A recent election in our community rejected a proposal that would have allowed our local school corporation to borrow a large sum of money to remodel several of our schools. If it had passed there would have been an increase in our property taxes, but I don't think that was the reason it failed. John Kotter reminds us in his excellent book, Leading Change, that the primary reason change efforts fail is that the leaders fail to create a sense of urgency. I don't think there was a sense of urgency felt by the voters in our community around this issue. Those who voted against the proposal seemed to believe there was a better way of addressing the admitted problems that exist in our facilities.
Perhaps what bothered me most about this situation is when one of our school officials was asked what the backup plan was if the proposal failed, and she responded there was no backup plan. There was no plan B. I couldn't believe what I was reading! This was a major issue that certainly had a possibility of being rejected by the voters. If there are no contingency plans then the problems may not have been as serious as was being claimed. No plan B told me that there was no sense of urgency around this issue at all.
A pastor recently asked me about some significant changes he wants to make in his church. I cautioned him to move slowly. I encouraged him to try to think through the many objections he might face from his congregation so he would be able to respond to them immediately. The more of those objections he could address when he presented his proposal to the church the more likely his proposal would pass. I encouraged him to share his ideas initially only with the strongest lay leaders in his church who would be most likely to support them. These folks can provide some valuable feedback and offer recommendations that might make the proposed changes more acceptable to others. Finally, I told him he needed to have a back-up plan in case his proposal was rejected. He needed a plan B in his hip pocket ready to offer to the congregation if they rejected his first proposal. A good plan B can often provide much of what you hope to gain in your original proposal and cause less pain. Leaders always want a plan B to fall back on if they believe the issue is serious enough to warrant making changes.
Another pastor was having a good ministry in his church until he tried to introduce some changes the church was not ready to accept. Rather than introducing a Plan B that would have generated less concern from the congregation he kept pushing for his recommendations to be implemented. Eventually, he had to leave that church. A friend of the pastor told me that he believed the pastor could have had everything he wanted in time, but he wouldn't wait. A good Plan B could have introduced the congregation to a taste of the changes the pastor was proposing which may have led them to accept the entire change at a later date. Unfortunately, the pastor had no Plan B and was not willing to develop one.
A third pastor recognized the church he was serving was over-structured. People were being asked to serve on too many boards and committees, many of which no longer served any real purpose. Decisions had to go through too many different bodies before they could be implemented. Like many churches, it was structured for a time where things moved much slower than they do today. He wanted to change how the church was structured, but that would require a change to the church constitution. The church was not prepared to do that and was not interested in making significant changes to how it had functioned in decades. His Plan B was simple: set aside the church constitution for two years and try out the new structure he was proposing. At the end of the two years the church could decide to keep the new structure or return to their old one. When it came time for a vote, it was not even close. The congregation recognized how much more efficient the new structure was and voted overwhelmingly to keep it.
Change occurs slowly in a church. It's great to recommend changes that you believe will benefit the ministry of the church, but those changes will often be resisted at least until people have a chance to consider them. A good Plan B can give them a taste of the recommended changes, and if Plan B works well the church may be more willing to try Plan A.