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Managing Resistance with Help from The Vision Holder, The Naysayer, The Committed Worker, The Skeptic and The Cheerleader

How Congregations Can Set Attainable Goals, Part 1

It’s not too hard to make a positive change in one’s life--for a day or two. The challenge comes in trying to maintain a positive change over the long term.

Making changes as a congregation involves many of the same challenges, plus some, but it also includes some benefits that only apply when making changes as a group.

First, no matter what change is underway, there will be both personal and communal resistance. Personal resistance is similar to what happens when starting a new initiative at home.

When I start a diet or a new exercise plan or I resolve to interact in more productive ways, I am committed and hopeful. I know it will be hard work, but I believe in what I’m doing, and I know I can do it.

Then reality hits. Hard work is not intellectual anymore, it becomes physical and emotional. I feel the change in my body, in adjustments to my daily schedule or in unexpected relational patterns.

I start to question the original goal. Is it really worth it? Maybe the way things were before wasn’t actually that bad. If we don’t have strategies to cope with our own resistance we will not succeed.

Now image a congregation made up of many individuals. Some are more committed to the new goal than others. Some oppose the idea altogether. Some are hopeful. Some not. The resistance of others can slow down progress for the whole group.

But in a group, change can succeed even when everyone is not equally committed to a new approach. Everyone does not have to respond to a change in the same way at the same time in order for it to succeed. Resistance can have benefits.

Each person has an important role to play. Often we get irritated with people who are responding differently than we are. Understanding and appreciating these roles can help lead to lasting and effective change.

The Vision Holder: You could also call this person The Eternal Optimist. This person knows the congregation is capable of implementing a particular change and envisions it happening quickly and easily. This person sees the desired end result clearly before him or her even before it has completely taken place.

The Naysayer: This person has a pessimistic perspective that helps to keep the group from expecting too much too soon. Beneficial changes take time. The Naysayer can help a group to temper overly optimistic attitudes and adopt a more realistic perspective.

The Committed Worker: This person is committed to the tasks at hand. He or she does not focus on whether the process will or won’t work, but makes sure that the agreed on processes are happening right now.

“We are working to communicate more effectively as a congregation? Good. We agreed that the board should get the agenda out to the congregation two weeks in advance. And we agreed that everyone will have the opportunity to speak at meetings and no one person will dominate. I will be responsible for seeing that those things happen.”

The Skeptic: This person analyzes the situation and questions decisions. His or her brain is always hard at work trouble shooting. The skeptic slows down the process. Sometimes his or her analysis will save a lot of problems in the future.

“Why are we doing things this way? Wouldn’t it work better that way? I know we agreed on this already, but honestly, it’s going to be better if we try doing it a little differently.”

The Cheerleader: This person believes in what’s happening and makes sure everyone else is on board. He or she doesn’t necessarily get directly involved in implementation, but talks positively about the plan and the process, and generates enthusiasm.

Don’t peg people too quickly. Sometimes individuals play one role at one time and another role at another time or in another situation. Try saying, “My friend is helping us to think through all the details of this situation with her skeptical approach this week.” Or “Listen to him. When he talks I can really see what we are aiming for. Now I think I can hold that vision high and inspire others too.”

Resistance to change is normal for individuals and for groups. What is familiar is comfortable and predictable even if it is causing problems in our lives. The benefit of making changes as a group is that people can support each other through the resistance period until a change becomes the new normal.

Think of a time your congregation tried to change something significant. What roles did you play? What roles did others play? How did you respond to other people at that time? How might you respond differently after reflecting on the value of their roles?

This is the first of an ongoing series of articles on setting attainable goals which will be posted once or twice a month. Look for this heading with the red letters: Working the System: How Congregations Can Set Attainable Goals.

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