Several years ago I knew a couple who were part of a new church. He was an elder and very supportive of the ministry. She felt like the leadership was driving too much change and not involving the congregation in the decisions. The original pastor had moved to another church out-of-state and a couple of subsequent pastors came through. The last pastor led them into buying their own building and changing their name.


With this couple, since the man was in leadership, he was part of the conversations leading to these changes and had a higher level of buy-in. However, the woman felt as though the changes were being thrust upon her and the congregation. They left the church within a year.


One lesson I learned as I watched this happen was, people can’t bear the weight of change without trust. No matter how logical and wise the change may be, if trust has not been established to bear the weight of the change, people won’t buy in. Unfortunately for the new pastor, he simply had not been at the church long enough to establish trust.


I think there are two routes to making change. Leaders can coordinate change. Decisions can be made, organized, and implemented, even without the follower’s agreement. The upside to leaders coordinating change is the organization can be turned in the right direction. The downside is if the followers don’t trust the leaders to begin with, the culture of the organization can turn toxic. Even though the changes turned the organization in the right direction, trust has dropped and people will start to dig in their heels with every new decision.


The other route is for leaders to collaborate change. This happens when leaders not only cast the vision for a new direction, but build buy-in. This creates followers who are willing to carry the vision. Collaboration is definitely slower. Collaboration takes communication. This means one-on-one breakfasts with key-influencers. Articles written as bulletin inserts. Townhall meetings. Visiting small groups and asking for input. Taking opportunities in Sunday School classes to present ideas. It means making the case for the changes.


All coordination takes is control. And leaders have control as the decision-makers. But control used in the wrong way breaks trust. Collaboration gives control. When people feel like they have control they feel involved. When they feel involved, the culture that is being built is actually stronger.


Stephen M.R. Covey (the son of the 7 Habits author) says that leadership is getting results in a way that builds trust. I know you want to see results. You want to see the church have an impact in your community. In your efforts, though, don’t break trust.


Next week I will present three things we can do to build trust. Until then, ask yourself this question about the project you’re working on right now: Am I merely trying to coordinate or am I building collaboration?


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