How do you react to change?
Are you excited by new opportunities? Do you dread unfamiliar situations?
The world has experienced profound change. We cannot ignore this fact. Catechetical leaders can use this unwelcome pause to make real and necessary changes in the way we make disciples. Change may be difficult. When the stakeholders are listened to and feel like their needs are taken into consideration, revisions become more palatable. When modifications to the status quo are presented with the rationale for change, there may even be more buy-in from the community. Each community is different. There are unique cultural aspects to be considered. For an older, well-established community, change will be more difficult compared to a faith community that is composed of parishioners who move frequently, such as a college campus or near a military base.
Has the community experienced other significant change or a crisis recently in addition to COVID-19? Consider the timing and all those affected, including the ministerial or catechetical staff, support staff, and facilities staff. Will other departments or parish organizations be affected? Think through the ways change causes a ripple effect. Even if others are impacted by changes, managing it correctly may prevent or minimize negative outcomes. Suppose, for example, there are no parish faith formation classes held in person at the parish this academic year. The men’s group used these gatherings to raise money for its service projects by hosting a breakfast. Discussing the reason for changing the faith formation format and brainstorming solutions with the men’s group will go a long way in preventing negative outcomes. It may even bring about creative solutions and positive support for future collaboration. How change is managed is as important as the decision-making process leading to the change. If tough decisions need to be made, consulting rather than simply informing the stakeholders is paramount.
Here is a checklist for managing change:
- Make a list of your responsibilities and the amount of time and effort they require (hours, days, months). Ideally, if there is a staff or team, each person should do this. Include everything, even the non–faith formation tasks, such as proofing the bulletin, organizing staff parties, or spearheading the annual fundraiser.
- Examine the list in light of the mission of your office or parish. What is important for this mission? What could be done in a different, even better way? Consider the positive and negative implications of these potential changes. Could short-term change be acceptable to the staff and faith community? From whom do you need to seek permission to make significant changes?
- What changes could or should be made? Consider financial resources, personnel, health and safety of the staff and parishioners, technology (computer hardware, software, internet), skill, physical space, cleaning requirements, and so on. What is essential? What should be discontinued because of safety or lack of funding, for example? What no longer serves the mission?
- What support will be needed? For example, you need to revise the faith formation program for youth. While you may be responsible for planning and executing the modifications, the pastor is ultimately responsible for the parish. If there are complaints from angry parents, will he support you? Have you provided a clear rationale for your vision? Can you honestly communicate what you need and expect from your supervisor? Think about how you could enlist support from parents and the youth before even making any changes.
- Have ministry leaders listened to the faith community? For example, before making changes to the First Communion preparation program, consult the families. What do they want and need? What is important to them? Listen to their concerns.
- What cultural considerations should be honored that are important for your community?
- How will you communicate? During a process of change, communication is critical. Regular information should come from a consistent source and be reliable, not based on hearsay.
- Establish a timeline with short- and long-term goals, and target dates for completion.
- When change becomes difficult, how will you determine that you need to keep moving through the “growing pains” or that change is not possible in this way or at this time?
- One of the most important steps is often neglected: evaluation. How did it go? Ask for feedback from those involved. What should be done differently now? What should remain the same? Is there evidence of increased collaboration and participation? How will you know whether change was successful? (See “Cyclical Process.”)