Numbly, I stared again at the revised education standards for 10th grade English. In August I designed my classroom bulletin boards and made syllabus copies. Instead, on this sweltering summer day I scrambled to rearrange my entire teaching schedule. I slashed lesson plans, to make room for new ones from the state board of education. If I wanted my students to perform well on mandated tests which would include this new material, there was no other choice.
During Spring, I worked long hours, after a day’s grading, to craft the calendar for the next year. After new state standards arrived in June, I spent that month and July, working 3-4 hours most mornings, to revise existing lesson plans and create new ones. I tried to squash the new stuff into my existing calendar. Finally, in August, I recognized my folly. I must delete some old material to accommodate the state board’s new expectations. Muttering words like “Philistines” and “Barbarians,” under my breath, I pulled out student favorites like, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by Dylan Thomas, and “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry.
When outside forces push us to change, our response is often to clench the familiar even more tightly. Currently, American culture is changing at a speed that makes many people respond by tethering themselves to things whose relevancy and efficiency are greatly reduced. Rotary phones, print newspapers, checkbooks, videos and sets of encyclopedias are just a few of the things on a long list of items replaced by improved technology.
Most churches no longer use flannel story boards for Sunday School or overhead projectors to display worship song lyrics. We’ve embraced fresh ideas. Nevertheless, many local bodies still resource programs which have long outlived their kingdom usefulness. Once leaders determine what those are, (see previous post) how do we lead our people through the sea of change, without losing folks overboard?
Allow things to die naturally. I kept a dying VBS on life support for several years by jumping in and taking over as director when NO ONE else showed any interest. When we announced its ending, some complained and criticized but still, no one offered to run it. When people refuse to serve, do not play the hero. Let it be. One of two things will happen. Either the program ends due to lack of support, or people previously hardhearted to God’s voice, will step up. It’s a win either way.
Invite people to be part of the change. No one likes a dictator. Changing something or issuing its death certificate without including key leaders in the process, is very unwise. You can make a decision alone that might initiate sweeping change but you cannot force people to accept or support it. Your process screeches to a halt and you lose trust chips and possibly some people. Rolling out edicts from a leadership post works great in the armed forces, not so much in churches.
For example, if your Wednesday night children’s ministries are experiencing low attendance I advise you to gather a small team from several classes of people: 1. Parents who bring their children who can speak about what’s working. (without their input you might throw out the baby with the bath water) 2. Parents of children who do not participate. (Brace yourself for some hard truths.) 3. Educators, psychologists or others with experience or expertise in the area of educating youngsters. “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” Proverbs 15:22 (NLT)
Share information. As your team begins to research and plan, let your congregation know that change is on the horizon. They already know the children’s Wednesday night programs, adult choir, Sunday School, youth group or whatever it is in your church, is not flourishing. Many feel guilty that they no longer support it. What they do know is that right now, it’s not making the cut to be on their time and energy list. So they passively vote by staying away.
Lack of participation does not mean lack of interest! Just because a parent doesn’t bring their child to your event does not mean they don’t care about their child’s spiritual growth. This is why you invite them on your team, to discover the participation obstacles. Once a decision is made about whether you will be replacing or repairing a particular ministry, share the knowledge, the what, why, where, when and how of the change.
Brace for impact. The first wave over your bow is criticism. “My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you (sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear trouble manfully)..2 Cor. 12:9 (Ampl.) School your team, your “new idea” ambassadors, on how to receive, handle and re-direct criticisms. Basically, you listen to the complaint, affirm the feelings behind it, but indicate that the change WILL be happening and encourage them to support it.
The second wave will be the rolling out of the new or revised ministry. There will be bumps and hitches, probably some confusion and misunderstandings, as people shift from one paradigm to another.
The third wave will be another pounding of criticism concerning the first roll out of the new ministry transpired. Just remember all the guff Jesus received and ask Him to help you stand strong.
It’s for each ministry leader to decide whether they will continue to pour life support into dying ministries or gird their loins for the adventure change brings.