A Small Church Moment: Keeping Little Changes From Becoming a Big Deal

change alleyEvery church needs a plan.

Having a plan is not a big church thing. It’s a good stewardship and good leadership thing.

But plans are often subject to last-minute adjustments. Especially in a Small Church, where minor changes can cause big ripples.

That happened in our church last weekend. We had a perfect storm of circumstances (literally) that caused me to call an audible and drop the potluck we were going to have before our Annual Business Meeting.

I know it’s not a big deal – dropping a potluck. And if you’re in a larger church, you may be thinking “potluck? There are churches that still do those?” Yep. We do. In 5 years they’ll start feeling hip and retro. Then you’ll start doing them again – with an ironic twist, of course.


Just Another Small Church Moment? Do It Well 

Here’s what happened. We had a larger-than-usual number of people out of town, we’re in the middle of cold and flu season, and there was a potentially once-in-a-decade rain storm on the way. I realized on Thursday that we would not have enough people to make a potluck viable on Sunday. So I did what any good quarterback does when he sees something new coming from the other side of the field. I called an audible and changed the plan.

Dropping the potluck went off without a hitch. In fact, church members thanked me for the change, because they knew it was done to make the day’s schedule easier on everyone. That’s one of the advantages of a smaller congregation. We can adapt more readily if we do it right.

All-in-all, it was just another Small Church moment. But doing Small Church moments well is something we can always use help with. So here are nine principles I follow whenever there’s a last-minute change.


1. Always Have a Plan

Even if the plan has to change at the last minute, it’s always better to have a plan to adapt from than to have no plan at all.


2. Be Ready for Plan B

Whenever we do an event like a potluck, we have a signup sheet. And we always ask people to add their email or phone number on the sheet. That may seem unnecessary in a Small Church when everyone knows everyone. But having that info on the sheet allowed us to make calls and send emails immediately, so no one made any food unnecessarily.


3. Change Plans Very Rarely

Way too many Small Churches think that, because they’re small, they can fly by the seat of their pants all the time. But when we do that, people learn that they can’t rely on anything that’s announced, so our church volunteers become as unreliable as the church calendar.

Constantly changing announced plans is one of the quickest ways to erode trust, get half-hearted commitment from volunteers or lose them entirely.

Do you want reliable church volunteers? Be a reliable leader. Keep a reliable calendar.


4. Only Change the Plan When Absolutely Necessary

There has to be a really good reason to change an announced plan. “This is hard to do,” or “I’m not that excited about it any more” are not good reasons to change the original plan.

I’ve known too many Small Church pastors who will change plans on a whim. When you change a plan, it should be so necessary that it’s obvious to virtually everyone that the change was needed.


5. Confirm the Change With Trusted Leaders

As soon as I realized I might have to change the Sunday plan, I ran the idea by staff members and a couple deacons. Not for permission, necessarily. But to ask if they saw something I didn’t see.

When the new circumstances were explained, every leader agreed with the need for the change. So we green-lighted it. Wisdom in a multitude of counselors.


6. Change to a Better Plan

If this new plan is better, why didn’t we start with it? Because life hands you unexpected surprises, that’s why. A good quarterback doesn’t go to the line, randomly think of a better plan, then change it on the fly. He calls an audible because something on the field changed.

The new plan is better because it’s taking new circumstances and/or information into account.

This may seem trivial or obvious, but it’s not. If the new plan isn’t better, don’t change it!


7. Over-Communicate the Change

It seems to be an accepted fact that people – especially church people – don’t like change. I disagree. People can handle change. But they don’t like being surprised. The difference is communication.

Every church should have multiple ways of contacting church members in a hurry. From an old-school phone chain, to an email list, to the church website, to texting, to social media like Facebook and Twitter, this is easier to do now than it’s ever been. Every available communication method should be utilized when a last-minute change happens.

When I made this change, I communicated it through every channel we have. The general announcement was made in my weekly Pastor’s email, on Facebook and our church website. Those who had signed up to bring food got a personal phone call. Did some people get three or four redundant messages about the change? Sure. But better to hear it too often than not at all.


8. Don’t Blame Anyone

The worst – absolutely the worst – thing you can do when a change needs to happen is to blame it on anyone. If the change needs to happen, it’s been confirmed by leaders and it’s a now a better plan, given the changing situation, there’s no blame to be had anyway.


9. Thank Everyone – a LOT

When people adapt to a last-minute change, recognize that it may have cost them something. For some, the adjustment will be harder than for others. You can never thank people too much.


Really? You Wrote a Whole Blog Post On This?

I get it. Changing a potluck is not a big deal. But making sure it stays not a big deal is exactly the point of this article.

Too many Small Church leaders undercut their own hard work by not taking care of little things like this. They change plans regularly and randomly, then they don’t understand why the few volunteers they have are so unreliable.

If we want reliable volunteers, we need to be reliable leaders. Otherwise, small issues become a big deal.

When we do it right, small things stay small. And we have more energy, time and trust for the truly big deals.


So what do you think? Do you have any ideas to add that have worked for your church?

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(Change Alley photo from Matt From London • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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3 thoughts on “A Small Church Moment: Keeping Little Changes From Becoming a Big Deal”

  1. Im not sure the I agree with the connection. It seems to me that the unreliability must exist already uf plans are being changed all the time. One of the main reasons we change plans is because volunteers bail last minute.

    Its not intentional, something really comes up and low staff means an event can’t go on.

    I agree we shouldn’t be changing events, but its tough when essential staff can’t make it for one reason or another. Seems like a catch-22.

    1. Hi Jeremy. I think the key phrase you used was “all the time”. That’s the issue I’m addressing here. If plans are being changed “all the time”, there’s something that needs to done differently on the leadership end.

      People are willing to commit. But we need to find things they’re willing to commit to and in a manner that fits the changing reality of their lives.

      For example, years ago I started realizing that people in our church and community didn’t commit the way they used to. We were constantly getting dropouts on the ministries that happen every week, but we were getting higher volunteerism for one-time or annual big events. So we tapered back our weekly events to the essentials (Sunday morning, youth night and kids night) and added special events people could get behind (Share Days, Missions trips, etc). I don’t think we’ve had to cancel an event due to volunteer dropouts since then.

      Keeping consistent and reasonable with your schedule doesn’t guarantee high volunteerism. And plans do need to be changed occasionally, of course. But plans that are changed “all the time” will guarantee a lack of reliable volunteers. On the other hand, reliability and consistency on the part of leadership over the long term will inspire more trust and commitment. It takes time, but it will happen if you keep at it.

      1. I can see that I guess.

        In my mind I was thinking that simply keeping an event on the calendar when half (or more) of the volunteers have backed out last minute will not make those people be more committed.

        In fact, in my experience it will teach them that “pastor will handle it” and, in turn, make them less committed. If the show will still go on, its no big deal if they have to bail last minute next time.

        It’s a delicate balance for sure. We’re about to reassess a lot of what we’re doing. We actually have the opposite happening at our church. We have faithful people on regularly scheduled stuff, but the bigger events seem to get left hanging for only a few.

        A part of that is poor planning and thays something we plan to address. Everyine needs to know their roll, no matter how small or large, down to the last detail. Also, we need to just stop writing “event checks” our volunteer staff really can’t cash.

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