This word can invoke two powerful emotions in people. Change can lead to excitement, positivity, and a renewed passion for what’s coming up. Change can also lead to fear, resistance, and a sense of being out of control. And as leaders, we have the power control which of these reactions the majority of our followers feel.
It’s hopefully a leader’s goal to seek a positive reaction to change. The question is, if a leader can control the majority of people’s reactions to change, how do we lead change well?
First, we have to understand why people resist change. Church leaders often joke that if change is coming, people will fight, and that’s just the way it is. No effort is given to figuring out why change is so uncomfortable. But if we are going to lead change well, figuring out the truth behind why change hurts is crucial.
I love the resources that have come out of the partnership between the Fuller Youth Institute and Fuller Seminary leadership professor Scott Cormode, specifically the Fuller Youth Institute’s Sticky Faith Launch Kit. In it, they guide churches through a process of leading change.
From their expertise in the field of leadership and change, they have found that “fear isn’t primarily about change; it’s about loss” (Launch Kit, page 33) So often, we try to navigate change out of the felt reality that people’s resistance to and fear of change comes from the change itself. However, people’s resistance to change actually comes from a resistance to loss.
- CHANGE: When I “canceled” high school Sunday school, parents resisted the change, not because it was simply a change, but because they felt a loss associated with their children’s spiritual development.
So if fear of change is from a sense of loss, it’s important that a leader is able to “anticipate the losses involved and prepare a response” (Launch Kit, page 34). There are two main components to this task: (1) listen to those you lead and anticipate their felt loss, and (2) cast a vision for what is possible.
I believe casting a compelling vision is crucial to leading change, and I love Bill Hybels’ definition of vision in his leadership book, Axiom: Vision is “a picture of the future that produces passion in people.”
If leadership can cast a picture of the future that is clear and compelling, followers will gladly weather change to reach that future. It means calling out the losses and sharing why you think the future goal is worth experiencing this loss.
- VISION: We see students leaving the church and their faith after high school, and we’re not okay with that. One of the biggest factors that develops a faith that sticks after high school is intergenerational experience. So in order to see our students grab onto the hope found in Jesus, we are integrating them into the life and ministry of the church. For this reason, we’re taking our Sunday school model and integrating it with our adult Bible studies. We’re welcoming our high school students to worship, learn, and serve alongside multiple generations each Sunday morning and throughout the week, resulting in a greater chance for our students to develop a faith that sticks.
If the vision is clear enough and communicated properly, passion will keep people on board. This is a daily task of leadership.
I know I haven’t mastered the art of casting vision or leading change, so I’d love your feedback! What do you do to lead change well?