For most people, no matter how exciting the change is, the big meaning of change is loss. I once heard a pastor tell how he implemented needed changes. His church had become calcified and stuck in its ways. It needed to break out of its doldrums. But there was resistance, of course. How did he move forward?
He did two things. First, he interviewed some of the founding members of the congregation, many of whom were now in their eighties, some in nursing homes who were rarely able to attend church. What he found out was that the original vision for the church was actually very similar to the new vision he wanted the church to move ahead with. When he told these founding members what changes he had in mind, they became very excited.
What had happened was that as the original vision became institutionalized, the next generation down (people roughly 35 to 55) had actually moved the church (perhaps unintentionally) away from its original impetus for outreach and growth. It was this group that was most resistant to change. Those younger, as might be expected, were eager for change but lacked influence in the church.
So the pastor asked those founding members who were able to come to a congregational meeting and speak on the original dream for the church and what they thought of the new way forward the church leaders had been suggesting. With those folks clearly in favor, it was difficult for the middle generation to oppose it on the grounds that they were the ones preserving the true values and culture of the church.
Second, the pastor did not trash the past but honored it. He didn’t talk about how bad things had been in recent years and how everything was a problem. Instead he thanked and recognized those people who had given sacrificially to make the church what it was. He told the congregation that they were able to move forward in these new directions because they were able to build on the past, to build on the accomplishments of recent years. They weren’t going to ignore or throw away or tear down the past. They were going to add to it—while returning in a more focused way to the original vision for the church.
For any organization (or any publisher), when change is needed, we are wise to find ways to celebrate the past. This can be by publicly recognizing key people or having gatherings to celebrate milestones or anniversaries of key events. A Wall of Honor can be created with pictures, plaques or other mementos.
As new initiatives are put into effect, we should make it clear to all that these would not be possible without what had gone before. If the changes do actually represent a return to the founding values, emphasize how that is so.
Change can mean loss. But it can also mean honoring the past.