Why some change initiatives fail

Change Managers

Upon moving to a new rural-based parish, Rev Mukasa noticed that church attendance was sparse compared to his old posting in the urban center. There the church was bursting with numbers as young people were actively involved. In fact, sometimes they even led services. But here, the church doors only opened to a much older congregation that was limited in numbers. Rev Mukasa sensed trouble, especially as within the first month of his arrival he had to preside over two funerals from that age group.

“Where are the young people?” he asked the Assistant Vicar, alarmed.

“They say church is not exciting for them,” revealed the Assistant Vicar. “This is unlike the old people who feel very comfortable.”

“Then we need to find a way to start attracting young people to church,” Rev Mukasa brightened, with an idea. “Back in the city we were faced with similar problem. However, what we did was to introduce the things that young people are interested in. We started services where guitars and drums were playing instead of the traditional organ. We dropped hymns for quick praise songs which the youth were more pleased with. Sometimes I led services in casuals and jeans!”

“What!” the Assistant Vicar exclaimed. “If you attempt any of that here the old folks would throw you out.”

Assured of his plan and good intentions, Rev Mukasa, quickly moved to implement a programme of change. The following week he directed the church choir to do away with old hymns in favor of new songs of praise played to guitar and drums. He started leading services dressed in jeans and sneakers. He went to a nearby high school and brought over a crowd of young people, whom he asked to lead the service.

At first, the old people who formed the core of the church leadership structure ignored the changes. But when they started seeing their role declining, opposition broke out. “This new priest wants young people to take over our church,” complained the chair of elder Board who hadn’t been consulted. “I now see young poorly dressed kids taking up collection basket and they can’t be trusted.”

“For me I don’t think these new songs are spiritual enough!” added an old choir member. “Some of these guitar sounds remind me of bars. We can’t play devil music in the house of God.”

Soon there was uproar in the church. The Chair of the Elder Board called for a meeting. Rev Mukasa was tasked to explain why all these new changes. “The church is now losing its old members who don’t know what is going on,” he queried. “And these young people I don’t see them contributing any meaningful funds to run the church.”

Rev Mukasa tried to explain that the changes were for the good of the church, mentioning that it was because “the church was dying and needed new oil!”

“Who told you we were dying!” the older members rose up in protest. After the meeting, they reported him to the Bishop. On realizing church funds were dwindling because the older members were opposed to the new priest, he decided to recall him back to the city.

Perhaps you are wondering why Rev Mukasa failed to transform this church into a modern lively one with its pews filled. The first thing you may note here is that he moved too first, and moreover without sharing his vision to the old guard, who still held the levers of power. When managers want change it is important for them not to just explain their vision, but also win the support of the important stakeholders first. Plunging into an immediate crush programme of change is bound to provoke opposition, especially from those who fill threatened at the loss of power. The best of change initiatives are bound to be opposed but if they have the support of key stakeholders the likelihood of success rises.

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