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Tradition is powerful. When a church has experienced success, motivation for change can be low or even nonexistent. In fact, Carey Nieuwhof recently shared in Lasting Impact,

“The greatest enemy of future success is current success. Churches are afraid to risk what is for what might be.”

Change can be time consuming, frustrating and even costly. It is much easier to avoid change as long as possible. Eventually churches change when the pain associated with status quo becomes greater than the pain associated with the change. Pain is the key. Frankly, even for churches, pain often isn’t felt until there’s a financial crisis. This is when the change cycle begins.

I think most leaders are guilty of thinking that if they lead really, really well, everyone will stick with them. Reality says you’ll lose people after each phase of implementing the change. Here’s why:

Cycle One: Creating Urgency

The change cycle begins when the leader demonstrates the need for change. You create urgency by explaining why the change is necessary and important to execute — and why it can’t wait.

During this cycle, some people will certainly oppose the change due to pride. Possibly the change affects an area they have previously led or are currently carrying. Others experience fear. They worry they may lose their significance or possibly feel anxious over the financial risks of the change.

Cycle Two: Communicate For Buy-in

This is the time for the change to be communicated to all levels of the organization. Once the leadership team believes the change has been communicated, it should be communicated again and again. The person at the lowest level of leadership should have at least an understanding of the change that is taking place.

During this cycle, tension can sometimes be felt among leaders, volunteers and church members. This is a time where disgruntled people begin forming alliances to make a final push to stop the change from happening. Depending on the size of the change, some people will stop giving or even threaten to leave. However, I’ve noticed it’s very easy for church leaders to over-estimate the level of negativity toward the change. Fear is often louder than reality.

Cycle Three: Make the Change

There will always be people who wait around to see how things are going, neither committed nor ready to leave. After you’ve actually made the change, these people will test the waters to determine whether or not the leaders will actually follow through. Not unlike raising children, you have to establish boundaries and stick to them. If someone starts to create division because they don’t like the change, you have to address it immediately. The hope is that they’ll embrace unity with the rest of the team. If not, they may have to be encouraged to leave if their desire is to create division and harm.

Cycle Four: Celebrate Early Wins

Wise leaders are quick to celebrate wins that happen from the change. Many people will jump on-board when they see that the change is working in a timely, visible and meaningful way. Slow change is rarely positive change, so sharing quick wins will build morale and take away power from critics.


When a major change is being executed, some people will inevitably leave. It’s a natural part of change. Wrong expectations sabotage your perception of success when leading change — and your expectations set those of the people you lead. When leaders worry about people who leave they are not focusing on the new people who will eventually come because of the change. Remember, you are stewarding a God-given mission. If you try to keep everyone happy, the mission isn’t the priority.

You can’t afford to waste time and energy on those who are no longer bought into the vision. This is actually a time to celebrate. Some endings have to happen in order to open the door to a brighter and better future.

What changes do you need to make this year?

Wrong expectations sabotage your perception of success when leading change. Click To Tweet

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