The President recently announced policy changes via Twitter. I’m not sure that’s a wise move.
My concern has nothing to do with the policy change itself. Rather, the method of communication is what seems lacking. His announcement caught the Pentagon off-guard. Respected generals were left to answer reporters’ questions without the luxury of preparing a statement.
The President’s intent may have been great, but the execution was lacking. It is possible to do the right thing the wrong way.
It reminds me of pastors who make biblical changes in their church, but neglect to practice biblical wisdom and communication in their approach. For instance:
- Starting a membership class may be a great idea. But make sure everyone knows it’s mandatory before someone walks the aisle to join your church without taking the class. Talk about a “walk of shame” back to their seat!
- Moving to small-groups on Sunday nights might be good for your congregation. But no member should find out by reading a sign on a locked door at 6pm on Sunday.
- Eliminating the food pantry and joining a community food bank might have merit. But the folks who have spent years organizing and donating to the pantry deserve to be in the conversation.
When you do things the wrong way –even the right things– you open yourself up to a world of problems. With that in mind, here are some tips to guard you from “Trumping” your church:
- Discuss significant changes in policy and practices with your leaders. These are the people who can help you contemplate and communicate the change. They will be the first to defend the new policy –but only if they have a “heads up” first. It’s not wise to catch them off-guard with public announcements. Never do anything to diminish the trust of the leaders with whom God has surrounded you.
- Ask those who will be most affected by the change to be involved in the conversation. Changing Sunday school? You’d better talk to the teachers first. Changing the way you take up the offering? Get the ushers and treasurer together for a conversation. Don’t expect them to embrace a change they weren’t allowed to discuss.
- Communicate the change to the church repeatedly and in various ways over a period of time. Never assume that one announcement of a major change is enough to inform the entire congregation. What about the people who were absent from the service due to sickness or vacation? What about the folks who didn’t receive a bulletin the week you printed the announcement? What about the folks (like me) who need to hear it and read it several times before reality sinks in? Different people get their information from different places. Therefore, consider all available channels of communication –bulletins, newsletters, website, emails, social media, etc.
- For larger issues, consider a question & answer forum for church members. This isn’t always necessary. And, it can be unpredictable. However, giving people an opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions can go a long way to building and maintaining trust in a congregation. Most people don’t need to have their way; they just want to have their say. If you are uncomfortable with a “town hall” setting, consider inviting people to leave comments in a box or to email questions and comments to you directly over a period of time.
- Remind people of the change after the decision is made. Spend months continuing to remind people of the new service schedule so they don’t forget. Consider a permanent place in your bulletin spelling out the new process for membership to avoid awkward situations at the close of services. Think about ways to communicate verbally on a regular basis. Habits change slowly and not everyone thinks about the changes as much as you do. Reminders are a wonderful gesture of courtesy.
- Prepare back up plans. Anytime a major change occurs, people will forget and revert to the old practice. Be prepared for this so they are not caught in a frustrating circumstance. If you change the schedule, have greeters show up at the old meeting time for several weeks until everyone is acclimated. If you change membership procedures, have a plan for what to tell someone and how to rescue them from embarrassment if they walk the aisle. Think through how you would feel and how you would wan to be treated in those situations.
In my experience, the process of change can be more controversial than the change itself. Avoid unnecessary stress on your congregation. Go the “extra mile” in executing and communicating change.
Remember, It is possible to do the right thing the wrong way.
That sounds like something to Tweet!