Anyone who has led church change has discovered that institutional changes are not as difficult for churches to make as the psychological transitions of the staff and members impacted by the change.
Last post we examined William Bridges’ theory that change is situational; transition, on the other hand, is a psychological, three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to grips with the new circumstances that the change brings about.
The three phase transition process consists of the following:
Endings—people need to let go of the past first before they can embrace the new.
Neutral Zone—People begin to explore their comfort with the new change.
Beginnings—People begin to embrace the new change.
Bridges Three Transition Questions
Here are three important questions Bridges recommends addressing to help people move through the transition phases.
(1) What is changing?
Too frequently change leaders convey a very unclear picture of the proposed change and describe it in terms of generalities. Bridges believes that change leaders need to able to communicate the change in a simple statement that can be shared in under one minute. The statement must:
- Clearly express the change leadership’s intention and purpose
- Link the change to the circumstances that make it necessary
- State the problem, then the solution
- Be delivered in under 60 seconds
Bridges also provides “4 P’s” of transition communications:
The purpose: Why we have to do this
The picture: What it will look and feel like when we reach our goal
The plan: Step-by-step, how we will get there
The part: What you can (and need to) do to help us move forward
(2) What will actually be different because of the change?
Bridges says: “I go into organizations where a change initiative is well underway, and I ask what will be different when the change is done-and no one can answer the question.”
He believes that in many cases, change initiatives are conceived at such a high level in the organization’s structure that the planners are unaware and out of touch with the impact the change will have on departments, jobs and individuals.
Similarly, many church change initiatives are conceived by the pastor and senior staff without taking the time to identify and communicate clearly the impact the change will have on church staff, ministries, organizations and membership.
(3) Who is going to lose what?
Bridges model suggests that the transition starts with a loss – a letting go of the old ways of how things were before the change. To move through this stage of transition it is essential for leaders to address the question, “Who will lose, or has lost, what?”
Church change initiatives often require people to give up comfort and control. It is crucial to demonstrate that you as a change leader do understand and care, and that you are taking steps to mitigate the pain of their loss.
Bridges maintains that failure to do this on the part of change leaders, and a denial of the losses and “lettings go” that people are faced with, sows the seeds of mistrust.
Simply put, leading church change is an emotional business and failure to address the human emotional impact of change is at the root of most failed church change initiatives.
Leading people through transition is all about seeing the situation through the eyes of the other person. It is a perspective based on empathy. It is a leadership and communication style that recognizes and affirms the realities of others and works with them to address those realities.
Therefore, one of the major priorities of church change leaders must be recognizing and addressing the inner psychological and emotional adjustments people move through in response to organizational change and that influence the outcome of any change effort.
Posted on May 5, 2015