Leadership guru Peter Drucker once wrote, “Effective innovations start small.” Some would disagree with that approach. At least one consultant has suggested that if change is necessary in an organization, do it on the grand scale so that all of the pain is experienced at one time and the people can move on.
In most churches, Drucker’s advice seems to be more practical. Unless a church is facing imminent meltdown—reduced to an unsustainable core of members, overcome with debt, ready to close its doors—incremental change is the best course to take. Why?
For one thing, small changes allow for experiments in the life of the church. These are things that we try because they seem like a good idea to meet an identified need. If they do not succeed, we learn from them and move on. If they succeed, we have a new and effective component of ministry that can be enhanced and expanded.
Small changes also allow the church to innovate without “upsetting the apple cart.” Someone once told me that when a church makes changes, the leaders should add and not take away. We should not offer an “either-or” scenario but a “both-and” approach. After a period of time, the older approach may be seen to be less effective, be modified or die out. For example, if a church wants to add a contemporary service, it should continue the established worship service rather than scrapping it completely. Is this more work? Yes, but this approach recognizes that some may be angry when something they value is snatched away from them.
Another helpful aspect of small changes is that they can be made with limited resources. I am not saying that the new efforts are not of good quality, but rather that making small changes does not require the financial investment of major change. They also can be done with minimal reallocation of staff time. If the changes are successful, more resources can be redirected to them.
Small, experimental changes communicate to the church members and the community that the church is not afraid of something new and is willing to take calculated risks in an effort to become more effective in its ministry.
Change is inevitable but with careful planning, the amount of pain can be reduced.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.