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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The Value of an Incomplete Answer

The meeting was tracking well. One particular individual was contributing helpful information and insightful remarks to those in the meeting. But then… they couldn’t stop. They kept talking. Before long, their extra contributions caused us to forget what their meaningful content had been.

One more point, one more remark, one more anecdote. It soon becomes white noise for all those listening.

You’ve heard it. And if you’re like me, you’ve done it.

In a recent episode of the 5 Leadership Questions podcast, Barnabas Piper and Todd Adkins had Simon Sinek as their guest (you can listen here). Sinek recounted participating in a meeting early on in his career and really being the person in the meeting who could speak with the most authority about a particular project the group had been working on. And he did. And most of what he said really mattered. But as they were leaving the meeting, a mentor of his put their arm around him and said:

“Three quarters of an answer is better than an answer and a half.”

I’ve written about this topic in a previous post titled, Being Prepared, But Saying the Least (in meetings). But Sinek’s mentor’s remark provided me a clear word picture for this practice of knowing when to stop contributing, and reminded me that  a few comments too many can be the difference between meaningful content and dragging on.

Take freedom in knowing:

  • You don’t have to know everything.
  • Everything you do know you don’t have to share with others.
  • And (as Sinek says in this podcast) even when you don’t know, you don’t need to pretend you do.

Giving an answer and half isn’t all about ego. Not everyone who gives more than three-fourths of an answer is trying to make sure everyone knows they’re a subject-matter expert. Sometimes, the topic is so important, they believe putting everything out there is critical.

But it’s rarely critical. And if it’s important for everyone to hear a comprehensive answer, a well selected three-quarters will prompt others to ask for more explanation, whether inside the meeting or outside it.

A filter: less is more.

Or a second filter: does this last three-fourths I want to say really advance the conversation? Advance the meeting? Advance the cause? Or is my next contribution really about me?

The second filter got me yesterday. I found myself in a situation where I wanted to say more. I wanted to make a strong point. And yet, I was thinking about this blog’s content. It’s not easy (and I’m not revealing how well or not well I did yesterday) but either way, I believe and will try to practice… three-fourths of an answer is better than an answer a half. I hope you’ll do the same.

P.S. Also, don’t forget: sometimes we shouldn’t even speak the first three-fourths.

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