Successfully Navigating Sunday School Change

Sunday 25th November, 2007

Consider the crossing of the Mayflower. William Bradford in his account of the crossing writes in his journal that they "met with many fierce storms, with which the ship was shroudly shaken, and her upper works made very leaky; and one of the main beams in the mid ships was bowed and cracked, which put them in some fear that the ship could not be able to perform the voyage." The Mayflower's companion ship, the Speedwell, sprung a leak and had to return to England. During the Mayflower's passage, they lost one "lusty, able body" seaman and one young passenger. As they neared land, the ship "fell amongst dangerous shoals and roaring breakers."

Navigating the ocean has often been hazardous, even perilous. Change in the church can be no less challenging. What are some steps that can help church and Sunday School change to be effectively implemented? I want to suggest a five-step process offered by Phil Van Auken in an article entitled Successful Change Strategy for Sunday School. It should be noted that Van Auken states that the process he offers should be backed by a "supportive philosophical climate."

Van Auken's five-step process is shared below in all capitals followed by my commentary:
1.        INFORMATION PERCOLATION. Too often leaders know what needs to be done. They attempt to rush change--especially when they know how badly the change is needed. Leaders fail to realize how long they have prayerfully considered the issue before presenting the need for change. Take time to give serious consideration to a communication plan. Allow "all affected leaders and class members" time to pray about, hear, discuss, and think through change issues. I like Van Auken's statements: "Change-oriented information should be circulated well in advance to give everyone ample opportunity to adjust to it psychologically....Patience gives the 'fertilizer' ample time to work."
2.        DIALOGUE. Dialogue takes time, but it communicates the value placed on the input of others. Opportunity for input gives many a sense of ownership in the process. Van Auken says it is important to give time for "constructive dialogue about the change and how best to bring it into reality." For Sunday School change, this might even include taking time during one class session when more affected by the change can attend. This is the step where differences are discussed openly "in order to avoid later resistance."
3.        PERSONALIZED COMMITMENT. Having sought their input (ownership), now is the time to seek their support (commitment). This is an effort to seek consensus on the decision to move forward. As Van Auken puts it, "Even if some people are lukewarm in their desire for change, they should be asked to cooperate as team players during the implementation phase." I like his emphasis that compromise "is not necessarily bad" as long as it is about "how things are done, rather than the mission itself."
4.        PARTICIPATIVE IMPLEMENTATION. To me, this is a key step. Those who are acting in support of a change (even when doing so at the request of someone else) are not as easily able to act against the change. I like the motto that Van Auken shared: "People tend to commit to what they participate in." Get as many leaders involved in the launching of the change as possible. Get as many members involved as possible. They will not only tend to be more supportive of the change, they will also influence others through their example.
5.        CELEBRATION AND APPRECIATION. As I said earlier, leaders are often impatient. When the changed has been launched, they are often off to address the next area of change that is needed. That is a mistake. At minimum, have someone organize a time and way to celebrate the change and, if appropriate, how God has blessed. Time taken to appreciate those who have helped to implement the change is always time well invested.

What is the next area of your Sunday School work in which change is needed? Do you need more space? Do you need to implement greeters? Do you need a system for following up with guests? Do you need to reorganize your adult classes? Do you need to institute coaching, a teacher training process, or a teacher/worker covenant? Do you need to enlist, train, and launch new class officers in your classes? Is there another change you need to implement? Press the Comments button and let others know about your plans for change. They'll be able to pray for you and may be emboldened to take similar steps!

Which of these five steps needs more attention in your change plans in the future? What will you do differently than you have in the past? Share your ideas by pressing the Comments button below. Pray. Plan change. Communicate. Lead. Be revolutionary!

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