Q: I’ve worked hard this past year to set up systems that will help connect new members to ministry involvement. The volunteer ministry leaders have been great as we’ve implemented system changes. They’ve been open to doing things in a new way and have been very cooperative. However, the staff seems to question every change and have resisted some of the procedures my team has developed. How do I go about getting the staff on board rather than being a barrier to something new?
A: Change is never easy—especially in the church. (Did you hear the one about how many church members it takes to change a light bulb…?) Clergy and church staff directors usually react with caution when change takes place, especially if the changes have been generated from lay leaders. This is not always a bad thing, just the nature of the beast. (I know from 25 years of being a paid church staff member.)
Their caution usually revolves around three different reactions. During the change process you may hear:
“Who’s going to do this?”
Staff may already be overloaded in their respective ministry areas. They may be thinking this is going to add more things to their plate. The staff’s role is critical in leading the change and casting a clear vision for change, but they should not be responsible for the implementation of the change. Get their buy-in, but make sure the systems you’re developing are not dependent on the staff doing all the work.
This is where you want to identify individuals within the church who are passionate about the systems that need change. A team can be formed as the core for implementing the change. Work with staff members who may already be involved in the process, and help them see how a new system may actually be a more efficient use of their time. Promote the benefits to get everyone on board.
“I’ll lose control!” or “Isn’t this my job?”
Clergy and paid staff often are fearful that if they give the ministry away to the people they will not have anything left to do. On the other side of the coin, you’ll hear some members of the congregation say, “Isn’t that what they are being paid to do?” In Ephesians 4:12 we hear that the role of leaders is to “equip God’s people.” Staff’s role is to equip and coach people for service. From experience, I can tell you this is a never-ending message that needs to be communicated to bring about culture change. Work with your pastor to ensure the congregation—and staff—hear this message often to help change the culture.
“Where do we begin? This sounds huge!”
Change does take time, especially if you’re changing systems that impact the entire leadership team. Even in the smallest of churches, any intentional change may take 9 to 18 months. In larger congregations, 300 to 500 in size, it may take 18 to 24 months. When trying to implement change, you’re asking for people to make a paradigm shift about how they “do” church.
So where do you begin the journey toward change? As you launch this effort, start small and go slow. It’s very tempting to try to move too quickly or take on too much too soon. Break down your system changes into one or two places to begin implementing change. For example, you may want to make your changes in the data-collection systems before you begin implementing new methods to collect information on people’s gifts, abilities, and interests. (I once implemented a gift-discovery process only to find out that the office software didn’t have a way to store and retrieve this information!)
When you take these reactions into consideration and learn to “start small and go slow” you should see more staff acceptance with any changes you suggest. Hopefully you won’t experience the punch line to that old light bulb joke: “What change? My grandmother donated that light bulb!”
Bob D’Ambrosio serves as a volunteer leadership consultant with Church Volunteer Central after 25 years of experience in education, discipleship, and equipping ministry. Ask your question here.In Firefox or Chrome browsers, right-click the link and select "Save Link As." In Internet Explore select "Save target as." In Safari right-click or ctrl+click and select "Download Linked File As."