Healthy Habits

4 Reasons Why People Resist Change

How often do we get stuck in our own methods today? by Phil Cooke, Ph.D.
woman thinking by desk

I’ll never forget how foolish I felt after The Salvation Army’s 150th anniversary celebration at the magnificent O2 Arena in London. My wife, Kathleen, and I were there helping to lead the media team supporting the event and hosting the film festival, and everything had gone off without a problem. So, during one of the breaks, I took a walk around the perimeter of the arena to see all the displays on the history and impact of The Salvation Army through the years.

That’s when I walked into the store. It was a huge space that featured books, teaching materials, music and musical instruments. The instrument section was pretty much all brass (as you would expect), and I found myself thinking how much music had changed in the last 150 years. Where were the guitars and amplifiers? How about drum sets? What about keyboards? I thought to myself that the days of brass bands are over, and during the next day’s parade throughout downtown London, a brass band would probably be an embarrassment.

But to my shock, the next morning, when the Salvation Army band rolled through London, the streets were packed! People were standing 10 deep in line just to get a glimpse of the passing musicians. They clapped and cheered as if it was a scene happening 150 years earlier.

At that moment, I was reminded of the power of tradition.

In a world of electric guitars, rock bands and contemporary worship, Salvation Army brass bands stand out. They are unlike anything else in the music world, and because of that uniqueness, people notice.

As I write this, I’m back in London during the centennial celebration of the Armistice that ended World War I. The events surrounding the anniversary have reminded me once again that traditions are wonderful. They cause us to pause and remember heroic events from our past, and they remind us of the awesome calling of great men and women who have gone before. The Apostle Paul says in Hebrews that a “great cloud of witnesses” is watching us, and great traditions remind us that we are part of that eternal story.

However, the problem with “traditions” is that we often forget they are a “reminder” not a “destination.” As traditions remind us of the great moments in our faith, we tend to get stuck in those moments and forget that while God and His Word never changes, everything else does.

In a world where people, styles, trends, culture and ideas change, we need to speak the language of that world if we’re going to be effective sharing the Gospel. And keep in mind that speaking the language of the culture doesn’t mean compromising our theology or principles. I’m reminded of just how much Jesus shook up the thinking of the religious leaders of His time. As if they were stuck in marble, He had to chip away constantly at their preconceptions, arrogant thinking and self-centered living. When they asked Him questions, He shocked them with his answers.

They just didn’t do things that way…

The truth is, change is hard. Changing a ministry team’s thinking is even harder—sometimes, nearly impossible. And yet, we all know that in today’s world of disruptive, 24/7 change, responding well is critical to our success. Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day because they couldn’t read the signs of the times. Yet, these days, those signs seem to be rushing faster than ever. As you struggle to shift the thinking of your leadership team, employees, volunteers, donors and those in need—and before you jump out a window in frustration— it’s good to have a reminder of the reasons why people work so hard to resist change. Figure out which of these applies to you and how to overcome it, and you’ll be well on your way to seeing the birth of a transformed organization.

Here are a few key reasons why people resist change:

1. Self-Interest. Change is an unfair imposition on their territory. Silos and walls happen, and people want to control their turf. They need to exert control over their immediate surroundings and want to feel as though they have a say in their own futures. Like it or not, we human beings are territorial and want some sense of power—or at least control.

2. Misunderstanding or a Lack of Trust. What people don’t understand, they will resist. Just because you see why you need to change doesn’t mean everyone else will. Realize that you have knowledge they don’t have, so that you can make sure you’re helping them understand all the issues and options.

3. Differing Ways of Assessing Things. People have opinions and may see the cost as greater than the benefits. As a supervisor, you might not think much about where the coffee break room is located, but as a secretary, knowledge of its location could be very important. That’s just a small example of how different issues and policies mean different things to different people.

4. People Lack Confidence in the Decision-Making Process. Sometimes, they don’t believe all the relevant info has been included in the process, or they don’t trust the person in charge of implementing the change. If they’re not confident that the cost is worth it, they’ll fight against it. The key here is to be sure they’re aware or involved in the process.

Knowing WHY they’re fighting change is half the battle to position your team for “what’s next.” Years ago, I consulted with a ministry organization that hated change so much that it held departmentwide meetings about how to get rid of me. This was despite the fact that my plan brought in record fundraising, greater awareness of their work and other positive changes.

Most people struggle with change, so to position yourself for “what’s next,” you need to figure out where they’re uncomfortable. Then you can focus on what really matters—becoming the leader God has called you to be.

The questions are—How often do we get stuck in our own methods today? Just because an outreach worked well in 1989, does that mean it still works? Are the methods we learned early in our careers the methods that work today? How has technology affected the ways people accept or reject the Gospel? Is it time to rethink your attitude toward the ideas and suggestions you receive from younger members of your team?

Answers to these and similar questions could help make the difference between success and failure for ministry outreaches in the 21st century.

This article was originally titled “What’s Next” in January 2019 issue of The War Cry.