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How to Communicate Change to Your Congregation - Episode 24

Coaching Christian Leaders

Release Date: 02/21/2019

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How to Communicate Change to Your Congregation

This year, 2019, we are focusing our efforts on how to lead change. In episode 23 we addressed in part how to end something.

Dr. William Bridges in his book Managing Transitions tells us that change begins when you first end something. Ending the current thing is part of starting something new.

Dr. Bridges separates change from a transition. When you when you decide to change something, say your service times, that is just a change. A transition is a process of ending the former service times and then adopting the new service times.

A transition is made up of three phases – An ending (the current thing must end), the neutral zone, and the new beginning.

In the last episode, we focused on the ending phase.  I covered 5 questions to help you end something. Here again, are those questions.

  1. What is actually ending?
  2. Who is losing what?
  3. What are the secondary changes your change will cause?
  4. How will people react emotionally to this change?
  5. Is this change something the church stands for or is known for?

If you have not listened to episode 23, I strongly encourage you to listen to that episode either before you listen to this one, or immediately after you listen to this one. Episodes 23 and 24 need to be considered together.

We are moving forward from these questions but we are still in the ending phase. Today, I want to share with three additional steps you must consider as you end something.

The first thing to consider is how often and what you will communicate to the congregation and to any boards or teams associated with the change. This communication begins prior to the ending and continues all through the transition.

Let’s focus on the congregation first. My rule of thumb is to communicate with the congregation every time there is a significant change or every 21 days. Whichever comes first.  Feel free to modify that 21-day rule down to 14 days. I have found with my congregation, that they get nervous about change, so every 14 days or with every change, whichever happens first, is the modified rule of thumb. But definitely, no more than 21 days between updates.

How should you communicate with the congregation? You should use every communication channel you normally use. In my situation, that would be me or a team leader speaking from the platform on Sunday morning and putting a similar announcement in the bulletin.

If you have a monitor in the lobby that scrolls announcements, it should also be there. If you publish a newsletter, it must also be there.

Every time you make a change, or at least every 21 days, you must share this with the congregation using every communication channel you normally use.

What do you tell the congregation? You tell them everything they need to know and everything they already know.

You as the leader can determine what they need to know. But a church is not the CIA. The CIA withholds information for good reasons. Less is better. But you are a church. And a church is both an organization and a family. So, in my opinion, More is better. It is better to err on giving too much than too little.

So, what do you tell the congregation? You tell them everything they need to know and everything they already know.

What do I mean by the last part, “everything they already know”?

Even if they can figure it out, or get the knowledge from somewhere else, you must still inform them using all channels. Here is an example.

The church where I serve as pastor recently built a new lobby. To me the process was obvious.

  • The contractors dug a hole.
  • Later they poured footers
  • After that up went the walls
  • And every week or so after that, the crew finished another part of the new lobby.

Every Sunday and every Wednesday evening, the congregation came to church and with their own eyes saw the progress.

But over time they began to complain. “We want to know what’s going on. You need to keep us informed.”

So from then on, I informed them of the progress and the setbacks. Every week or two I gave an update.

With the congregation, you need to tell them what they need to know and tell them what they already know. Use every communication channel you have. The more you share, the less they will complain and the more they will support the project.

But it’s not just the congregation you report to. You must keep your board and any team that is part of this project informed.

With boards and teams, they need to know about every change and every milestone you cross. And they should be notified as often as these things occur. I believe you can keep team communication to weekly. But hold nothing back.

With your board and teams, you should take advantage of the technology of today. Email, text, maybe a project management app like Trello or Asana, to keep them up to date.

Most church boards or leadership teams are staffed with volunteers. It is not unusual for a board to meet once per month. That’s too long between updates when going through a transition. So use email, texting, or a project management app to keep the team up to date.

Remember, it is this group that you first sold on the change. You went into this project with their support. You need to communicate often in order to keep their support.

I also find that congregation members go to board members for updates and to voice their concerns. The more the board or team knows the better they can handle these moments.

How far in advance do you start communicating this change with the congregation? How far in advance is dependent upon the scope of the change. The bigger the change, the farther out you begin to communicate. But what that number is – six months, 90 days, - that should depend on you, your church, and the project.

The important thing is to communicate in general once the decision to change has been made. Communicate in specifics only after you have mapped out all aspects of the change.  Once you know the who, when, where, and what, then begin the process as described above.

Number two,

When you are ending something in order to start something new, you need to be very clear about what is ending and what is not.

You need to put this in writing. You need to communicate these precise words from the platform and over every communication channel. Be very specific.

In the last episode, we used the example of ending Sunday in order to start small groups. Maybe the statement to communicate would be:

“The first Sunday in May, May 1st will be the final time we will have Sunday School. Come one last time to study the Bible together. Immediately after Sunday School, we will have a 15-minute reception to honor our Sunday School Superintendent and our teachers. Donuts, Juice, and Coffee will be served.

The following Monday evening will be the official kick-off for small groups. .......”

Put dates, names, times, milestones, everything that the people need to know, in print, and communicate it clearly.

Why do you need to communicate exactly what is ending and what is not?

Because if you are not clear on what is ending and what is not ending, someone will try to keep on doing it. There is always resistance to change. To eliminate that resistance, you must communicate clearly what is and what is not ending.

Number three. When you end something, if appropriate, celebrate the ending.

Several years back, we had to tear down the original church to make room for the changes to the current building. This former church went back to 1900. It had not been used as a church since about 1950 and was in sad shape.

It took some leadership and salesmanship to get the congregation to agree to knock it down. But finally, all parties agreed. Before the wrecking ball arrived we had a special service. We gathered beside the former church. Some of the older members shared their memories of the building – salvations, baptisms, weddings. We asked God to bless the future that the raising of this building would create. And a week later, I grabbed about 30 bricks out of the pile, before it all went to the dump and made these bricks available to any who wanted them.

When we start something new, we cut ribbons, we invite a special speaker, we have dinners. But when we end something, often it is done quietly.

I believe, when it is appropriate, we should end something with as much celebration as when we would start something.

So when appropriate, celebrate the ending.

Let’s conclude this episode by creating some coaching questions that you can use with your transition team.

  1. What are we going to communicate to the congregation about this change?
  2. When will we begin to share information about the change with the congregation?
  3. How often will we update the congregation?
  4. What channels of communication will we use?
  5. Who will be responsible for each channel?
  6. What is the specific wording on what will end and what will not end?
  7. Who will deliver this specific communication to the church?
  8. How will we celebrate the ending?
  9. What token or memento can we give to the church members to celebrate the ending?
  10. Who will lead this celebration?
  11. Who will we recognize at this celebration and who else will participate?

These are some great questions to lead your team through this phase of the change. I will have them in the show notes and in the near future, I will provide a handout you can download.

That concludes the first phase of how to lead a change. You lead a change by first ending something.

If you have benefited from this episode or the podcast in general, please review the podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen.

Also, remember what I shared with you at the start of this episode. I am opening up another mastermind. If you want more information, please email me at Mark@coachingchristianleaders.com for more information.

I believe every Bible preaching, God-honoring church can be healthy, regardless of size. To that end, I help pastors, especially pastors of small churches, build healthy churches. How do I do that? I do it through coaching.

Every pastor needs a coach. So let’s talk and see if I am the right coach for you. Go to coachingchristianleaders.com to book your complimentary coaching session or just email me at Mark@coachingchristianleaders.com

In the next episode, we will take a break from the subject of leading change and speak with Pastor Bill Baldwin. Bill is the author of book Rebound: Rising from Failure Back to Purpose and Destiny. I truly enjoyed my conversation with Bill and I think very highly of him and his book. So I know you will get a lot out of this conversation.

This is Mark Jones. I will speak to you soon.