How to Make Change (When You’re Not Allowed to Make Change)
This is the next installment in our ongoing “Small Church” series, which looks at guest services through the lens of the smaller congregation: those with 150 or fewer people in attendance each week. See the entire series here.
In nearly every organization, there’s a perception held by some individuals that “I’m not allowed to make that call.” Whether it’s an intern bemoaning his boss, a middle manager sulking about the senior manager, or a CEO berating the board of directors, there are moments where we feel like our hands are tied and there’s nothing we can do. There are times we feel like we’re not in the room where it happens.
And maybe there’s nowhere that feeling feels more real than inside the smaller church. If you’re running into roadblocks when trying to make change happen, you might think it’s because of your lack of longevity (the power brokers have been in the church far longer than you), your lack of authority (you’re not a part of the group that makes the decisions), or your lack of permission (no one is giving you the green light).
My friend Carolyn Wilson calls this the “Committee Glass Walls” syndrome: those people decide these things and this is the way it’s always been done.
So how do you make decisions when you’re not allowed to make decisions? I think there are at least 5 ways:
1. Always assume the best.
How would our posture differ if we realized that the first change needs to happen within our own souls? Too many times, the “They don’t want to change” path leads to a villain of our own making. We assign characteristics to a person or committee that may not be true or fair. Why not begin by seeing them as an ally, not an enemy? Why not assume we’re on the same team and want the same thing, we just may have different ideas on how to get there?
2. Know where you don’t need permission to lead.
Let’s say that you want to start a Guest Services Team but the Steering Committee doesn’t want to give the green light. In that case, it would be way out of bounds for you to set up a table on the sidewalk anyway, or pass out first-time guest bags that you bought by picking a few twenties out of the offering plate. (Also: illegal.)
But you don’t need anyone’s permission to introduce yourself to a first-time guest, invite them to sit with you, and take them to lunch after the service. There’s a difference between corporate hospitality and individual hospitality. While you may face systemic barriers for the former, you can get started on the latter immediately. You might be the spark needed to get the fire going, and modeling hospitality almost always rubs off on others.
3. Win the heart before you try to win an argument.
Let’s pretend you’re hitting the “committee glass wall” when trying to start a new hospitality team initiative. Maybe you’re hearing the old phrase “We’ve never done it that way before” or “This is too corporate.” You may never win the hearts of the decision-makers by creating another chart or getting another 15 minutes in the agenda.
But what if you invited one decision maker out for coffee and heard her rationale, one-on-one? What if you bought them a copy of a game-changing book and invited them to read through it with you? What if you asked them to attend another church in the area so they can see what they’re doing in the realm of hospitality? Sometimes the slow burn of realization is far better than the dopamine hit of winning an argument.
4. Discover the knowledge gaps, and fill them in.
Many times we assume we know what the pushback is, only to find out later we’re having two different conversations. You think you’ll need a budget of $100 per year, and the committee believes you’ll need 20 times that. You believe this initiative can be owned by a team of five, and they think it’s fifty.
We’ll never overcome knowledge gaps without looking for them, listening for them, and humbly trying to address them.
5. Cultivate faithfulness where you are.
If assuming the best is a must…if the posture of our heart matters…if our personal call to hospitality supersedes any corporate initiative…we can always remember our calling to be faithful in the mundane, and our “didn’t-get-our-way” moments won’t get in the way. We can speak kindly of those and to those with whom we might disagree. We can continue to make things better in the corners that we can control. And we can do it all with humility, not because we think we know better, but because we know we should serve better.
6. Pray for wisdom.
We’re all masters of self-deception. It’s easy for us to roll ahead with motives that are self-honoring rather than God-honoring. Prayer reveals this to us in stark detail. Prayer also petition God to move hearts, open doors, and provide opportunities to raise the banner on guest services. We’ll effect change the best when we pray for the Holy Spirit to enact change in the hearts of people…and our own.
As always, I’m indebted to the team of advisors who read over these posts and gives helpful feedback. Some of the points above were added by Wanda Padilla of Crossroads Church in Brooklyn, NY, and Terri Durham of Texas’ Concho Valley Baptist Association.