Wise leaders and pastors understand that lasting change requires individuals to change first before an organization will change. Your change won’t last or will disrupt your church unless those in your teams personally embrace the change first, at least at some level. So it behooves us to first understand why most people initially resist change. Brain insight helps us understand hidden processes around which we can design our change initiatives. Awareness of how people’s brains work in response to change can help you craft more lasting changes. Here are eight reasons why change is hard.
- People naturally assume the worst. Our brain is wired to pick up threats and negative possibilities around us more than the positive. Two-thirds of the brain cells in the flight-fight part of our brain, the amygdala, are wired to pick up on the negative (Hanson, 2010). Most people’s initial response to change comes from these emotional centers rather than from their thinking centers.
- People usually fill in knowledge gaps with fear instead of faith. Uncertainty about the future (and change) breeds this fear. The less information and the more people have to fill in the knowledge gaps, the greater the fear and resistance to change.
- We don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression. That’s not simply a quaint saying. Neuroscientists have shown it to be true (Lount et al., 2008). Poorly introduced change will always start your change on the wrong footing.
- Emotions influence receptivity to change. Just presenting facts without engaging positive and hopeful emotions will seldom move your team forward. Although we may prefer it not to be so, most people make decisions based on emotion.
- The brain can only handle so much change at once. Trying to create too much change too quickly can engage the brain’s fear center and cause people to resist, thus hindering change (Hemp, 2009).
- Old habits die hard. The older we get we more easily default to what we know. It’s like a river that for many years has cut a deep gorge in the earth. It would be hard to change its course. It simply becomes harder to think about other options. Our brain’s habit centers more easily kick in as we age. It’s like a tug-of-war between the familiar and easy (what we are used to, our habits) and the unfamiliar and difficult (the change).
- Resistance to change often increases the closer you get to the change. People’s response to change changes over time. Let’s say you introduce a change that will take place a year from now (you plan to add an early service on Sundays). Initially your staff easily sees benefits that an early service can provide such as more space and more service options. The negatives such as more work, recruiting more volunteers, and a longer day loom very large at that point. Neuroscientists have discovered that when the change is far away, the positives usually outweigh the negatives (Lw et al., 2008). However, the closer we get to the change we get more fearful as we think about the implications and the personal cost (i.e., “Now I have to arrive at church two hours earlier each Sunday). The cost becomes more concrete whereas further away from the change the positives stood out more. So the closer you get to beginning the new service, the more it can feel like a threat to your staff. Uninformed optimism gives way to informed pessimism.
- The brain often interprets change as a threat which in turn creates resistance. The brain is organized around a fundamental principle: Minimize threat-maximize reward that results in either resistance or openness. Change seems like a threat which often breeds resistance from others. Change brings uncertainty and the brain doesn’t like uncertainty.
So, the next time you begin to think about change, keep these brain insights in mind when you craft your plan.
What else have you seen in others that makes them averse to change?
“I just learned 8 brain-based insights that create resistance to change from others.” (tweet this quote by clicking here).
Hanson, R. (2010) Confronting the Negativity Bias [Internet]. Available from: [Accessed 31 January 2013].
Hemp, P. (2009) Death by Information Overload – Harvard Business Review [Internet]. Available from: [Accessed 20 March 2013].
Lount, R.B., Zhong, C.-B., Sivanathan, N. & Murnighan, J.K. (2008) Getting Off on the Wrong Foot: The Timing of a Breach and the Restoration of Trust. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34 (12), pp.1601-1612.
Lw, A., Lang, P.J., Smith, J.C. & Bradley, M.M. (2008) Both predator and prey: emotional arousal in threat and reward. Psychological Science, 19 (9), pp.865-873.
Some time ago I read Andy Stanley’s book Deep and Wide. It’s a must-read for every ministry leader. In one chapter he poses 5 questions that are deeply telling about a church’s direction and impact. At your next staff meeting, pose these five questions and give your staff the freedom to answer honestly. Better yet, email them a few days prior to the meeting and ask each staffer to record his or her answers. Then, bring the answers to your meeting.
Below I’ve slightly modified each since you don’t have the context where they appeared unless you’ve read the book.
- As a church are we moving Kingdom priorities forward or are we simply meeting?
- Are we making a measurable difference in our local community or simply conducting services?
- Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation?
- Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budget decisions?
- If we ceased to exist as a church, would the community miss us (my question)?
What other key questions do you think we should regularly ask about our ministry’s effectiveness?
“I just learned 5 probing questions to ask key leaders in my church.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)
Without trust, a church staff or ministry team simply won’t function at its best. In a recent Harvard Business Review blog the author quoted some dismal statistics about the workplace which probably hold true in the ministry realm as well. In this post I suggest 5 ways to build trust with your team.
Photo by Civilian Scrabble
According to the 2013 Edleman Trust Barometer, fewer than 20% of respondents believe leaders are actually telling the truth when confronted with a difficult issue in their organizations. Furthermore, a study conducted by the Human Capital Institute and Interaction Associates in 2013 found only 34% of organizations had high levels of trust in the places they work. And, a paltry 38% reported that their organizations had effective leadership running the show.
To cap off a small sliver of dismal data points, research firm Gallup found that over a twelve-year period between 2000 and 2012, the percentage of engaged employees in the workforce has shifted between 26% and 30%. That is, roughly 70% of employees in today’s organizations have spent more than a decade essentially collecting a paycheck, an almost Shakespearean spectacle of tragic ambivalence.
Wow, if only 1/3 of our church staff teams experience a high level of trust, then we have a lot of work to do. Here are five simple ways to build trust with your team.
- Intensity personal relationships. John Maxwell was right when he said that, “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Although depending on the size of your staff you many not have time to build strong relationships with everybody, at least do so with your key players.
- Share when you’ve failed. When others hear from us when we fail and what we learned from our failures, we endear ourselves to them. When you mess up, admit it.
- Don’t abuse your authority. If you’re in a place of leadership over others, don’t lead from position. Lead from character. Lead in such a way that others would want to follow you.
- Invite input from your team. We seldom know all the answers. When we invite input from our team, we give them ownership of the ministries and the changes we want to implement. And ownership builds trust.
- Never, never, never condescend. When people feel patronized and condescended to, they deeply resist. A friend once shared with me that during a session with his supervisor he felt so patronized that he had to stifle his laughter by the incredulous comments she made. She made herself out to be a know-it-all and made the employee feel like a dummy.
What has helped you build trust in your teams?
“I just learned 5 ways to build trust in my teams.” (tweet this quote by clicking here).
In today’s world we’re bombarded with information overload. One author coined this problem infobesity (Pearrow, 2012) to describe this data overload. When we get too much data our thinking brain shuts down to new information. British psychologist Dr. David Lewis coined a term to describe what happens from infobesity as ‘Information Fatigue Syndrome.’ Symptoms include burnout, a compulsion to constantly check email or the web, poor concentration, hostility (Elwart, 2013), and anxiety caused by over stimulating our brain’s emotional centers. Sometimes churches can be guilty of infobesity. Is yours?
In 2012 this amount of information was produced every single minute and it grows each year (Elwart, 2013).
- 72 hours of video posts
- 347 blog posts
- 700,000 Facebook entries
- 30,000 tweets
- 2 million e-mails sent
- 12 million text messages
Unfortunately the church can be guilty of overloading people with information as well. What might indicate that your church is guilty of infobesity? Consider these 5 indicators.
- You pack your Sunday bulletin with so many inserts about activities that the inserts get dropped all over the floor after the service.
- Your announcements last longer than 3 minutes.
- Your announcements include more than 3 items.
- At your staff meetings you get dizzy thinking about all the stuff that “needs” to be communicated.
- You send out more than one weekly email to church members about church events.
So if you think your church is guilty, what can you do to address it?
- Clarify your church’s vision and don’t do stuff that doesn’t reinforce it.
- Learn to say no to marginal events and ministries.
- Prioritize what’s most important and make sure those priorities get priority communication.
- Align all your communication venues (announcements, bulletin, enews, other printed collateral) so that they all reinforce your priorities.
- Develop an annual calendar so you can see what events might compete with each other.
How have you dealt with infobesity in your church?
“I just learned how to deal with infobesity in my church.”(tweet this quote by clicking here).
Elwart, S. (2013) Information overload making your head explode? [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/information-overload-making-your-head-explode/> [Accessed 24 April 2013].
Pearrow, M. (2012) Infobesity: Cognitive and Physical Impacts of Information Overcomsumption. Available from: <http://distworkshop.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/dist2012_submission_8.pdf>.
Familiarity blindness is a malady that infects us all. It happens when we become so familiar with something that we no longer consciously see it. In fact, the brain does this all the time so it doesn’t have to work as hard. If you drive to church or work the same route each time, you no longer pay attention to familiar buildings, signs, and other landmarks along the way. Although our eyes still see them, they’ve become so familiar that the brain doesn’t pay conscious attention to them. However, when something is out of place on your drive, a detour, for example, you immediately pay attention. Familiarity blindness is common in many churches today. In this post I give 7 ways to cure it.
Familiarity blindness afflicts many church ministries. We get accustomed to doing things a certain way, become so familiar with our surroundings, or slip into a ministry rut that we become oblivious to their staleness or their need for change. It happens in marriage as well. We can become so familiar with our spouses that we can take then for granted and not treat them as kindly as we once did.
Jesus described this phenomenon in his response to people who knew Mary and Joseph and couldn’t believe that He was a carpenter’s son. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Luke 4.24, NIV) Those from His hometown had become so familiar with Him that they missed seeing Him as the Messiah.
Since this problem easily carries into our ministries, how can we cure it? Consider these ideas.
- Invite someone with fresh eyes to visit your church service. Perhaps a fellow pastor, a consultant, or a neighbor. Afterwards ask them to give you honest feedback about their experience, both good and bad.
- Evaluate the order in which you present the various parts of your worship service. Do you do the same thing in the same order each week? Could someone who has gone to your church for a while tell you the order without even thinking about it? If so, you may want to consider changing up the order. Surprise and novelty helps people pay better attention.
- Go and visit another church. What do you experience that feels disconcerting, unclear, or unnecessary? Do you see similar barriers in your own church? Go back to your church with the same evaluative eyes and make necessary changes.
- Spend time with new people in your church. Ask them what they liked. Ask them what they would change. Ask them to be honest. Pay attention to what you learn. Build on the good. Modify the not-so-good.
- Evaluate your annual church calendar. Does your church or its ministries do the exact same events and ministries year after year? Certainly repeating events that work is good. But, do you do some events just because you’ve always done them? Do they have the same spiritual impact they once did? Do you need to drop or modify them?
- Does your leadership culture invite honest feedback and evaluation about your ministry? Do you regularly evaluate ministry initiatives and events? Or, is the planning process over when the event is over? Learning cultures will ruthlessly evaluate what they do so they can do better next time.
- Pray. Though last in this list it is not least. Ask the Lord to show you what you’ve become blind to.
What would you add to this list to help cure familiarity blindness in a church?
“I just learned 7 helpful ways to cure familiarity blindness in my church.” (to tweet this quote click here)