I’ve always found it ironic that the church is so resistant to change. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth when he began his public ministry was “repent,” “be transformed,” or “change” (Matthew 4:17). Further, the Christ story is an archetype for how God is changing all things through the pattern of life, death, and new life. Jesus went on to say, “Unless the grain of wheat dies, it remains just a grain of wheat” (John 12:24). If there is one consistent revelation in the Bible, it is that God is the one who turns death and loss into life (see Isaiah 26:19; Romans 4:17; 2 Corinthians 1:9). Throughout Scripture the way God pushes His people to change is by disillusioning them with the present reality. Until the present falls apart, we tend to never look for anything more.
Despite these biblical examples, churches and Christians refuse to trust this transformative pattern of change. Churches tend to change only when outside factors forces them to react. So, if there is a silver lining in the cultural upheaval and the COVID-I9 pandemic we are currently experiencing, it is that the church and Christians are being forced to change. We can trust that this is a Godly journey as God is in all things, even and most especially in our turmoil, sin, pain, and suffering.
So, What Do I Do Now?
As a church leader you are responsible for moving the staff and congregation successfully through necessary change. So, how do you help individuals navigate through the complexities of church change? There are various factors and approaches that should be considered when leading church change, but there are two key ingredients that applies to leading all types of change. Ingredients that will move yourself, your staff and your congregation through change more efficiently and effectively. These ingredients are cornerstone skills for the change leader that increases your ability to lead, plan, communicate, manage and implement change. They are essential to ensuring people understand the change and adapt their attitudes and behaviors to adopt the change. And, they are the key ingredients to people becoming actively engaged in the planning and implementation of any change.
So, what are these key ingredients? They are the power of the question, and the power of attentive listening.
People can handle change, even if it is unwanted or thrust upon them, if they can receive answers to core and meaningful questions. Quite simply, questions hold the power to cause us to think, consider answers we believe in, and motivate us to act on those solutions.
Questions also redefine relationships between a leader and his or her followers. When I am in mentor or “telling” mode, I am the expert. When I ask questions, I’m a peer communicating your value as an equal.
And asking questions changes you. The conversations become less about your opinions about the proposed change and how you can steer the conversation to the answers you want. You start listening intently and seeing how capable people really are.
What are the Right Questions?
Categorized below are a series of questions to draw from when preparing for, leading, communicating, and managing church change initiatives. Facilitating these questions, and others, with groups and individuals most impacted by the change will help create the necessary environment, attitude and behaviors for success.
Meaningful Foundational Questions
- Why do we need this change? Why is this important? How will it make a difference?
- Who is behind wanting us to make this change?
- How will we accomplish it?
- What’s in it for me/us?
- How will you help me/us throughout this change?
- How do we know God is in this?
- How does our church’s past connect to this change?
- How has our church approached change throughout its history?
- How does scripture and our mission, vision and values align with this change?
- Who are the other key influencers we need to get on board?
- How can we model, advocate and communicate this change?
- How will we reward positive behaviors and discourage unwanted ones in our teams?
- How does the church and staff culture need to change if this change is to be embraced?
Staff and Volunteers
- What new knowledge and skills are required? How can that support best be delivered?
- What new or modified organizational structures are required?
- How do current job descriptions need to be modified to support this change?
- What new staff need to be hired and new volunteers recruited to support this change?
Processes and Systems
- How will existing processes and systems support this change?
- How do existing processes and systems need adapting to support this change?
- What new processes and systems need to be developed to support this change?
Budget and Capital Expenditures
- How will we reallocate the current budget to support this change?
- What new financial resources are required to support this change?
- How will current facilities be used to support this change?
- What additional facilities and capital expenditures are required to support this change?
- How will our current technology support this change?
- What new technologies are required to support this change?
- What technology barriers and opportunities are there?
Measures and Controls
- How will we measure success? What measures are most important?
- What controls, policies and procedures are needed to support this change?
- What are the various demographics within the church and in the community who need to know of this change?
- What channels will be used to communicate this change?
- How will we acknowledge and celebrate this change?
When thinking about shaping people’s attitudes and behaviors towards a proposed change, remember the key ingredient of powerful questions, and ask as many questions in as many categories specific to your situation as possible. As you do you will discover the power of the question makes things happen like few other change management processes, tools or techniques.
The Power of Attentive Listening
The heart of the change leadership process in the church is listening – to God and others. When the Apostles were leading the New Testament believers in Acts 15 to question their belief that Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved they couldn’t rely just on their ability to think strategically. The Council at Jerusalem recounted in Acts 15 illustrates that effectively leading change in the church involves listening attentively to the movement of the Holy Spirit, to Scripture, religious tradition, respected believers, noted experts and pertinent facts.
Here are the steps to that attentive listening and a potential application for leading change in the church:
- They listened to the conversion experience of the Gentiles. Application: Listen to those most impacted by the change.
- They listened to the Pharisee experts in Mosaic Law. Application: Listen to those most opposed to the change.
- They listened to respected believers witnessing these conversions. Application: Listen to respected lay leaders supporting the change.
- They listened to Peter’s perspective. Application: Listen to the Pastor and Staff’s perspective.
- They listened to Paul and Barnabas’s descriptions of signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles. Application: Listen to experts who have observed the impact of the change.
- They listened to James expounding on Scripture connecting the dots between Peter’s testimony and the words of Amos. Application: Listen to what God’s Word has to say.
- They listened to the Holy Spirit – “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Application: Allow people time to pray and hear from God on the change.
- They voted on the change – “Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church decided.” Application: Allow the church to vote on the change.
Later in the passage we read “When the people of Antioch read the letter, they rejoiced at the exhortation.” The right and happy result of this difficult change was that God’s will had been clearly understood and followed in making this dramatic change. The fact the early church leaders had taken such care in questioning, listening, and discerning before implementing change was unifying and was the cause for great celebration.
This story powerfully illustrates that questioning and listening are the primary language of effective change leadership and is deeply rooted in the biblical record. Techniques, principles and skills in particular change management disciplines do not give us the power to lead change effectively, but asking the right questions and listening attentively to God and others does.
Posted on October 27, 2020