Part 2 in a 3-part series by Pivot NW Researcher Rev. Dr. Eric Ford
Change is hard. As a leader in your congregation, you are constantly facing change, ready or not! Maybe you are a new young adult leader trying to get a ministry started. Perhaps you are a tenured leader who is open to new possibilities, but you don’t want to lose any valuable traditions. And we all know at least one long-time member who has experienced change in a negative way and fears that any more change could ruin relationships and break their beloved congregation. For all of these reasons (and many more), it is important to ask the second, contemplation question: How serious are we about this change?
As we reflected in the first post of this series, the sequence and stages of preparing for change are important. Recall that the research of Prochaska, DiClemente, and Narcross (1992) outlined five stages of preparation for change.
Previously, we looked at John 5:1-18 in order to ask the pre-contemplation question, “Are we ready to change?”
To illustrate the contemplation question, let’s look at another New Testament story, this time from Luke 9:57-62. As they were walking along the road, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go!” Don’t you love the enthusiasm? Can you think of any leaders in your congregation who possess the same untainted courage and desire to change the world for Christ? As the story progresses, we hear Jesus invite these wide-eyed adventure seekers to come and follow. Unfortunately, when given the opportunity, some leaders just aren’t ready to make the necessary changes. I am a lot like these Biblical characters; I’ve responded with lots of excuses: “Oops! I forgot. I have a funeral to attend today…” or “Sure. But first let me send my family a text, letting them know where I’ll be…” or “I’m not free today, Jesus. How about I fit you in next Tuesday?”
It sounds like the people in the crowd wanted to follow Jesus, they just weren’t ready to make the necessary changes. Or perhaps they had not yet moved from pre-contemplation to the contemplation stage. They were struggling with the next question: How serious are you about change?
So what does this have to do with your congregation and your ministry to and with young adults? Everything! As you enter this new phase of ministry, remember that the research of Prochaska et al. (1992) suggested that initiating change in the wrong phase can actually be detrimental to the end result. That means, if you initiate change too early, it can backfire. If you make any changes before people are ready, chances are they won’t follow through.
Therefore, at this juncture of your leadership and young adult ministries, it is important to pause and reflect on these questions:
- How much and what kind of research have you already completed? What additional research needs to be done? Have you talked to any young adults about this?
- Have you made an assessment of your congregation’s culture? Is your church friendly, open, and inviting to young adults? Are there any barriers that young adults might encounter?
- Why is this new ministry important to you? How serious are you about making any necessary changes within the congregation for this new ministry to be successful?
- Are you prepared for any potential pushback or negative reaction to the changes? How will you respond? How will you help others engage the multiple stages of preparation that are necessary for change to be effective?
Research shows that two-thirds of all change initiatives do not work. With those odds, it’s no wonder we struggle with the issue of change within the Church. That is why this process is so important. This is not change simply for the sake of doing something different. This is change based upon the prompting of the Holy Spirit. As the Church, we are in partnership with God as something new begins to happen (Isaiah 43:19).
Eric Ford, MDiv, DMin is a first-year PhD student in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology Program at SPU. He is an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church. His role in Pivot NW is to help congregations manage the process of change as they engage with young adults. Eric lives in Ballard with his wife Erin and daughter Skylar. He says that the best part of the move to Seattle is the wide variety of coffee choices!