May 29, 2014
Planning for Change
Keep little changes from becoming a big deal
Every church needs a plan.
But plans are often subject to last-minute adjustments. Especially in a small church, where minor changes can cause big ripples.
That happened in our church recently. We had a perfect storm of circumstances (literally) that caused me to do something I almost never do. I changed a scheduled special event.
Here's what happened. We had a larger-than-usual number of people out of town, we were in the middle of cold and flu season, and there was a possible rain storm on the way. I realized on Thursday that the event, which relied on a large group of volunteers and good weather, would no longer be doable. So I did what any good quarterback does when he sees something new coming from the other side of the field. I called an audible and changed the plan.
The change went off without a hitch. In fact, church members thanked me for making the adjustment, because they knew it was done to make the day's schedule workable.
Here are nine principles I follow to successfully navigate a last-minute change.
1. Always Have a Plan
Even if the plan has to change at the last minute, it's always better to have a plan to adapt from than to have no plan at all.
2. Be Ready for Plan B
Whenever we do an event that relies on a large number of volunteers, we have a signup sheet. And we always ask people to add their e-mail or phone number. That may seem unnecessary in a small church when everyone knows everyone. But having that info on the sheet allowed us to make calls and send e-mails immediately, so everyone got on track quickly with the new plan.
3. Change Plans Very Rarely
Way too many small churches think that, because they're small, they can fly by the seat of their pants all the time. But when we do that, people learn that they can't rely on anything that's announced, so our church volunteers become as unreliable as the church calendar.
Constantly changing announced plans is one of the quickest ways to erode trust, get half-hearted commitment from volunteers, or lose them entirely.
Do you want reliable church volunteers? Be a reliable leader. Keep a reliable calendar.
4. Only Change the Plan When Absolutely Necessary
There has to be a really good reason to change an announced plan. "This is hard to do," or "I'm not that excited about it anymore" are not good reasons.
I've known too many small church pastors who will change plans on a whim. When you change a plan, it should be so necessary that it's obvious to virtually everyone that the change was needed.
5. Confirm the Change with Trusted Leaders
As soon as I realized I might have to change the event, I ran the idea by staff members and a couple of deacons. Not for permission, necessarily. But to ask if they saw something I didn't see.
When the new circumstances were explained, every leader agreed with the need for the change. So we green-lighted it. Wisdom in a multitude of counselors.
6. Change to a Better Plan
If this new plan is better, why didn't we start with it? Because life hands you unexpected surprises, that's why. A good quarterback doesn't go to the line, randomly think of a better plan, then change it on the fly. He calls an audible because something on the field changed.
The new plan is better because it takes new circumstances and/or information into account.
This may seem trivial or obvious, but it's not. If the new plan isn't better, don't change it!
7. Over-Communicate the Change
It seems to be an accepted fact that people—especially church people—don't like change. I disagree. People can handle change. But they don't like being surprised. The difference is communication.
Every church should have multiple ways of contacting church members in a hurry. From an old-school phone chain, to an e-mail list, to the church website, to texting, to social media like Facebook and Twitter, this is easier to do now than it's ever been. Every available communication method should be used when a last-minute change happens.
When I made this change, I communicated it through every available channel. The general announcement was made in my weekly pastor's e-mail, on Facebook and our church website. Those who had signed up to help out got a personal phone call. Did some people get two or three redundant messages about the change? Sure. But better to hear it too often than not at all.
8. Don't Blame Anyone
The worst—absolutely the worst—thing you can do when a change needs to happen is to blame it on anyone. If the change needs to happen, it's been confirmed by leaders and it's now a better plan, given the changing situation, there's no blame to be had anyway.
9. Thank Everyone—A LOT
When people adapt to a last-minute change, recognize that it may have cost them something. For some, the adjustment will be harder than for others. You can never thank people too much.
Keep Small Issues Small
Too many small church leaders undercut their own hard work by changing plans regularly and randomly. Then they don't understand why the few volunteers they have are so unreliable.
If we want reliable volunteers, we need to be reliable leaders. Otherwise, small issues become a big deal.
When we do it right, small things stay small. And we have more energy, time, and trust for the truly big deals.
Karl Vaters runs the New Small Church blog, serves as lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, and is the author of The Grasshopper Myth. This article is adapted with permission.
For more information on effective church communication, check out
Church Administrator Professional Pack III: Communication.