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Movement: A culture of constant personal and corporate growth and improvement is enabled through effective change management, self-development and a leadership pipeline

The Psychology of Change in the Church

Same Change Buttons Show Innovating Or ChangingChange is a word that strikes fear in the hearts of most ministry leaders. They have personally experienced or know of a peer that has experienced the pain and disappointment of well-intentioned change.

Change is never easy in any organization yet in churches the difficulty and complexity of change seems to go up exponentially. It is understandable that many ministry leaders shrink away from the challenge.

There is great irony in this because at the heart of the gospel is the message of life-giving supernatural change. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth in Mark 1:15 is “repent” or “change.”

Paul’s core message is we need to be changed……”formed, conformed and transformed.” Yet, we know some people accepted and others resisted or rejected their message of change.

Simply put, you can’t have improvement without change. You can have change and not improvement but no improvement without change. So leading change is a critical issue for ministry leaders.

To effectively lead change we must first have an understanding of how change impacts our mental state.

Why People Think And Behave As They Do When Faced With Change

People Resist Change: No, not all change. They resist:

  • Being changed
  • Change they don’t understand
  • Change they don’t agree with

Attitudes Are Shifted One Step At A Time: Taking action to change results from a five step process of attitudinal changes:

  1. Awareness
  2. Understanding
  3. Concern
  4. Dissatisfaction
  5. Action to Change

Motivation-Dissatisfaction Correlation: Motivation to change arises out of a sufficient dissatisfaction in one or more of four areas:

  • Current Problems
  • Current Opportunities
  • Anticipated Problems
  • Anticipated Opportunities

Head and Heart Engagement: Head and heart are distinct yet interdependent in bringing about desired change. God fashioned both as portals of communication and communion.

  • Head – Where concrete facts, ideas and information are cognitively received and stored
  • Heart – Where sensory impressions, symbols, stories and metaphors stimulate emotions
  • Communication – Logical, quantitative and practical information received by the head
  • Communion – Information received by the heart with the purpose to touch in a deep way and to create an intimate bond between speaker and listener

Comparative Depravation: People will feel deprived when they perceive the change falls short compared to one or more of their standards:

  • What They Wanted
  • What They Had
  • What Others Have

Psychological Hydraulic: The application of a psychological pressure to encourage change will produce an unpredictable psychological response expressed in three ways:

  1. Internal – Depression, anxiety, headaches, ulcers
  2. Eternal – Constructive; Destructive
  3. Combination

Measurement Effect: Formal and informal measurement exerts a psychological influence on the people being measured and thereby impacts their response to change.

  • Formal – Budgets, performance reviews, quarterly and annual reports, audits, etc.
  • Informal – Management by walking around; asking questions; providing feedback

Roller Coaster Effect: Emotions accompanying any change are like a roller coaster with a series of peaks and valleys.

  • Leaders are in the front car and experience the peaks and valleys before their followers
  • Selecting the right pace for change is integral to success

Leading change in the church with an understanding of these psychological implications can be just as chaotic and difficult to lead as those that don’t. But they have a stronger chance of effecting long-term changes in the church culture and thus of sustaining better outcomes.

In future blogs we will explore more in-depth each of these eight psychological forces of change on attitudes and behaviors.


Posted on September 16, 2014
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Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5