Leading Change: Reasons People Resist Change (Part 2 of 5)
Most pastors forget a critical principle of leading change: Church ministries don’t change; people do. We tend to think of our change initiatives in broad terms like, "We are redesigning the small group ministry." However, many of your leaders think of it differently. They may be wondering, "Do I keep ministering to my group or not?" To implement sustained change, we must translate our initiatives into a list of implications for each individual who will be affected. This is a key reason why change strategies almost always take longer than we think they will. When you consider individual change, you must consider the reality of resistance.
Resistance is inevitable.
Many pastors naively assume that if people like a change or think it is a good idea, they will not resist it. This assumption is a bad one because all significant change is a disruption in our expectations about the future. This disruption causes a loss of control feeling, and people will resist this loss of control—even if they think the change is a sound one. During these times it is important for church leaders to exercise courage as you move toward God’s vision for your church or ministry area.
The following are two lessons that will help you understand why and how people resist change:
Lesson #1: People will express resistance differently based on how well they anticipated the cost of change.
Marriage is a good example to illustrate this point. At the beginning, a newly married couple starts with “uninformed optimism.” This is the honeymoon period of the marriage caused by a naive enthusiasm based on insufficient experience. Then the married couple moves to “informed pessimism,” as they discover the real price of their change decision to get married. He learns how often she wants to eat out; she learns how often he wants to play golf. They start to realize that while the overall decision may have been a good one, there are significant costs that they did not anticipate.
At this point, there is a danger of "checking out." Major checking out may be, "I want a divorce," while private checking out could be reflected in a superficial calm, covering un-discussed conflict and resentment. If couples manage past this phase, they can reach a “hopeful realism”—a view of the light at the end of the tunnel based on a true understanding of both the costs and the benefits of the changes brought on by their marriage. This can give way to an "informed optimism"—a sense that the change is achievable and that a great deal has been accomplished already. Finally, the change can be viewed as completed.
Churches often progress the same way. Often the excitement that immediately follows the announcement of a significant change can give way to pessimism as soon as the first bumps down the road to change are felt.
Lesson #2: Change feels like a death to some people.
The stages that terminal patients go through are similar to what many churches experience as they navigate significant change.
This phase precedes the announcement of the change and represents the status quo. This stage is, "the way things have always been!"
Immobilization: The initial reaction to a negatively perceived change is shock. The change may appear to be so unreal that some people can’t even fathom it.
Denial: This is the, "If I ignore it, it will go away" stage. These people are hoping the change strategy is either not real or will never happen.
Anger: This phase is characterized by frustration that often becomes real and directed at other leaders as real change begins to occur.
Bargaining: At this stage some people begin negotiating ways to minimize the impact of the change in the church. These might include requests for deadline extensions, modifications to the change strategy or even threats to leave the church.
Depression: Once the bargaining has failed, a person resistant to the changes often gets depressed at the realization that the change is real and permanent. On the plus side, this represents the beginning of acceptance.
Being aware of these phases can help in dealing with conflicting ideas about change.
NEXT WEEK: We will continue to look into Reasons People Resist Change
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