Why People Resist Change (and What You Can Do About It)

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Why have so many pastors’ honeymoons ended after the first month?

“It’s my first week, what should I change here?” Perhaps new pastors don’t vocalize the question, but I know they think it. At least, I don’t believe I’m the only one.

The default setting to change something is only natural for a good leader. Having a vision means being dissatisfied with the status quo.

“The search committee said they were bringing me on to make needed changes. Why is the church resisting the obvious?!” Why have so many pastors’ honeymoons ended after the first month?

Resistance to change is one of the largest hurdles in leadership. I once had a handful of pencils launched my way when my tweaks to a potluck dinner were discovered. I learned not to mess with potlucks. Luckily the pencils weren’t that sharp, and they no longer contain lead. No blood, no foul.

Every church leader has been there. We’ve all met the resistance.

Here are a few reasons why people resist change.

You are the change.

New pastors often miss this fact. Even if you change nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — in your first year as a pastor, then people will still experience a huge change: you. You are not new to yourself, but you certainly are new to the people of the church.

Any change efforts you introduce in your first few months are only magnified by the fact that people are still trying to get to know who you are.

Technical change and cultural change.

When people say they want change, they often mean technical changes. Technical problems require a specific expertise.

For many, pastors are seen as the hired expert on hand to work through technical problems. People desiring technical changes ask these types of questions: Can you make sure my curriculum is in my room? Can you see that church is not so hot in the summer? Why haven’t I received the newsletter?

These questions involve small technical changes, but often people desire large technical changes too, like a new building.

Technical changes are important. If you pastor a church of any size, then you must manage the organization of people. Few people, however, understand that lasting change is cultural, not technical.

Sam  Rainer Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also serves as senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at twitter.com/samrainer, or at his blog, samrainer.wordpress.com.

More from Sam Rainer or visit Sam at http://samrainer.wordpress.com

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  • Ellen

    Thank you for this, Sam. I learned a few powerful things through a Missio Nexus / LeaderLink webinar series conducted by M.L. Hillard on change. Leadership in organizations (churches and mission organizations included) tend to get a vision for change and work more with the leadership than the rest in the organization in the formative stages of developing a plan for change. The rest in the organization doesn’t feel a sense of ownership or participation, so may resist change simply because they haven’t been part of the cultivation process. And leaders tend to be visionaries and more at home with change than people with other giftings, so their pace of comfort with change may be at one end of the spectrum when we consider all of the ways God wires people.
    Another salient point M.L. made is that there needs to be time built in to a change process to grieve the loss of the old (even if it is a good release) before we can embrace the new. Organizational leaders tend to short-change that process. Then there is the challenge of compound grief: not only are people dealing with a need to grieve the current loss, it is likely they bring with them unresolved, ungrieved other losses, which tends to compound and muddy the present dynamic. One of the great opportunities in change in God’s house is to model and shepherd people well in healthy change.
    God bless us to be able to be salty salt and clear Christ-light!