Understanding People's Responses to Change

One mistake many pastors make is to misperceive those who resist change. Because the pastor feels passion for change and has worked through the necessity of pursuing a new direction, he or she can mislabel those who embrace change more slowly as resistors or even enemies of change. That may not be what is really happening.

As we consider people's responses to change, we’ll use as our guiding analogy the biblical account of Moses leading the children of Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land. I’ve discovered that this wilderness trek didn’t really look like my childhood Sunday school papers pictured. A while back, a friend with a passion for mathematics told me that if 1.5 – 2 million people traveled together, marching ten abreast like the British army during the Revolutionary War, the line would stretch across some 70 miles.

Now, I’m guessing they weren’t quite that organized with all their possessions and animals, so imagine what the Exodus really looked like.

If you could travel 12-15 miles each day, that means those near the back of the group might be around one week behind Moses and those at the front of this journey. When I thought about that, I realized that the journey would feel VERY different, depending on where you were in the line. 

Perhaps this way of conceiving of the exodus could be instructive for the way we think about leading a change journey in the local church today. 

If people move at different paces and respond to changes differently, what implications does this have for pastoral and ministry leadership? What might cause some to lag behind in the change process, and what do pastors need to account for on behalf of those friends to ensure that they can reach the destination God intends for us?

As you prepare to lead a change journey in your church, consider groups of people who might fit into the following categories in response to changes:

Early Adopters

Mid Adopters

Late Adopters

Non Adopters

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