often they already have the resources and have even made some concrete plans for how to move forward. Something, however, is holding them back. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s comfort. These congregations need to feel the pinch before they’re willing to make the leap.  

Sometimes the pinch happens naturally. A staff transition necessitates re-evaluation of leadership needs. The property next to the church goes up for sale. A local service agency invites the congregation into a partnership that would benefit both entities and the community as a whole. A shrinking budget prompts discussion about the best use of resources.

Sometimes, however, leaders who have latched onto God’s dream for the congregation need to help their constituents feel the pinch. How might you help the people you minister alongside discover both the opportunity in and urgency for potential change?

Creative Commons image “Pinch.” by Marie-Claire Camp is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Benefits of coaching: leading processes

The church, like the culture around it, is evolving quickly. This means that strategic plans have a very short shelf life and that ministers are called upon to lead visioning-type processes more frequently.

But where do you begin? The thought of not just structuring the process but also inviting helpful participation and managing congregational anxiety around change can be so daunting.

I have worked with several coachees who were leading their churches to discern what God is calling them to be and to do – in this time and place. Coaching offers space for ministers to consider both the big picture and the tasks that will move the congregation toward realizing it. In our conversations we talk through interpreting the work theologically, making space for the Spirit to speak, involving various parties in healthy ways, naming available assets, sparking creativity, troubleshooting obstacles, managing polarities, and taking concrete steps.

Coachees are able to lead change processes with increased boldness and sensitivity when they feel more equipped. If your church is stuck in a rut, or if you’re already knee-deep in a visioning time and not sure what to do next, let’s talk.

Creative Commons image “Vision…..” by Kamaljith K V is licensed under CC BY 2.0.



A positive spin on moving

Creative Commons "Helpful Advice" by Santos "Grim Santo" Gonzalez licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Creative Commons “Helpful Advice” by Santos “Grim Santo” Gonzalez is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Moving is a hassle with a capital H. I hate the packing and cleaning on one end, only to clean and unpack on the other. Very few ministers (or people of any vocation) stay in one place their entire career, though, so moving is pretty much inevitable. Why not try to put lipstick on that pig, then?

Nostalgia. When was the last time you went through your old yearbooks and mementos, as packing prompts you to do? Maybe it was when you were preparing to move to your current location.

Purging. Stuff tends to accumulate faster than we can give it away. Moving forces some tough but liberating choices.

Moolah. All that unwanted stuff? Yard sale or Craigslist it. Or give it to a charitable organization to give away or sell.

Appreciation. Paring down what we have tends to help us remember what we really need and how lucky we are.

Mental and emotional transition time. Has the impending reality of your next phase not yet sunk in? Pack a few boxes and then see where you stand.

Potential. Nothing says “clean slate” like a completely empty house or apartment, just waiting for your homey touch.

May your moves be few, and may they be to places full of possibility.


Laying the groundwork for a vocational transition

Creative Commons "Resume Writing Tips" by Nguyen Hung Vu licensed under CC 2.0.
Creative Commons “Resume Writing Tips” by Nguyen Hung Vu licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I am a big believer in frugality – spend wisely, save aggressively. I get some of my money tips from The Simple Dollar, and recently there was a post outlining “Ten Steps for Protecting Yourself Against an Unexpected Job Loss.” The article could just as easily been called “How to Make Yourself Marketable,” because it gives some good readiness tips for making a vocational move. All the suggestions were helpful, and I’ve pulled out a few of them and tailored them to ministry:

  • Network. Network. Network. Networking is about swapping wisdom and support with colleagues of all stripes and figuring out how you can partner to do some good. Happy by-products of networking are increased name recognition and early tips about opportunities.
  • Take advantage of continuing education. Does your setting pay for you to go to trainings, conferences, or denominational meetings? Go! Your participation benefits the people you currently serve and expands your network and skill set for when you’re ready to make a move.
  • Keep track of your tasks and accomplishments. Maintain a running list of special projects (and outcomes) and consider how those experiences have provided transferable tools and increased confidence. That list may be helpful in your current position too if you’re looking for a reminder of what works or if questions come up about your job performance.
  • Be a team player. We are all more likely to thrive when we are invested in rather than competing against each other. Resisting the temptation to bad-mouth takes grace and self-assuredness, but it creates a more productive work environment and a community of colleagues invested in one another’s current and future growth. (Some of those colleagues might even make good references!)

Certainly we are called to “bloom where we’re planted.” But the time will come when we will be transplanted, and finding the most flourish-friendly environment will depend on our commitment to augmenting skills and relationships.

Lessons from pop culture

Creative Commons "TV Shows We Used to Watch - 1980" by Paul Townsend is licensed under CC 2.0.
Creative Commons “TV Shows We Used to Watch – 1980” by Paul Townsend is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

I am an unabashed fan of tv. I relish the evenings when my husband and I can veg in front of our big (medium?) screen, using our favorite shows as springboards for conversation about the events of the day, politics, or vacation plans.

That said, I don’t deal well with series finales. I get attached to characters and to the routine of checking in with them weekly. My chest tightens a little at the thought of only being able to visit them in syndication, a time warp where no new plot lines unfold. Last week’s Parks and Recreation swan song was about as good as a finale gets, though. It gave viewers a heartwarming glimpse into the futures of the characters. Each of the flash forwards reunited the Parks Department team and showed them supporting one another through successes, challenges, and milestones, even though many of them had moved on not just from city government but also from Pawnee.

Who wouldn’t want friends like that? Friends who fly in to share the big moments, who work to maintain a bond that was once a matter of proximity but now takes great effort, who love and deeply respect us in spite of – or sometimes because of – significant differences? In clergydom, however, such friends are hard to find if you don’t already have them from your pre-ministry years. And once you’re living the ever on-call life, it’s tough to tend the friendships you do have. (Believe me, I know.)

Soul friendships can’t be forced, of course. But I wonder if coaching can pose awareness-raising questions and offer accountability to people who are looking for life-giving relationships that don’t depend on a mutual love for all things clerical. What makes a true friend? Where might you meet someone who fits the bill? When will you go there? How will you initiate a relationship? How will you know if this is a friendship worth pursuing? How will you cultivate the bond?

It’s hard to step out and make a new friend. But ministry is too hard a road to travel alone.