6 suggestions for getting buy-in

If you’re planning for confirmation or any new program this year, chances are good (if you’re anything like me) that you’ve been working so hard on all the prep that it may have slipped your notice that the parents, participants, and congregation don’t know anything about it. Oh, they may know that it’s happening, and they may know they’re expected to participate. But getting their buy-in takes more than announcements and posters. What you don’t want to have happen is to be ready to launch and have lots of confused faces looking at you saying, in one way or another, “What is this program? And why should I care?”

The truth is getting buy-in takes time and effort, and it seems like a nuisance and a waste. When you’ve got this great program all planned and ready, why do you need to spend so much effort getting people to believe it? But as I learned from the rector at my first youth ministry job, doing this work of getting buy-in for a program takes longer in the short-run, but it’s shorter in the long run. Getting buy-in means you don’t need to keep fighting a rear-guard action, or worse, having a flop of a program as people’s resistance builds.

And people may have very good reasons for being resistant. Doing the work of getting buy-in may reveal weaknesses and flaws in your program that you didn’t know you had. Finding out now means you have an opportunity to adjust before you start.

So, hoping that you have bought in to the idea that you need to get buy-in, here are 6 suggestions for how to get it.

  1. Talk with a trusted source to help you think through your case. You think it’s a great idea to have weekly confirmation classes on Tuesdays at 6:30 am, but can you articulate why? Start with someone you trust to give you good, honest feedback to help you think through why you came to the decisions you did and hone your ability to explain why these are the best decisions. Be open to the idea that maybe you haven’t thought through everything and be willing to make changes. Do it now, before you go to a larger, less accommodating group.
  2. Make sure you know whose buy-in you need. There may be several different groups who may have different needs (told you this was time-consuming!). With confirmation, you may need the buy-in of the pastor or other church leaders, youth, parents, a formation committee, teachers, and possibly more. Write a list of these different groups and next to it, what they need from you (as I explain in the next).
  3. Always demonstrate the benefits. As you think about how to approach each group, be sure to know what, from their perspective, are the benefits of engaging in your program. What do they get out of it? If you can’t show a benefit to the groups whose buy-in you need, then (reasonably enough) you will not get their buy-in! Be honest, however, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. The benefit may be hoped for, such as, “We believe this program will help youth become more engaged in the life of the church because…” The “because” is important; why do you believe this? What makes you think you will get this result? What evidence do you have?
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. I wrote about this before in a blog post on improving youth ministry through parent ministry, but I’ll say it again. Communicate! As a general rule, the more important the communication, the closer to in person it needs to be. The bigger the change, and the more it affects people, the more you’ll need to communicate. If this is the same confirmation program you’ve always done, then you won’t need to do as much as you would if you’re making a complete change and starting something new. But just because something is familiar to you doesn’t make it familiar to everyone. Even your tried and true confirmation program is new to those going through it the first time. Make the case, even if you’ve made it before, even if it’s old hat to you. Communicate with all the audiences, and tailor the message and the channel for the people you want to reach. And you may need to communicate in several different ways: through email, letter, newsletter, phone call, meeting, sermon, skit, video, blog, or angelic choir.
  5. Youth need to buy in too. Although this is implied in much of the above, I want to make this explicit: If you’re doing a youth confirmation program (or other youth program), be sure to get as much buy in from the youth as you can, not just their parents. Don’t just assume they’ll be there because that’s the way it’s always been. They can be there in body by compulsion, but it’s so much better if they’re there in spirit as well, knowing that this program is for them and not just done to them.
  6. Remember: it’s not personal. If people seem resistant to the ideas you present, try to separate their dislike of the idea from the belief that they dislike you. I mean, I don’t know, maybe you’re a jerk, but I doubt it. By the same token, just because someone dislikes your plan doesn’t mean that person is a jerk. Yeah, again, maybe the person is a jerk, but the two are not necessarily related. Remember that a plan is just a plan; it isn’t you.
  7. Bonus: for CnC users If you already have used the Confirm not Conform program, you may recognize some of this is similar to information we present in youth Session 19: Faith in Action: May We Present. We offer this very skill of getting buy-in to youth participants as they make their case for a service project to the church leadership. But you might want to check it out as well as a helpful resource for you as you offer your plans, ideas, and recommendations.

I know the countdown is on for the start of the program year. Your plans may be in place. But there’s still some time to get more people on board. The more you have, the more likely it is that your start will be smooth and the energy high. Good luck!

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