I chose a pretty stark title for my blog. Really? Do we change or die? Is it that black and white, either/or? Yes…eventually. Now, before I go further, I don’t mean that the core spiritual truths of our Bible change. I’m not suggesting God changes his core character. But while the message of the Gospel doesn’t change at its core, the methods and ways we present the Gospel much change and adapt. So our churches, nonprofits and businesses have to adapt and that means our leadership style has to change as well.
You might be familiar the “Diffusion of Innovation” theory. It simply describes that about 2.5% of leaders are innovators. They come up with and launch truly new stuff. Then there are the early adopters of about 13.5% of leaders. Then there are the cautious early majority (34%) and skeptical late majority (34%). These are the folks that take what was once a new idea, method or product and take it to critical mass. Then of course there are the laggards (16%) who might come along eventually kicking and screaming.
I’m an early adopter. I see problems and I look for new and fresh solutions. Let me use a personal example. I ran for almost 40 years. I loved it. But my knees and back were paying the price. I didn’t want to enter my later years a cripple. So I made the very hard decision to stop running. What would I replace it with? The elliptical machines in the gym provided an excellent cardio workout without any stress on my joints. But I was stuck inside. I hated that part. So I discovered an elliptical bike called an Elliptigo. It’s an elliptical machine that I can ride outside. It’s a very hard workout with no impact and I get to enjoy the scenery, weather and smells of the outdoors.
Our culture and world is changing rapidly. You can’t stop that! To have a healthy, life-giving church, nonprofit or business, we have be an adopter of the new – new products and/or new methods. The earlier we adopt, the more healthy and effective our organization will be. And yes, those who lead churches will face some of the greatest resistance to change. But change or die…as I said as I started. Almost every month I encounter a church where a very few in the church will admit that they have not changed, they are aging out and have very little to offer younger people and families. That’s a strategy for dying. Being an early adopter or even a early majority kind of leader is costly. You will face challenge and resistance. But that is what leadership is all about. Leading is not for the faint of heart! Leading is not for those who seek an easy life.
And there are some reasons not to change. Change for the sake of change is just plain stupid. There has to be a clear and compelling “why!” that you can communicate with passion. And communicate you must. The change has to fix a real problem and move our organization forward.
We don’t allow change that is clear inconsistent or contrary to biblical truth and values. And we don’t bring about something new just to be trendy. That will fail in the long run. And don’t make change out of fear. Fear is a terrible motivator.
But being an innovator, early adopter or early majority leader will require some level of risk. And failure is always an options and sometimes happens. But even in failure, be sure you’re trying to address the right problem. If the failure is because you have the wrong problem, admit it, learn from it and reframe the problem.
Leadership requires leading your organization through change. Leadership is risky and messy. But without a leader willing to adopt the new and different, the real people we serve or hope to serve will in the end suffer…and our organizations will start the painful road of decline.