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How to Deal With Resistance

Think back to the last time you changed something in your church. What happened? Whether you moved the coffeepot, changed the order of worship, redesigned the monthly newsletter, or (heaven forbid) moved an object that was a memorial gift from a church family, you probably met resistance – maybe just a little bit or maybe surprisingly strong.

Expect Resistance

Transformational change is essential in the church. Resistance will always accompany it. It may be passive resistance, open opposition, or dangerous sabotage. It can show up anywhere among members or staff. It may last for a few days or it may remain an obstacle for decades.

Why Do People Resist?

Why do people resist? The vast majority of members are neither change addicts nor pathological resistors. They are normal people who understandably resist when they:

•Are uninformed and don’t know what is happening.

•Feel excluded from decision-making processes that will affect them.

•Think the risks of change outweigh the benefits.

•Are uncertain that they have the ability to carry out their part of the change.

•Fear loss of position, influence or decreased attention.

•Think they have a better solution.

•Feel they must protect their personal power or favorite church program.

•Perceive that they have been mistreated.

•Have had a bad experience with change in the past and those feelings are triggered by the current suggested change.

•Have strong attachments to things as they are.

•Disagree with the proposed change for any number of reasons.

•Have not captured a future vision in which the change is an important part.

•Have made a connection to certain schedules, rituals, or objects that take on religious significance for them.

Think Differently About Resistance

To work with resistance effectively, it is necessary to think differently about it. Our bodies have internal mechanisms that keep our blood pressure, temperature, and other functions at “normal.” If something threatens that status, our bodies resist and try to return us to normal.  Most of us are the same way in our behavior patterns. We talk about “getting back to our routine” or “returning home and sleeping in our own bed.” We naturally prefer what’s normal or customary for us. Organizations, including churches, also have internal mechanisms that keep the system at “normal.”

What to Do

Understand resistance instead of trying to defeat it. Transformational change can happen and a new “normal” can be established in your church if you:

•Increase awareness of the need for change. Highlight how opportunities for ministry will be better served.

•Involve members in planning and leading change. Remember that people support what they help create. Create as many “sponsors” of change as you can.

•Talk with your people. Acknowledge and respond to their fears and misgivings. Stay focused on what is working and how, together, you can preserve what is meaningful while embracing new opportunities.

•Provide information, training and support so that members feel confident about their role in change.

•Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Members who resist are doing what comes naturally. Expect resistance and respond thoughtfully. You will increase member commitment and make your transformational change efforts more successful.

But ...

Caveat: It is critically important that the resistance of a few not block the movement of many. In most churches there are a few people whose behavior is not rational. They have unhealthy reasons for gaining attention by opposing almost everything. The congregation should be concerned and caring for persons whose pathology blocks ministry. But, the congregation should not yield to their fears or destructive behaviors. The persistent few require counseling by trained staff or referral to professionals. It is in the nature of the church to be caring and sometimes, under the guise of caring or fearing conflict, the church allows inappropriate protests to receive too many human, temporal and other resources, thereby handicapping the ministry to many.

Hear the concerns; provide the information, give people voice, but then move on to build a healthy vision and ministry. Healthy Church DNA® is designed for wide participation. As a result, there is broader “ownership” of the outcome. Resistance is minimized, but still present.

If you would like to learn more about how to deal with resistance in your congregation, contact us:

Glen Rediehs, M.Div., Ph.D.

1001 East W. T. Harris Blvd.

Suite P-317

Charlotte, NC  28213



Larry Webb, Th.M., Rel.D.

14013 Zephermoor Lane

Winter Garden, FL  34787


2009 Glen Rediehs

Glen Rediehs, M.Div., Ph.D. founded his own company in 1980. He has provided training and consulting to businesses, governmental agencies and churches. He has been a parish pastor, provided psychotherapy and taught in college and university Psychology departments for over twenty years. Dr. Rediehs specializes in appreciative and strength-based approaches to organizational change.

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