Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seminar on Intentional Organizational Change

“Leading Your Church Through Intentional Change”
A Seminar on Intentional Organizational Change
Randal Gilmore
October 27-28, 2008


My topic for this session is “Leading Your Church Through Intentional Change.”

Over the last 30 years, I have become a friend of intentional change, when that change stimulates healthy growth and improves overall ministry effectiveness.

Life Cycle of a Church

Church consultant and author, Aubrey Malphurs, represents the life-cycle of a church with a bell curve plotted on a 2-dimensional graph of church attendance and church age (Malphurs, 2005, 9). Don’t get hung up on “church attendance” being the primary measure of “church life.” Try to focus in on the phases of the cycle itself: birth, growth, plateau, decline, and death. Ask yourself: “Where in this cycle would an objective analysis place my church?

Malphurs goes on to explain how the key to sustained growth in a church is to proactively and strategically introduce new S-curves that begin with birth and then cycle through growth; then, building onto that with an even newer S-curve of birth and growth prior to previous curve’s plateau and descent into decline and death.

My Personal Experience

Malphurs’ analysis is consistent with my personal experience at Hamilton Hills. Several years ago, I noticed that we were having to make some kind of major change in church facilities, staffing, or programming about every 2 years. I’m talking about things like adding or changing pastoral staff (including interns), adding or remodeling facilities, adding or shutting down ministries, adding or shutting down services (e.g. for example, over the years, we have developed a significant Wednesday night set of ministries, and we have stopped having a Sunday evening preaching service; years ago, we started a small group ministry, which we eventually shut down when we finally had the facilities to dive headlong into a thriving Sunday School ministry, not just for kids, but also for adults).

I could go on; my point is, most of the major changes we’ve made at Hamilton Hills have resulted in new S-curves of birth and growth. In the case of some changes, the birth and growth hit a plateau, and then we assisted that ministry with decline and death. By the way, sometimes it is wise strategically to let something die that needs to die, so that something better can be birthed in its place.

These are some of the reasons why I say I have become a friend of intentional change when that change stimulates healthy growth and effective, biblically-based ministry.

What Kind of Change in Facilities, Staff, Programs/Ministries Will Work For You?

Someone may be wondering if I am going to advocate a particular type of change; or, for that matter, the particular changes we’ve made at Hamilton Hills? The answer to both questions is “Definitely Not!” There’s no single strategy for ministry that works everywhere. The only caveat to this is that I do believe certain biblical components must be present in every ministry strategy, regardless of how the superstructure of that strategy is built.

My purpose instead is simply to equip you with a number of helpful insights into the process of introducing intentional change into your church’s ministry.

Types of Change

To begin, I believe it would be helpful to distinguish between two different types of intentional change. Researchers and authors, Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, contrast what they call technical change with what they call adaptive change (Heifetz and Linsky, 2002,). Technical changes are those changes that apply current know-how within the framework of current values or hierarchy of values. Adaptive changes are those that require a change of values or hierarchy of values, a change of attitudes, and a change of behaviors. Heifetz and Linsky (2002, 13) explain that “adaptive challenges…require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments from numerous places in the organization. Without learning new ways—changing attitudes, values, and behaviors—people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in the new environment.”

Heifetz and Linsky’s book, Leadership on the Line, is not a book about ministry. However, their conceptualization of change as either technical or adaptive powerfully frames the kinds of changes we encounter and consider in ministry. Let me give you some examples:

technical vs. adaptive

order of service vs. adding or eliminating a service

introducing a new song for worship vs. introducing a new music style

temporary shift in pastoral duties vs. adding, eliminating, or permanently shifting pastoral duties or staff

normal lay leader transitions vs. shifts in the church’s “political” system

routine decisions vs, decisions to buy property, build, do major remodeling, make major expenditures (or routine decisions closely tied to group identity, history, and core values

If for some reason, after seeing these examples, you don’t like the terms technical and adaptive, two weeks ago, I sat through an hour-long seminar taught by church consultant, Kevin Ford, who refers to technical change as those that require operational decisions and approaches and adaptive changes as those requiring transformational decisions and approaches. The word transformational tracks with the earlier quote from Heifetz and Linsky regarding adaptive change requiring “new discoveries and adaptations…and new values, attitudes, and behaviors.”

Watch Out!

Yet another way to distinguish between technical change and adaptive change is to consider the relative calm or danger presented by one or the other. A good analogy to explain the difference is the waterline on a boat. If you punch a hole in a boat above the waterline, the peril to the boat won’t be that great. However, if you punch a hole in a boat below the waterline, the boat just might sink!

Making technical changes is like punching holes in boats above the waterline. Making adaptive changes is like punching holes in boats below the waterline. The analogy does not involve comparing your church to the boat, and if you punch a hole below the waterline, your church will sink. The analogy involves you understanding that the boat is your ministry. And when you begin punching holes below the waterline in your ministry-boat, you and your ministry are at risk.

Types of Threat

Heifetz and Linsky (2002) contend that making adaptive changes, or even suggesting them, often poses significant threat to those who are adaptive-change agents. They identify four types of threat in particular:

1. Marginalization – diminishing the change agent’s ability to influence

2. Diversion – deflecting the change agent’s focus

3. Attack – directing the “conversation” away from the change to the character or style, et AL., of the change agent

4. Seduction – the change agent dialoguing solely with supporters, embracing their affirmations and support while demonizing the “opposition” (shutting out dissent or compromise possibilities)

To bring this home, try substituting “pastor” for “change agent”.

By the way, we could stay busy for hours, unpacking all the biblical examples of leaders who experienced one or more of these perils: Noah, Moses, Nehemiah, and on the list could go. Of course the greatest example of all is Jesus himself. Jesus confronted the Pharisees with adaptive change after adaptive change. There’s no better example of this than the Sermon on the Mount. Over and over Jesus said, “You have heard it was said long ago…but I say to you!” As a result, Jesus experienced all four of the threats leaders face when they make or even suggest adaptive change.

Bad News/Good News

Now I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is, no leader (no pastor) can escape every bit of danger posed by the adaptive or transformational changes he is leading his church to make.

However, the good news is, it’s possible to minimize the danger by learning and utilizing a few (what we might call) “change-agent best practices.”

Before sharing a list of “change-agent” best practices, let me also share the perspective of church consultant and author, Bob Whitesel, who has broken down into 5 stages how people in churches respond to change. The 5 stages are: relative harmony, idea development, change, resistance, and justifying event. In between each of the five, Whitesel notes what he calls a “triggering event”—that is, something happens that propels everything on to the next stage. The most interesting feature of Whitesel’s work to me is how changing the character of only two of the triggering events from negative to positive alters the overall outcome of the entire process. Whitesel’s model might discourage some, since it appears that negative outcomes to adaptive change are the result of doing only a couple of things wrong. But look at it another way. Positive outcomes to adaptive change are possible when an adaptive-change agent makes only a couple of intentional adjustments at strategic points in the adaptive-change process.

10 Keys to Positive Change

Another church consultant and author, Paul Mundey (1997), lists “10 Keys to Positive Change” in his book, Unlocking Church Doors. Here are the ten:

1. Model life change, leading from your own experience.

2. Cast a vision for what can be.

Aubrey Malphurs defines a ministry vision as “a clear and compelling picture of what the future can and must be.”

Make sure your vision is God-sized (not so small you don’t need Him, and yet not out of this world. (Illustration of Marshall’s comment to me).

God-sized vision attracts the hearts and resources of God’s people. I heard someone say once, if you want to know whether or not your vision is what it ought to be and whether you are communicating it effectively, walk up to any Christian businessman on the street. Communicate your vision and strategy to him, and if he doesn’t immediately write out a check to you for at least $100, you need to rework it.

3. Connect with the culture of your people.

“One of the best ways to discover the narrative of your congregation is to ask members to create a historical time line. On several sheets of newsprint taped to the wall, draw a long horizontal line. At the far right end, write the date of the current year. On the far left side, write the date of the founding of the congregation. In between, write key historical events in the life of the church.

As persons share, encourage them to tell stories. Ask them to name specific personalities, locations, even weather conditions. Invite them to enter fully into the color and texture of their history. Help participants feel the richness of their heritage and the intrinsic value of their experience. The unfolding of a congregation’s story is a powerful event, identifying many connecting points and precedents for launching future ministry.” p48

4. Understand your congregation as a complex system of systems.

• Political system (who are the influencers?)
• Transportation system (how do things get done and communicated?)
• Resourcing system (how are people equipped and motivated?)
• Weather system (what factors influence the overall climate of the church?)

5. Create opportunities for your people to learn, grow, and change.

6. Name needs, inviting others to help define solutions.

• Distribute accurate and revealing statistics
• Involve others with mini-surveys, cottage meetings, listening sessions
• Do not own a solution too early in the planning process
• Suggest a trial period

Timing of Group Decisions – p94

• “Never introduce a new idea and vote on it in the same meeting.”
• “identify clearly the avenues for additional information and input.”
• “If people are opposed, meet with them individually…[to] listen carefully to objections, reviewing the benefits of the proposed change as needed.”
• “Don’t position yourself for a negative vote.”
• “If you sense that the tide is against you, do a reassessment.”
• “When you sense that people are “with you,” bring them together and move toward a positive vote.”

7. Be alert to the reality of transitions.

For example, “When you change from one locale to another, you unpack boxes; when you transition from one locale to another, you unpack memories, emotions, dreams, self-perceptions, relationships, and even faith. Transition touches all aspects of our personhood; it challenges us to stretch from a familiar reality to a fresh, but frightening context.” p96

• Identify losses brought about by change
• “…the most common mistake change agents make is to introduce a new program or ministry without introducing a new or accompanying value. “ p98
• Don’t change everything. Leave some things the same.
• Understand Everett M. Rogers taxonomy of “change adopters”
o Pacesetters – 2.5%
o Early adopters – 13.5%
o Middle adopters – 34%
o Late adopters – 34%
o Footdraggers – 16%

8. Launch changes well.

• Start small, do a few things well, and celebrate the quick wins.
• Communicate with redundancy
• Tell stories

9. Reduce, rather that resist resistance.

Think in terms of biblical same-mindedness (Mundey’s word: “win/win”):

10. Take steps to solidify your new beginning.

• Multiply ownership
• Make mid-course corrections
• Celebrate

A Little More

In addition to Mundey’s 10 Keys or “best practices”, I would encourage you to study up on the process of strategic planning. The best way I can summarize that process is with the words learn, audit, analyze, imagine (Mundey – “Imagination is how God transmits change-producing visions.” p. 35), plan, and communicate, while bathing all that you are doing in fervent prayer.


Finally, I’d like to mention two things in closing. The first is the indispensability of an adaptive change-agent’s use of servant-leadership. Keep in mind, the most powerful skill of servant-leadership is the kind of love that honors others as persons and seeks their best. Even Heifetz and Linsky close their book with a chapter underscoring the value of loving leadership.

Secondly, I want to end with a quote from my hero in the faith, one of the greatest visionaries and adaptive-change agents the world has ever seen—Hudson Taylor. Here’s what Hudson Taylor wrote about the adaptive change he sought to implement in regard to the way people in China were being reached with the Gospel (perhaps I should say, with the way people in China were NOT being reached with the Gospel:

“All we are now proposing to do is to lay hold on His faithfulness Who has called us into this service, and in obedience to His call and reliance on His power to enlarge the sphere of our operations, for the glory of His name Who alone doeth wondrous things.”


© Blogger Templates | Tech Blog