Posted in Church Staff

Before Moving to a New Place: Understand its change readiness

“If you’re considering coming here and joining our staff and are thinking to yourself, ‘When I get there, I’m okay with some things, but I’ve got to change…’ then you probably shouldn’t come at all.”

That statement is a standard talking point I use in our minister selection process during our “cultural call.”

I received similar advice in premarital counselling. If when choosing a spouse you’re thinking to yourself, “I like Jane quite a bit, but once we’re married, I’ll change this or that about her,” you’ve got a problem.

One reason to hire staff from outside your church is to gain a fresh perspective. You want them to impact your culture in a new way. But there’s a difference between a new staff member adding perspective and influencing your culture, and one forcing their perspective in efforts to overhaul your culture.

Even if your church wants significant perspective and method changes, it’s rare they’ll accept those changes quickly.

I would assume some churches really want and need the changes brought on by new staff. If there’s something going on at a prospective church that isn’t great, and the leadership tells you in their recruitment, “It’s that way now, but we’ll change that if you come,” or worse yet, “It’s that way now, but when you come, you can change it!”… Run! Or at least deal with the reality of the present circumstances and determine if God is calling you to minister in them. If you’re only willing to go for the post-change version of them (a preferred version of them), then I would urge you to reconsider.

While I’ve seen a trend in churches of being more change-ready, they still move slowly. Churches are made up of people, and most people are change averse. Churches will talk change all day long, but know this: most churches are only aspirational-changers.

If there are clearly changes needed, and the church acknowledges them but haven’t yet changed it, then it’s probably not going to change (at least soon or easily). Churches will present you with the idea you can come in on a white horse and have free reign to modify, manipulate, and overhaul their church (and while on said horse, you can chase down a Pokémon too) –  but I contend that rarely happens quickly or without trouble.

So does that mean you shouldn’t go to a church who needs change?

Nope, but do make your church-going decision based on reality, not only on your idea (or theirs) of the preferred future for their church. You need to pull back the change curtain.

Can you handle a change-free church for a while? Here’s a litmus test if you’re considering a new church opportunity:

If X doesn’t change within my first two years, is it going to cause me significant frustration?

If you can’t live with a church’s present reality and still minister well for at least 12-24 months, then I caution you about choosing that church. When you’re new to a church, before you’ve built up relational equity, it’s hard to minster well and also affect change simultaneously. If you’re changing a lot early on, you’re likely making a bad first impression, and worse, you’re spending too much of your energy on change and not on the people who need ministry from you.

Another test question: If when describing the new church opportunity to trusted friends, do you begin with, “They have a lot of things that aren’t right, but once there, I’ll change them”?

Even if you believe God and the church has called you as a change-agent for a new church, please know:

  • Ministry needs to happen in the meantime (before change)
  • Change will cause friction
  • Change will occur slower than you want it to

Churches that need change also need great ministry leadership. Churches that are change averse also need great ministry leadership. So don’t not go because there are changes to me made, but do go with the reality in mind that you’ll need to be comfortable in a primarily unchanged environment, and you’ll need to find ways to thrive in ministry (in the meantime).

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Church members: They want just a little bit of info

How do those who come to your church feel about your church’s communication?

During a recent vacation, I saw a variety of good and poor communication from leadership. It reminded me what it might feel like to be a church member (not in a staff or leadership position) and to not be well-informed regarding church issues.

I had a pilot who communicated well.  Although he couldn’t control the weather, our diversion to another city, or sitting on a tarmac for almost two hours, he communicated clearly and often with us about  our status and next steps.

I also had my family pulled from a theme park because of a fire alarm. No fire trucks responded, and no one communicated to patrons how long we’d be standing in the sun with our kids pleading to go back in.

When I arrived home, I saw a church communicating the removal of their founding- and senior pastor for “unfortunate choices.” I won’t weigh in on whether it was good or bad communication because I don’t have enough information to earn that right, but I’ll say this: I know they were faced with communicating a really difficult message.

All these experiences reminded me of the need for church-leaders to be really great communicators.

When churches don’t communicate, or do so slowly or ambiguously, one of these usually happen:

  1. You frustrate committed members who’ve earned the right to know information
  2. You leave a gaping hole about what’s going, and people begin their own narrative to fill the void
  3. You create an atmosphere of mistrust, or at least a feeling that there’s a lack of transparency
  4. You lose credibility when you need to communicate something important

Many times, releasing small amounts of meaningful information will satisfy church members. But communicating even small amounts of meaningful information can be difficult because it’s complicated (confidentiality concerns, trust, managing the message, timing, and the possibility of it being live tweeted or captured via video).

So, how can church leaders communicate well, considering the many factors that impact information sharing?

Anticipate FAQs.  Consider your audience, determine what they want to know, and get ahead of it. Be succinct. When possible, say the last 2% first. As I wrote recently, three-fourths of an answer is better than an answer and a half.

Stick to the facts. Church leaders have a tendency to add more information than necessary, and that can lead to missteps. See previous remark.

Be prepared. You lose credibility if you’re unable to speak to key information. (Some of the content I wrote about being prepared for the media will relate here too.)

Manage, but don’t spin. In my interpretation, spinning is misleading or communicating with an ulterior motive – whereas managing speaks to providing limited amounts of information and having an intentional way of releasing it.

Be sincere. This is particularly relevant if it’s a difficult message (like the one relating to the removal of a pastor, mentioned earlier in the post). The only thing worse than a lack of communication is insincere communication.

Have a go-to forum. Whether it’s a town hall meeting, business meeting, bulletin, or remarks at the conclusion of the service, have a solid forum at a specific place and time for communicating important information.

Be considerate. Just because you don’t think changing the bulletin or replacing the pews with chairs is a big deal, it can be to the person who uses the bulletin as their only way to get their church information, or to the person who accepted Christ kneeling at one of those pews. I’ve seen a tendency in my generation (including me) and the one after me to be a little cavalier when it comes to interpreting which things should matter to others.

Not every church member wants fodder for gossip, and there are people who are invested in your church who’ll likely want to know things occurring there. So when confidentiality or governance guidelines don’t prohibit it, share meaningful information as often as needed.

 

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Parade-Waving in Church Ministry–Effective Use of Time?

You know the parade wave? The beauty queen or grand marshal waves to the cheering crowd, and then the crowd waves back. It’s the bystanders’ way to say “I’m here. I support you!”

I’m not a good parade waver. It probably has something to do with me waving at our homecoming queen in high school and her giving me a dirty look. But, I digress. It’s okay that I’m not the best parade-waver though, because I was told I don’t have to be…at least not all the time.

When I was in the interview process at the church I now serve, the Executive Pastor said to me, “In this role, you don’t have to wave at every parade.” I’d never heard that expression, and asked in confusion, “I know the church is big, but it has its own parades?”

Most church ministers are pretty good at waving at the (church) parades. It’s the signal to ministry groups and constituencies in your church that says, “I’m here. I notice you. I support you.” So for the purpose of this post, let’s use “parade” to mean programs, events, and experiences not related to you or in your charge, that people might want you present at to add your parade-wave.

Unlike me, many of you are quite adept at parade waving, and many times it’s a necessary skill to survive in church ministry. Why do we feel the need to show up and wave at these parades? At times, you do it simply out of responsibility. Maybe it’s political in nature — you expect something in return for your support of their parade. And sometimes, you show up and wave because someone reminds you that you’ve “never been to their parade.”

While parade waving may sometimes only be an obligatory or an insincere effort on your part, it can also be meaningful to both you and those you show up to support.

2 Drawbacks of waving at every parade

  1. The encore problem. Showing up once can give the sense you’ll repeat this or do it for every group’s parade. This leads to a tired minister who’s giving valuable time for a fly-by wave, when their time could be used for things more meaningful to their ministry work.
  2. Communicating everything of value needs a staff presence. Not everything of importance needs staff support. In fact, we probably mess things up. But if you consistently show up and wave, you may unintentionally communicate that a ministry’s parade is only valuable when a staff person shows.

2 Wins for waving at some parades

  1. You get to experience ministry you’re not directing. If you don’t have to be there, then that means when you do show up you can experience ministry without responsibility. You have the freedom to talk, encourage, and ask questions of those involved.
  2. Your presence can be fresh air. Especially when you choose to wave at parades a lot of people don’t know exist, such as those doing the thankless work of church ministry. The ones that get little to no “ad space” in the bulletin. A well-timed parade wave can provide encouragement for people to keep serving well.

Choosing when to wave and waving well when you do:

Manage expectations (truthfully)

Not showing up at someone’s parade is one thing. But not showing up after you’ve led them to believe you would… well, that’s no good. Yet it happens a lot among church leaders. It’s the insincere “Yes, I’ll probably be there.” If you’re not going to be there, tell them. If you need to consider the invitation, consider it, and then follow-up with them. If they’re expecting you to be there and you don’t show up, you’ve just rained on their parade. (See what I did there?)

Understand your purpose at the parade

When you’re not sure whether the parade is a worthy investment, ask what they expect. Many times these questions will give you clarity about attendance, and sometimes it’ll make the parade organizer realize it really isn’t important you be there.

Recently, I was asked to wave at a parade taking place on my scheduled day off from the office. I asked the parade-inviter a few questions: “Do you need me to do anything while I’m there?” “What would you hope I’d experience and understand because of my attendance?” This person had thoughtful answers, and as a result, I showed up.

But asking these questions often will help you and them realize your presence sometimes doesn’t matter. Other times, it shows that there may be a better-suited waver, and you can help arrange that.

Wave at their parade (from a distance)

There are times you can provide a similar parade presence encouragement without being there. A well-timed email prior to their parade encouraging them and letting them know you’ve prayed for their work, or that you’ve heard a buzz about their parade, can go a long way. Or post-parade, follow-up to see how it went –  or even better, provide a third party encouragement about what you heard took place (third party encouragement is the best and I’ve blogged on it previously).

Show up and wave well

Maybe it’s obligatory, or something you get paid to do. Or maybe you actually want to encourage and support. Regardless, when you choose to show up, show up fully. Take interest in the parade. Engage with other participants. Make sure your body language communicates you’re happy to support. If you’re going to give your time and presence, take advantage of the opportunity, and wave well.

Waving at every parade is too much for you (and them). Never waving at a parade is ministry-malpractice. But well-timed and sincere parade waving is meaningful ministry.

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