One evening I arrived at rehearsal and I was checking in with team members to see if they all had the correct charts. I had recently started working at this church and I was fully engaged in changing the music culture by re-charting every song in the new notated format.
The learning curve was steep, but I firmly believed that because the songs were familiar learning the charts would be easier. All the musicians needed to do was look at the chart and relate the new symbols with what they heard in their heads from the last time they led the song. Piece of cake, right?
Here comes Ted (name changed to protect the innocent), his hands empty. “Hi, Ted. Did you get the new charts?” “Hi, Maurice. You know, I went to download them and when they printed out the font was so small I just threw them away. I’m just going to wing it tonight.”
Needless to say, I was ticked at his cavalier attitude, but I should not have been surprised. Change is hard, and I had just learned a lesson the hard way. I thought that I could take what I learned from my last job, apply it at my new job, and be on my way. The opposite could not have been more true.
Always assume you know nothing.
I was assuming incorrectly that what I had learned at my previous job applied to my new position. I was arrogantly overlooking the obvious: the people were new, the mission of the church was new, . . . um, everything was new. I was rushing ahead completely unaware of how much I was straining the team and my new relationship with them.
I was eventually able to change the music culture, but I had to almost completely begin again. If you are considering making a change on your worship or ministry team, here are some points to consider.
Honor the status quo.
Ask lots of questions. Dig through the entire server for every possible related file. Find out the history of and reasoning behind the current system. Make certain the team knows you value what has been. This can be difficult when you really, really dislike the status quo. Suck it up and be the grown-up in the relationship.
Explain what you are going to change and why.
If possible, do this in a separate meeting. When I was at Lakeshore Community Church the leadership often made use of 15 minute quick meetings between services to give teams simple updates. On more weighty issues, like culture change, another venue with no time constraints is better. Answer questions. Be kind. Use “I” statements, and do not ever down the old system. DO explain where the team is going and how the old system is not able to get you there.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is not a one-time shot. You have to do this over, and over, and over again.
Take small steps.
Be patient. It may feel like Chinese water torture, but you will build trust with your team if you work the long plan. In my case I dropped back to just one new chart per week, which meant that 4 or 5 charts per week were familiar.
My boss, the Creative Arts Pastor, asked me each week if each person on the team had played the newer charts. This way we knew exactly how much change each team member was experiencing. I owe him, Frank De Luccio, a lot in learning to consider each person each week.
As you take small steps, continue to ask questions along the way. In my previous job I had created charts with two staves: vocal over rhythm. I had also reduced each page to 80% to keep the charts mostly on two pages.
I found at Lakeshore that I needed to create separate, individual rhythm and vocal charts. I also began reducing the page to only 90%.
I began putting song format in the upper left hand corner of the first page so that musicians could tell at a glance what order the verses, choruses, and bridges came in the song.
Say thank you. A lot.
Acknowledge the difficulty for the team members. Listen when they complain and try not to rip their heads off when they buck you. They are volunteers and life has enough change, thank you very much.
Treat your volunteers with the same respect and grace you want them to give to you.
Keep a humble, grateful attitude, combined with firm forward movement and communication, and you will get there.
What steps do you need to take as you initiate change?