Thursday, October 29, 2015

The power of incremental change

When a pastor goes to a new church, especially one that has been struggling, he or she can often see several things that need to change to turn things around. The temptation is to try to change too many things too quickly. That usually only leads to resistance and frustration for the pastor and the congregation.

It's important for a new pastor to remember that the things that seem to be holding the church back are what the congregation has come to accept as normal. Trying to change too many things at once sends a signal to the congregation that something is wrong with them. That message will not endear a new pastor to the congregation.

Years ago a common phrase we began hearing in the factory in which I worked was "Continuous Improvement." Rather than waiting until someone came up with a major change in the way we were doing things, we were encouraged to look for small changes that would lead to continuous improvement. The theory was that taking incremental steps towards doing things better was better than waiting for some large-scale change. I find that this approach often works well in churches, especially smaller, traditional churches.

One of the things I learned while pastoring a small, rural church for 20 years was that change takes longer than it probably should, but if I wasn't willing to be patient things likely would never change. You might have a large change in mind, but in most smaller churches it's important to break that down into bite-size goals. When you reach those smaller goals you can stop to celebrate the win, and then move on to the next small goal. The key is to remember that achieving each of these small goals leads you to accomplishing the larger goal.

You will often find that people will resist the larger goal but be willing to accept the smaller ones. They appear to be more possible. If you're careful to celebrate the achievement of each small goal you will encourage the congregation to continue moving forward towards the larger one. It's likely that it will take longer to achieve that larger goal this way, but it's also more likely that the larger goal will be achieved.

Smaller churches are often accused of being highly resistant to change, but sometimes that resistance is due to the way the change is presented. If it appears too big it may not seem doable to some people. People often find it more acceptable if it's broken down into incremental pieces. Present your changes this way, and you may find more support for the change than you anticipated.

1 comment:

Simple Guide said...

Lots of wisdom here. People also like routine because it's comfortable. Timing is crucial. A great reminder, pastor!