Change is one of those things that we love it when it’s our idea and we struggle when it’s someone else’s. It can happen unexpectedly and it can happen ever so slowly. Some change is amazing like caterpillars to butterflies or the moments when a student choses Christ and their life begins the change that Jesus brings. Some is inevitable like growing up. Each year we see one class graduate and a new class begin. Each year is an inevitable group change. Some change is hard, like divorce or death
Student’s don’t really like change. For some, it’s a deal breaker. They crave consistency. They like to know what to expect. Who to expect. Though they live with ever-changing technology, family landscapes, and what’s required for college admission, when it comes to youth group they don’t expect it to change. Whether good or bad. They like “normal” because it’s safe. We all know that we can’t do ministry in the same way forever. Sometimes, we need to change things, but when?
Are there some things that should never change? I’d say yes.
Principles never change, methods do. Jesus is Lord, the Bible is truth, we are loved, we are created in his image, and church is mandatory (ok, maybe not that one but it would be nice) are areas that should never change.
Is there a time to change things? Again, I’d say yes.
The methods we use to reach our current student culture with these principles will move and shift as our culture and students do.
I think the things we can change fall into two categories. First, the kind of things that affect the whole – strategy, programs, experiences, trips. Second, the things that affect the few – switching to a new small group, which poster you hang where, or what pizza topping to order this week.
When we change things depends on the category. If it falls into the second, the change will only really affect a few so make the change when you see it. Prep leaders when you need to as these changes usually have a time frame of effectiveness yet won’t rock the boat. Many students may not even notice that John moved groups or that there was sausage on the pizza this week, but the few that needed the change will notice and be grateful.
The first category is a whole different ball game. Large change takes time and timing. This is the kind of change you meet with the senior pastor about before – not after. This is the kind of change you talk to your leaders about before, not after. This gets so many youth pastors in trouble because we get excited about change so if you’re looking change something big – do your homework. Pave the way for change to happen by rallying your troops. It may take a year or more to see it take hold so you need support, a belief that it’s needed and desire to see it through. With that I mind, here are few I use when thinking about when to change things.
Change things on purpose
This is the kind of change that happens when you come to a new purpose, strategy or vision. The big overall paradigms that affect the whole and will take time, prayer, and a willingness to implement over time. The larger the change, the longer the time frame for implementation. Purpose gives us the “why” to change and when we have a “why” we will walk in change better with our leaders and students.
In my first year of ministry, I heard Doug Fields say: it takes 1-5 years to build a ministry and 6-10 to grow. This gave me such freedom to give it time. For example, when I started small groups, I lost half of my kids. They weren’t too sure about how this was going to work but we stuck with it because we believed in the purpose of small groups. It literally took a couple years, but now, students can’t wait to get to their groups.
Change things that don’t work
If something isn’t working, it’s not doing what you hoped, maybe it’s even detrimental – change it. These are the mid-course corrections that you need to make because of new information or a better understanding of where you are headed. You thought the game using shaving cream would rock – it didn’t. Change it. The idea of a 5th quarter after every home football game seemed amazing, but no one is coming.
In this area, it’s all about timing and evaluation. First check your timing, did you plan your event in conflict with Homecoming? It might be bad timing not then event. Does the church down the street already offer an established 5th quarter and the kids go there? Then, evaluate if you need to join forces not create completion. Next, evaluate. Is it not working because it’s new? New programs require time so be careful of pulling the plug too quickly. Is it not working because you really just added one more thing? Is there a purpose? You need to give any element of ministry time but also use wisdom.
Change things strategically
Think about the ministry year and the order of how you’d like to bring about change. For instance, the start of the ministry year is a natural time to implement change, the New Year also works. In the middle of October is not so easy and never in April. If you’re implementing large change such as strategy or vision, start with one element and add more over time. If there are four large elements to the change, realize it may take 3-4 years to implement all the change. Again, it takes 1-5 years to build or change a ministry, 6-10 to see growth.
Change things because you have to.
A new pastor, new org chart, new church, or a new ministry may bring change that is just expected of you. In these moments, you can choose to walk well. These are the changes you don’t see coming, the ones that test our faith and obedience, yet just as we hope our students will walk well with the things we change, we need to do the same.
Remember, we all like the change we create but can struggle with the change others bring to us. In these moments, listen for the heart of the change, is it a new purpose or strategy? Is it because something wasn’t working? In all change, give it time to breathe, shift, and become.
Methods change all the time, principles never do.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Image attribution: _ba_ / Thinkstock