Over this past year there have been many changes in student ministry. Maybe coming out of 2020 you were rethinking the rhythms of your program. Perhaps this past year gave you new insight and you have decided to shift various programmatic features. Or maybe you have realized that there are areas that aren’t working and need to be changed or even removed. Regardless of what changes, change happens.
But when we change things, we must be intentional in how and why we are doing so. Change is never easy and can lead to tension or frustration for various reasons. Today I want to offer you some insight to consider before you begin to change things.
Before we get to the insight may I suggest one bit of advice? Cover whatever you are considering changing with purposeful prayer and intentional insight from people you trust. Doing this before you begin to effect change will help you seek God’s insight, vision, and direction for you and the ministry you lead. It will remove the pride or tension we may feel and help us to be the effective tools of Jesus that we are called to be. When we put that premise into action, then we can begin to work out these next aspects in bringing about change.
This is one of the best things you can do when you are working toward change. Communication is key, but we always hear about someone who has missed the communication. Often that is because we communicate in our typical ways through our normal channels. But when we are changing things–plans, vision, or functionality of the program–we must make sure to go above and beyond to communicate what is happening. Communicate through your normal channels, but also look at other ways to communicate what is happening.
Recently we changed the vision for our student ministry program. We sent out our normal newsletter with the update in it, we posted to our social media channels, and we talked with our students about it. But we also decided to put together a video explaining what was changing and the rationale behind our decision. We then sent that to all the parents via email, posted about it again on social media, held meetings to explain what was happening, and continued to use the language in all aspects of our communication going forward. When you want people to know about a change, the more you talk about it, the more they will know it.
It isn’t just about sharing what is changing though. We must make sure to clearly and succinctly communicate the rational, the heart, the vision, and the why behind the change. People will always ask questions, and our communication allows for us to answer some of those questions before they are even asked. So think through how you clearly communicate why things are changing, what you are hoping the change evokes, and how you plan to sustain the change going forward.
Know the why.
I said in the prior point that people will always have questions, and the big question that most people will ask is “why.” Why are you doing this? Why is it important? Why are you changing things? Why are you getting rid of something we love? Why is this the new thing we are doing? Why can’t we just keep doing what we were doing?
“Why” asks really big questions when you think about it, and it shows that people want to understand and know what is happening. So when you are thinking through changing things, consider how you can answer that question. Just changing things to change things isn’t healthy or beneficial. In fact it evokes fear, anxiety, and tension because no one knows what is happening. But when you know why things are changing and are able to clearly and thoughtfully communicate that to your people, you will be able to address the “why questions” well.
Cast vision well.
The next step in evoking change is making sure that you cast the vision well. It is unhealthy to just change things for the sake of doing something different, but when you can explain the rationale and talk about where you are going, it helps your people to generate excitement and anticipation as they jump on board with you. When you know what you are doing and can clearly share that with your people, you will build their desire to be a part of something because they see your passion and excitement for what is changing. When people see your passion and the vision that you have it generates buy-in and it brings people along on the journey with you.
Be intentional and purposeful.
Whenever you are crafting a plan to change things, be intentional with what you are doing. Often, especially when we are starting at a new church or position, we want to change things because we believe we have a better idea or focus or purpose. That may be true, but we have to remember that there were reasons and rationale for how things have been done. We must understand that people have skin in the game when it comes to various aspects that we are looking to change. For others, the things or ideas we are changing means that we are trying to change them because they are so intertwined with how things have been.
So when you seek to change things, be cognizant of other people, their histories, their emotions, and be willing to have important conversations. The more intentional and purposeful you are, the more people will be excited to join you because they see your heart and you allowed for them to be heard and understood.
Stick with it.
There will be times when you want to give up, when you feel frustrated because people don’t seem to want to join the vision. You will feel discouraged because of all the questions and doubts. Students may challenge you because it is going against what they have been used to. But remember that God has called you to be the leader in this moment.
Remember that you sought God’s heart and have listened to Him and trusted mentors to shape and guide what you are changing. It wasn’t something that you approached nonchalantly, but instead intentionally thought through and planned out. Don’t give up or become discouraged, but remember that God is, has, and will continue to use you to evoke change and reach people for the kingdom.