Overcoming the Resistance to Change

5 balls on strings, 4 sad and stationary, 1 happy and ready to swing down to hit the other 4

By Renee Ruchotzke

Organizations, like all systems, seek equilibrium. If a congregation is thrown out of balance by the prospect of change, most members will seek to restore order and sameness. This is natural and should not be a reason to judge one another.

There is almost always an initial resistance to the prospect of change, as change tends to trigger the amygdala and produce a "fight, flight or freeze" reaction. The Rollercoaster of Change model demonstrates this.

Healthy organizations have developed the ability to be receptive to change and resistance--to lean into the disruption to their equilibrium. This is where a congregation becomes a community of learning.

Congregational leaders can foster a learning culture by developing the following congregational traits:

Mutual Trust and Vulnerability

Trust comes from transparency of decision-making, open communication, inclusiveness and willingness to let leaders lead. The essential counterpart to leaders building trust is to also be humble and vulnerable. Being honest about strengths and weaknesses, and about the known and the unknown go a long way toward building trust.

Shared Commitment to Mission and Vision

The congregation should have a mission and vision that resonates with the membership. Leadership should be able to connect the proposed change to that mission and vision. This is even more powerful if there is a spiritual dimension and passion to this commitment.

Shared Leadership, Shared Ministry

When ministers, staff and lay leaders are all in alignment with mission and vision and are supporting one another's leadership, the congregation's members are receiving a consistent message and should have a pretty good understanding of the change and reasons for it.

Shared leadership and ministry also means providing opportunities for people who are uneasy or against the proposed change to be deeply heard and their concerns considered before moving forward.

Systems Sensibility

Remembering that--even though systems resist change--systems need to change and adjust in order to thrive. Leaders who are mindful of systems dynamics and savvy about how to lead change will have the most success.

Additional Reading

Welcoming Resistance by William Chris Hobgood (Alban, 2001)

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

For more information contact .