I’m taking a class right now called “Church, Change, and Inclusion.” It’s been an intriguing topic as I have been studying with nine other students who come from different Christian denominations and experiences. One of the questions that was presented was, “What do you do when people don’t want to change?” Well, change is inevitable. Change can be hard. As my professor notes, “Change is constant, necessary, life-giving and difficult. Change is built into life. It’s a given.” Many people embrace change time and time again. Just ask anyone who wants to have children. A difficult change, indeed, but a welcome one for the parents. I’m not stranger to writing about change. I’ve written about change before. Here, here, and others as well.
But this seems to be a new question. What do you do when people in your church don’t want to change? In this case, the easy answers are not good answers. You cannot just ignore them, kick them out, or kill them. Well, I guess you could, but, like I said, these aren’t good answers.
The main thing here is to focus on the individual or group that is not wanting to change. Here are some strategies that seem to work for me:
- Listen to their reasoning for resisting change. All change requires loss. We don’t experience all change as positive or good, even if it is necessary. Even if it is good, it contains loss. What loss is the individual perceiving? Many times, their reasoning is valid. Be open to their opinion. It’s important to come with an open mind and truly listen to their resistance.
- Focus on similarities and build upon them. Often, there are many things we have in common in our vision and hope for our church and ministry. Our dissimilarities do not need to be an obstacle if we focus on the similarities. Seek those similarities out, name them, and build upon them.
- Continue to cast vision. As leaders, we must always show people the bigger picture. If we are not casting vision daily and helping people see what is possible, then implementing change is going to be difficult.
- Be okay with certain people not jumping on board. It is practically impossible to have everyone in your church embrace the change 100%. It can happen, but it takes work. Some people have no desire to jump on board the train. They just don’t want to. Don’t wait until everyone is on the train before you start moving forward. If you do that, you will never start moving forward.
As John C. Maxwell states in his book, Thinking for a Change,
“People are most willing to embrace change when they: Hurt enough that they are willing to change, learn enough that they want to change, receive enough that they are able to change.” (p. 47)
Let’s not hurt people, but let’s certainly help them learn and receive enough so that they can embrace change for God’s kingdom.