[First, it] is the losses, not the changes, that they’re reacting to; and second, that it’s a piece of their world that is being lost, not a piece of ours, and we often react that way ourselves when it’s part of our own world that is being lost. Being reasonable is much easier if you have little or nothing at stake.
~Managing Transitions, William & Susan Bridges
Change is hard. I don’t think that’s a big secret. Generally speaking, there are those who react very harshly to change, and there are those who are more willing to be flexible in various areas of life.
A few years ago, we started discussing a pretty major change that we were going to make in the local congregation where I was appointed pastor. We were talking about changing the worship times. I had not been at this church for very long — just over a year at that point. So, I knew that this was a potential land mine.
We had 3 or 4 “town hall” meetings to talk about the potential change. We talked about why we were making the change, and what it would look like. But one of the first things I wanted to do was focus people on what is most important. I asked, “When you think back to whatever you consider to be the ‘golden age’ of this church, what do you think about?”
As you can imagine the answers were all over the place. People talked about children’s musicals, about the sanctuary being full, about projects in the community. As I sat there and listened, I noticed that not a single person said anything about the worship time itself, and I pointed it out during the discussion. We ended up not only changing the worship time, but we also added a completely new and different worship service. Pre-COVID our church was growing, and our average attendance at the now later worship time had pretty much come back to what it was before we split into two services.
The point in all of this is to say that we talked about the changes extensively beforehand. We gave people an opportunity to voice any concerns they may have, and allowed people to process what might be lost in this change. And it was a pretty smooth transition.
When it comes to change, there is always going to be some kind of loss. Even if the change is the best possible thing for the future of your organization, you have to realize that there will be some loss, and you have to allow for some time to process and even grieve the loss. If you don’t, you’ll soon find out the truth of the saying, “Hurting people hurt people.” Those who don’t have the opportunity to process and grieve are going to lash out one way or another.
I’m involved in a civic organization in town, and the discussion of changing meeting times has come up on a couple of occasions. In this organization, however, for whatever reason, the meeting time is important to the self-perceived identity. “This club has met at noon on Tuesdays for over 100 years.” I’ve heard that more than once. If somebody comes in and tries to make that change, it’s not going to be pretty. It’s almost sacramental to some people in that group. There will be a sense of serious loss.
And I know what you may be thinking: it’s just a meeting. And I agree. Because it’s a trivial matter to me. But not everybody sees it the same way. And that’s the hard part about leadership. You have to be willing to listen and empathize with positions that you may not even really understand. If you can’t do that, don’t even try to lead. It will only be one headache after another.