Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fourth of five parts: Stuck churches require radical change

Change leaders get in front of the line by: 1) defining healthy change, 2) seeing change as part of their leadership responsibility, 3) involving and attracting followers. In my prior posts in this series, I focused on these important principles. This brings me to the fourth essential of change leadership—churches that are “stuck” require some form of radical change.
Radical change
If an objective assessment reveals mediocre health and little or no signs of growth for many years, a church is stuck. In this state, incremental change will prove inadequate. Something more is needed if your congregation hopes to move off the plateau.
So what are the characteristics of radical change? How do you “unstick” a stuck church? One key comes from contemplating what constitutes and moves an organization’s culture forward. In their 2013 book, Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, management consultants Curt Coffman and Kathie Sorenson explore the relationship of culture and strategy. The authors offer three prescriptions for radical change, using the terms  “macro-culture,” “micro-culture,” and “bridge culture.” They also discuss taking an annual cultural “P&L,” meaning assessing the  state of the organization’s change efforts. These three practices mirror what I advocate in my ministry and consulting. However, I favor these terms:
  • ·        Strategic, long-range planning
  • ·        Staff goal-setting and coaching
  • ·        Annual strategic refreshing and realignment 

Strategic, long-range planning
Radical, cultural change requires looking at the big picture. By that, I mean a fresh look at why the church exists (mission) and what’s important (values). Leaders should prepare a three-year plan that includes annual targets of four to seven key initiatives that will help the church move from mediocrity to excellence—and become more effective for the gospel. For each initiative, assign a point person to improve accountability. 

Staff goal-setting and coaching
Planning alone will not change a church’s culture. Far too often, churches labor over a plan for months or even years, only to then place it on the shelf where it gathers dust. The first way to overcome this poor execution is placing the strategic plan on the agenda of every primary board meeting, paid staff meeting, and lay leadership development forum.
Group and one-one-one discussions between pastor and staff members, or staff members and lay leaders, must engage the plan. Ask how each person’s gifts and strengths can help bring the plan to fruition. Putting these individual commitments in the form of written, accountable goals is a good start. However, follow-up discussions must occur—in some cases daily, as well as weekly, and at the very least, monthly. 

Annual strategic refreshing and realignment
One of the criticisms of planning is that it seems too business-like and lacks a way to stay Spirit-led. In that regard, I like the wisdom of Proverbs: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV). Therein is another key to seeing the plan executed. It is essential that the leadership team not feel constrained by it, but rather empowered by it to follow the Lord to become the church that He wants.
Through a prayerful, annual retreat and other forums, the leadership team can ask: “What are we learning? How do we need to adjust our plan? How do we align staff and budgets to see the Lord’s vision for His church realized?”
In my consulting practice, I advocate adopting an annual rhythm of refreshing the church’s vision in the fall, setting staff goals and program plans in the winter, and reviewing budgets in the spring. 

Next time: The final essential—addressing the opportunities and barriers presented by church growth.

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