Change can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be

 In Blog, Communication

Change is hard. Some changes are great and some less so, but no matter the type, it can have an impact on our stress levels, health, and sense of security. In the late 60’s, researchers Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe created a tool that rates the amount of stress people experience based on common life changes. This scale is known as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), or more commonly as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.

They identified 43 life events that create stress and gave each of the events a correlating score indicating how disruptive they are. Their research indicated the higher someone’s score on the SRRS, the more likely they are to experience physical illness as a result of the stress. So in effect, science proves that change is hard.

Church leaders go through an incredible amount of change on a regular basis. Change is a part of church life and is unavoidable. Change can be particularly difficult for leaders because not only do they have to deal with change in their own lives, but they have to help lead others through the process of change in order to reach organizational goals. I recently came across THIS wonderful book on organizational change and it has been helpful as we have implemented change within our organization. Here is high level overview of how you can lead through change:

ADKAR is a change management model that allows organizations to remain focused on the organizational goals while providing a framework for individuals to become comfortable with the idea of the change, and allow them time to process and adapt to it. ADKAR is an acronym for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.


Hopefully, you are not changing for change’s sake. There should be a good reason for altering the way things work. Sometimes this is an untapped opportunity, a problem, or an inefficiency. If you are asking people to change, let them in on why the change is needed. Whenever possible, allow them to experience the same need for the change that you are experiencing. By experiencing the constraint themselves, you may be helping them to develop ownership of the problem. Simply telling someone why a change is coming isn’t sufficient. Provide the space people need to see the need or potential opportunity for themselves.


Knowing that change is needed is the first big hurdle, but awareness alone doesn’t usually result in change. For example, you may know that you have gotten a little out of shape and need to get back to the gym, but unless you WANT to do it, you aren’t likely to get up early and lace up your running shoes. In an organization, it can be tempting to skip the desire step because as a leader, you can implement change if people want it or not. If you take the time to allow people to voice their concerns, discuss the ways the problem can be solved and take ownership of it, you will have partners in the change, not resisters or just followers.


Organizational change means that people have to get up to speed on a new way of doing things. If you think about implementing new technology, for example, you can’t just assume everyone has the same skill or experience level with the new tech. Take the time to train people on the step to step process that is being implemented. This is where the rubber meets the road, so don’t be surprised if people who seemed to be onboard with the change go back to showing some resistance. Take the time at this point to revisit the why of the change (awareness) and allow them to voice concerns and be heard. As a leader, be sure to really listen. They may have insight into the implications of the change that you missed. It’s not too late to adjust the plan.


Knowing how to implement and having the ability to do it are not the same thing. They might need the authority to do it, confidence in their skills, or simply time to master the new process. This is a great time to come alongside them and provide encouragement and individual coaching. Additionally, as the leader, one of your key roles is to clear any roadblocks that may be keeping them from being successful. Be on the lookout for anything that may be hindering their ability to commit to the change.


Lastly, the change cannot be assumed to have taken root just because people did it successfully for a time. We are creatures of habit and without reinforcement, we tend to slip back into old patterns. This may take the form of workarounds or outright reverting to the old way of doing things. For change to become permanent, it needs to become habitual. This may require coaching, and in some cases, a zero-tolerance policy. Obviously, encouragement is a much better long-term motivator than punishment, so use reprimand only when absolutely necessary.

How have you led people through change? What have been your success stories? Do you have any stories of spectacular failure and what did you learn from it?