Intentional Sunsets Bring Beautiful Sunrises: How to Lead Healthy Change in Your Church

Remember when the University of Alabama Birmingham football program was dissolved? A video of player’s reactions was definitely NSFW! Although the original announcement was not in the clip, based on the player response filmed… their own important, personal and emotional decisions to play ball at UAB felt overlooked and thrown to the side because “the numbers do not work.”

Immediately I recognized the passion and fervor (and honestly, some of the language) often seen and heard from church members after being told they were losing a very important, always personal and often emotional part of their church identity through changes like:

  • A staff member transition.
  • A worship style change.
  • A Sunday school model abandoned.
  • A children’s program discontinued.
  • A building left empty in relocation.

Every instance held arguably “right” reasons…

Yet right reasons rarely make emotional changes feel right.

Our church culture, with a social-media connected visibility of great ideas, fuels the desire in leaders to love sunrises. We are guilty of emphasizing the starting of new initiatives, while forgetting the importance of celebrating the impact of aging strategies through healthy sunsets.

After all, transition is inevitable in the church…

  • Ministry programs fail to meet once-felt needs and lose effectiveness.
  • Worship styles change and respond to artistic gifts of emerging worship leaders.
  • Staff will retire, move to another church or worse yet, lose their authority to lead.
  • Altars and “sacred spaces” will eventually repainted, re-carpeted or replaced.

HOW we communicate change is as important as why we are making the change to begin with. Most often, our rationale is rarely relatable in the context of high personal investment. Effective church leaders tell stories of Gospel impact and Christ-centered transformation, while pointing ahead to the next sunrise God is preparing.

Celebrating change with an intentional sunset builds anticipation toward the beautiful sunrise to come.

How can you lead the next change at your church with an intentional sunset?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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7 Change-Killers in Every Church

Almost every leader I’ve ever met wants to change something.

If I asked you right now what you’d love to change in your church or organization, you’d probably be able to offer an answer within seconds.

Some of you want to change everything. If you don’t want to change anything, you’re probably not a leader.

The truth about change is that it’s more mysterious than it needs to be.

Many people aren’t sure how the dynamics of change work, and have seen so many leaders get skewered trying to lead change that they’re afraid to try.

Other leaders—unaware of the dynamics of change—storm change so aggressively that they look over their shoulder to discover than nobody’s following.

You can learn how to lead change well.

Leading change requires a skill set. And the good news is that skill set can be learned.

A question all of us face when leading change: What do I actually say when I’m leading change?

Say the right thing…and change can happen easily.

Say the wrong thing…and plans can unravel in front of you.

7 Things NOT To Say When You’re Leading Change

Some language is simply more helpful in leading change than other language.

So…let’s take it from a reverse angle today. If you want to ruin the chance of change happening in your church, just say these 7 things.

1.” These Changes Are Great. I Can’t Understand Why You Don’t Like Them.” (Lack Of Empathy)

Leaders who navigate change successfully learn the skill of empathy.

Not everyone is going to cheer wildly when you introduce change. Be prepared for that.

If you want to turn an enemy into a friend, empathize with them. Try saying something like: I can understand you don’t like the changes…I would be upset if I were you too.

If you want to learn more about developing the skill of empathy, this post might help you.

2. “God Told Me This Is What We Should Do.” (Speaking For God)

Please, please, please don’t pull the God card when you’re navigating change.

I mean by all means invoke God’s name when you’re preaching about Jesus rising from the dead or other core essentials of the Christian faith.

But don’t tell your congregation that God told you to buy your next building or change the music or stop wearing a suit or change the carpet or build a new wing or whatever else you’re proposing.

Even if you believe God told you to do something, suggest it as a plan…or a wise course to follow…or the best options we see right now.

Rather than being less credible, you will become more believable and more trustworthy.

Too many leaders use God as a trump card for the plans they’ve designed.

I pray about the plans we make, seek wise counsel and honestly believe they are the best thing for our church. But these days I never pull the God card out.

Why? Because if the plan fails, it just makes people suspicious or cynical. I don’t want to bring God’s name into disrepute. If I stick to the Gospel, I won’t.

So what should you say?

How about this? Our team has looked at this and prayerfully considered the options. We believe this is the best move we can make at this time for these reasons….

Ironically, you won’t lose credibility. You’ll gain it.

3. “We’ve Got This All Figured Out. Trust Me.” (Know It All)

Don’t try to be the guy who ‘knows it all’. You don’t.

You haven’t got this all figured out—you have a strategy. That’s it.

So be honest. Why not say something like: No, we’re not 100% sure this is going to work. But what we were doing was not working. So we’re going to try this.

Better, isn’t it?

4. What Happened In The Past Is Completely Irrelevant…Focus On The Future. (Dismissing The Past)

I’ve been tempted to dismiss the past. Who hasn’t?

Some of that is the arrogance of the leader. History did not start with your arrival.

Brian White, who works at Disney, has a great philosophy about handling the heritage at Disney (after all, Disney has almost 100 years of history, and Frozen is a long way from Steamboat Willie.) Disney’s approach?

Honor the past without living in it.

Love that. Acknowledge that what happened in the past mattered and is important, and point the way to the future.

Maybe say something like: We’ve had some great moments and seasons in the past, and we want to ensure we have many more in the future. That’s what I’m hoping this change will accomplish.

5. “Everyone Needs To Get On Board Right Now.” (Impatience)

People will take differing amounts of time to get on board. Be okay with that.

You’ll have a handful of highly enthusiastic early adopters. Run with them.

Let others come on board over time.

Say something like: I realize this is going to stretch all of us, and I appreciate those of you who are willing to give this a chance even though you’re not sure. We so value that!

6. “I Know People Are Leaving…Who Cares?” (Indifference)

When you make changes, it’s almost guaranteed that some people will leave.

But don’t gloat or pretend it doesn’t matter.

Because leaving hurts you, you’ll be tempted to pretend you don’t feel it or to vilify your opponents.

People who disagree with you are not bad people. They just disagree with you.

Are there times when people should leave your church? Yes. In fact, here are 7 instances when you should invite people to leave your church.

But in the moment—when people are leaving—this is a moment for empathy. Express concern both for people who are concerned about people who are leaving and express regret.

But then say maybe say something like:

Yes, it is sad. But I think what need to remember is that they will have another church to go to. I’m excited about creating space for people who haven’t yet been to church…and I’m excited that you want to create space for them here too.

7. “This Plan Is Bullet-Proof.” (Hubris)

No matter how well thought-through your plan is, it’s not bullet proof.

It might fail. Really, it might.

So why not just be honest?

Instead, say something like: I agree. We don’t know for sure if this plan is going to work. But it’s helped a lot of other churches (or…if no one’s tried it that you know of, say ‘nobody’s really tried this before…’), and we believe it’s our next best step. So we’re going to try it. And after we’ve given it our best, we’ll make sure to evaluate it. Thanks for the freedom to try new things.

What Do You Think?

Those are some lessons from the trenches in leading change. If you are interested in more, you can read about the five essential strategies every leader needs when handling opposition to change here.

What have you said or heard people say when leading change that you think is a mistake?


Talk with an Auxano Navigator for help in steering your church through change.


> Read more from Carey.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to North American and global church leaders about change, leadership, and parenting.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.