How to Handle Someone who is Not on Board with a Change

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Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at Exponential on the topic of transitioning a church with small groups to a church with Missional Communities. A few asked for some notes on it and thought I’d do a few blog posts on it.

The first step in this process is to start with why and the win of this transition. The second step is to get essential leaders on board.

The moment you begin to get essential leaders on board with any change or transition is the point of no return for a leader, they have now gone public.

I would say this is one of the most crucial moments of a change because of this. It is also when leaders derail themselves without realizing it and it is because they don’t handle someone who is not on board correctly. 

Think of this scenario: a leader has spent weeks, months and some times years thinking about a vision or a dream, a way forward. They begin sharing this dream with leaders and decision makers. Most people are excited because they love the leader or the direction or both.

Then, something happens: they meet someone who is not excited.

They ask questions, give pushback and generally do not seem excited about what the leader is proposing. The leader, because they are the leader starts to get defensive, pushes back even harder and both people sit across the table and dig their heels in.

Who is right in this situation?

Possibly both people.

Leaders will look at this person, whether they met in person or heard through the grapevine that someone isn’t on board and they will see a person who is being divisive or not submitting to authority.

Leaders forget that they have had the opportunity to process a change of direction or new initiative or ministry for a long time, this person just heard about it and has not had as long. It isn’t that they aren’t supportive, wanting to be on mission or not submitting, they are just reacting to a change and almost always are first reaction to a change is to be defensive.

If the leader fails here, most changes get derailed. For the simple reason that the person who seems unsupportive usually wields greater influence than the leader.

As a leader, here are some ways to handle this person:

  1. Stay humble. Do you need this person to make this change? Who knows. But God has placed you as the leader to shepherd this person through this change, so care for them. Stay humble, otherwise, God will oppose you and that will be worse than this person opposing you.
  2. Ask questions. Ask what their fears are, why aren’t they excited about this. Often, it is the loss of something that makes us defensive about a change, not because we don’t love the possibilities of something new, it is that we are mourning what we are losing.
  3. Listen. Don’t get defensive or seek to win. 
  4. Have resources for them to listen to or read. Have something to give them. Pick the thing that pushed you over the edge, the most influential piece to give to them and say, “This helped me. Before you decide, would you listen to this or read this and consider the possibilities?”
  5. Ask them to pray about it. They may or may not actually pray about it, but ask them to. If they do, give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to do what only the Holy Spirit can do, change them.

In the end, if God wants whatever change you are making to come to pass, it will. The person who seems the most against something at the beginning can often be the biggest supporter of it by the end if they are led well.

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