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With planning, change at church can be chaos-free, speaker says

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Human beings are born for change — they just don’t know it.
“We are risk-takers. We learn to walk without worrying about falling,” Bob Sheffield told a group of church leaders attending the National Conference for Church Leadership at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center June 26-29.
But before long, humans learn to fear change and the challenges it brings, said Sheffield, a consultant in the pastor-staff leadership department at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention who led a two-session workshop on “Leading Change Without Causing Chaos.”
“We learn early to be conservative. Nobody accepts change equally well. The young can be just as provincial in resisting change as older people.”
Consequently, Sheffield said, it is up to church leaders to ease members into a significant transformation when it becomes necessary.
“Certain changes cause a great deal of problems in the church,” he said. “You need to get in touch with the basic ways you can be a leader of change without causing chaos.”
But first, Sheffield said, leaders must examine some unhealthy approaches to change that should be avoided.
A common approach to change among leaders, Sheffield said, is the “Ostrich Syndrome, sticking your head in the sand and pretending it’s not happening. “That not only will not avoid chaos, it will create it,” he said.
Leaders might also attempt to force the change. “When leaders force change, people don’t get aboard. If they don’t own it, they blame others if it goes down the tubes.”
Often, leaders “will announce change and hope for the best” or, equally wrong, they will tell the congregation “they know what’s best” for the church and instigate change with no discussion.
Sheffield said it is necessary to get the church to buy into change.
“You have to train people to do things differently. With strategic planning, you can bring people along with you.”
He said if the church gets involved in creating a mission and vision statement for its future, members will get personally involved in change. For change to take place within a church without major disruptions or chaos, Sheffield said members must first pray for God’s guidance and seek a God-sized vision.
“If we can accomplish our vision without God’s help, it’s too small,” he said.
Change is worth the energy it takes, Sheffield said, when it is done to set new goals, adapt new methods for carrying out a church’s mission, change outdated behaviors or beliefs, correct or update organization and procedure, include more people in the mission of the church and involve the church in current reality.
Likewise, it is more accepted when it is understood; when the people help create it; when it doesn’t threaten anyone’s security; when it comes from goals previously established; when it follows a series of successful changes; and when too much change hasn’t already taken place within the church.
Whenever a church is about to undergo significant changes, opposition will probably be put forth by some church members, Sheffield said. If leaders know some of the reasons why people resist change, he said, they can be prepared to counteract it.
Sheffield listed some reasons people resist change:
1. They have no felt need or see no sense in it. “Your felt need doesn’t translate into some one else’s felt need.”
2. They prefer the status quo. “We get comfortable within our own mess. We’re more comfortable even though we’re uncomfortable. It’s better than the alternative — fear.”
3. It’s just the culture of the congregation. “Some congregations do not prefer change. Some will circle their wagons when they realize the culture is about to change.”
4. They have no sense of vision.
5. They have vested interest in the current culture. “When the church changes or starts to grow, the power center changes.”
6. They distrust leadership. “People will resist change if they don’t trust the leadership.”
7. They have temperament differences. “Some people can just take more change than others.
8. They fear the complexity of change.
9. They have different worldviews than those of the change agents.
10. They are self-centered. “They resist change because they didn’t think about it.”
Other reasons people resist change, Sheffield said, are because they fear the unknown, they fear failure, they fear power struggles and they fear a sense of loss of control.
Resistance to change has its place, Sheffield acknowledged.
For example, resistance can clarify purpose, communication and plans.
“It makes people stop to look at the purpose and whether they are communicating that purpose clearly. It helps us re-evaluate our plans — and to double check ourselves.”
National Conference for Church Leadership ’98 was sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources.

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  • Terri Lackey