I’ve heard it several times this week already from different sources. One of the tensions many of us wrestle with as leaders who are trying to help your church change happens when people tell us: I want our church to grow. I just don’t want it to change. Every time I hear or read that, my brain says “Ugh.” As much as I think that’s a dumb reality to live in, it’s a reality so many of us face in leadership.
How do you respond when people want a church (or organization) to grow, but not change?
Here, eat this bacon cheeseburger.
The problem you and your organization are facing is a challenge a lot of us experience in life. Isn’t wanting to grow but not really change actually like saying, “I want to lose weight, but I really want a bacon cheeseburger”? Well, yes, it’s exactly like that. People hire personal trainers all the time to help them lose weight. A trainer’s message is not revolutionary.
It is almost never, “Just take this diet pill and you will magically lose 50 pounds while eating cupcakes.” Yet, most of us want to believe that we can take a pill and eat cheeseburgers and cupcakes and lose weight. At least I do.
A good personal trainer’s advice is always some variation of “eat smaller portions, eat healthy foods, exercise and make sure your calorie input is less than your calorie output.”
And people pay them money—lots of money—to tell them what they already know to be true.You’re not that different as an organizational leader. Really.
6 things you can do to help your church change
As a leader, don’t try to navigate change in a congregational meeting. You will get stuck in the mud before you know what’s happening. Fifty people or 500 people won’t agree on anything. And they will certainly never agree on anything courageous. (I talk more about navigating the dynamics of change in my book Leading Change Without Losing It).
Sit down with your real leadership team—your board, your key staff or even a new group you form for the purpose—and start the conversation.
As you lead that conversation, here are six things you can do to tackle the challenge of leading a group that wants to grow but doesn’t want to change:
1. Tell the truth.
Usually, we hire trainers, coaches, counselors and consultants to tell us the truth we can’t see or, often, already know but won’t face. That’s my job and your job as the leader of an organization: We need to help people see the truth. So, what’s the truth about wanting to grow but not wanting to change?
It’s quite simple. Your patterns, habits and level of effectiveness as a church got you to where you are now.
If you want your current level of effectiveness, keep doing what you’re doing right now.
If you don’t want your current level of effectiveness, change.
It actually isn’t much more complicated than that. Sometimes great leadership is simply about pointing out the truth that nobody else wants to talk about. You need to do this in love, but often our desire to be loving kills our need to be truthful. As a leader, help people see the truth.
2. Plot trajectory.
Learning how to plot trajectory is one of the best skills a leader can bring to the table. Plotting trajectory is simply mapping out the probable course or path an organization, person or object is on. This is critical because usually, when it comes to people and organizations, we’re not sure where we’re headed.
To plot trajectory, ask two questions:
If we continue doing what we’re doing today, where will we be one year, two years and five years from now?
If we change X, where will we be one year, two years and five years from now?
Sure, you don’t know for sure where you end up, but if you start asking the question, you’ll be amazed at what you discover. Try it.