Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fifth of five parts: Growth introduces opportunities and barriers

Change leaders define and implement healthy change. In some cases, this may be incremental in a few key areas. In others, it involves the kind of radical and comprehensive changes that are necessary to revitalize and turn around a “stuck” church.
In both cases, the outcome can be not only greater health, but increased growth. 

This brings me to the final essential element of church change—leaders must also be prepared to address the opportunities and barriers that are by-products of growth. Two of the most important opportunities that growth presents are:
·            The need to develop and manage more resources
·           The need to define a philosophy or model of growth

Opportunity to develop  

If the church has been stagnant or declining, the greater resources provided or demanded by growth may surprise—even shock—those who have been with the church for some time. Leaders must quickly address such reactions to avoid paralysis. It is time for leadership action.

After all, growth requires an increase in your capacity to assimilate newcomers. Ministries will need to develop more leaders and volunteers, and you will be able to launch new ministries. Coordinating how you utilize various spaces will become more demanding; eventually you may need to address whether you will build or not. However, adding one or more worship services may conserve resources.

More funds will become available requiring that you carefully set priorities for how they will be used. For example, before adding another education wing, multi-purpose room, or a new sanctuary, leaders will help themselves and the church immensely if they first define their philosophy of growth. 

Defining a growth philosophy

Churches that are stagnant or declining typically do not think about the planning needed when they grow. However, it is a leadership responsibility to discern—and lead—how you will grow. Change leaders realize that there are different ways to adjust to growth, and that their church will likely be a fit for one or more of several methods. 

So, what are the options you should consider? The starting place for every church is to evaluate your capacity for growth at your current location. If you have developable acreage, hire an architect to help you create a master plan. 

Beyond your current location, the leadership team should also pray about and consider the path of church planting. Frequently, denominational leaders can help you assess what is required of your leadership and where a church plant would serve an unchurched people. They will also be aware of various planting models.

Finally, growth planning today should consider the options of becoming a multi-site church, and possibly even a merger with another church. The leadership and management skills required for this type of growth is generally a fit only for very large churches. Nevertheless, even leaders of smaller churches should prayerfully research these options. Some aging churches have survived by assimilating into newer, younger congregations.

Outdated leadership structure 

Growth will eventually present a significant barrier to further growth unless change leaders lead change in this area. As a church grows from small (under 200) to very large (over 700), you will likely need to radically redefine the role of the primary board, other boards, committees, and paid staff two to four times. For congregationally-governed churches, the role of members will also change. 

In his 2010 book, Sticky Teams, Larry Osborne stated that you know that you need to change role definitions when decision-making conflict is growing and your meetings are too long. When you experience these things, you likely need to become aware of alternatives and implement one. 

Blessings on you as you lead change where you can and should.

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.

Third of five parts: Followers trust trustworthy leaders

Change leaders not only define healthy change, they see change as a leadership responsibility. If they are successful, they will have enthusiastic followers. This doesn’t occur automatically, which emphasizes the third essential of leading change: followers trust trustworthy leaders.

Successful leaders not only carry out the tasks inherent with change, they involve, motivate, inspire and attract followers. At the heart of this followership is a trust relationship with the leadership team.

Trust relationships are an important theme embedded in the biblical qualifications for leaders. They appear in such passages as 1 Peter 5:1-4, I Timothy 3:1-13, and Titus 1:5-9. These guidelines for selecting leaders focus primarily on aspects of leadership character. Followers place confidence in and trust leaders who—through their behavior—demonstrate godly motives.  

Making trust essential

In the realm of change leadership, there is a crucial component of change that makes a trust relationship essential. That component is the emotional makeup of those experiencing the change.

Ann Salerno and Lillie Brock address this topic in their helpful tool called the “Change Cycle.”™ They assert that when changes are introduced in any organization, people naturally experience fear, resentment and anxiety long before they can move on to acceptance. For that reason, followers commonly respond with paralysis and resistance before they begin to cooperate.  

Effective, trustworthy change leaders respect this progression of emotions and behaviors. They take the lead by proposing change. With an understanding of the dynamics of change and—out of respect for people’s emotions—they also involve others as appropriate.

The extent of such involvement will depend on church size and other contextual considerations. Still, the principle remains: leaders propose, request feedback and input, and listen. Finally, they may or may not tweak the proposal before implementing it.

Demanding change

Ineffective change leaders expect (and may even demand) immediate acceptance of change. They also pay a price for attempting to force through what may or may not be in the best interests of the church at that time.

Jim Dethmer, a former teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), gave a personal example of this once at a conference.

Prior to assuming his role at WCCC, Jim pastored a large, rather traditional church on the East Coast. He and his leadership team had attended a WCCC conference. In their van on the way home, they decided to replicate this seeker-sensitive church’s practices. So they shifted to a contemporary worship style and made other significant programming changes. By introducing change too quickly, they shattered trust. As a result, hundreds of families left the church.

A patient path

By way of contrast, I experienced an example of a more patient path toward change in my ministry from 2002-2006. I was a senior associate pastor at Constance Free Church in Andover, Minn. After the church reached a certain size, paid staff felt that our decision-making process was too slow and cumbersome.

Over the course of several years, we researched alternatives while involving the board and church members in the discussions. Eventually, we moved to a form of policy governance that delegated more day-to-day decision-making to the church staff. With this change, our leadership team honored everyone involved by moving with—and not too far ahead of—the congregation.  

Change is an emotion-laden path. Leaders who recognize that demonstrate character, build trust, and bring along followers.  

Next time: Stuck churches require radical change

Second of five parts: Leaders lead change

 In my first posting on this topic, I asserted that church leadership teams could add to their tool bag by defining healthy change. However, no matter how important our well-crafted definitions, they are worthless if we fail to do something with them.

For that reason, I believe that the second essential of change leadership is that leaders lead change. On the surface, that may not sound very profound. Nevertheless, some leaders do this well and others do not. Some know how to move freely from the academic aspects of change to practical applications. What’s the difference? How do leadership teams that lead well, lead?

Defining characteristics

Teams that lead change well have these characteristics:

·       They see change as a leadership responsibility
·       They create a clear path from today’s reality to their vision
·       They build change on a culture of disciple making and leadership development

If we do not see change as part of leadership, it’s not likely that we will lead change effectively. Scripture is not nearly as ambivalent about this as some of our leadership teams. The pastoral epistle 1 Timothy 3 includes the skills of teaching and managing in the job description of elder or overseer. This clearly places on leaders the responsibility to steer the church in the direction of biblical health.  

Leaders who consider change as part of their responsibilities not only follow the Scriptural admonition to do so, they also see their role as “opinion leaders.” Everett Rogers coined that term in his landmark 1962 work on change leadership, Diffusion of Innovations. (See pp. 26-27, 2003, Free Press). Leaders who lead change perceive themselves and act as models who point the way toward healthy change.

Pointing the way

When change leaders point the way, it includes three distinct aspects

1) They talk about the weaknesses of today’s reality.
2) They paint a vision-picture of what reality can be in the future, and
3) They construct a bridge across which everyone can walk to get to that preferable future.  

As an example of this approach, in 2014 I worked with a “Strategic Focus Team” of 26 people at Cranston Christian Fellowship in Rhode Island to define a new mission: Calling all to love God, follow Jesus, and serve others.

However, they didn’t stop at merely writing definitions. Senior Pastor Dave Gadoury recently reported, “This is driving our push to excel in disciple-making through Sunday morning life groups and the Gospel Project curriculum, and in service through an Acts 1:8 team and a new local outreach team.”

Disciple development

Finally, I have seen how effective change leaders build their leadership on the discipleship of their people and the development of their leaders. As someone recently told me, “Changed people change churches.”

Maturing people are much more likely to be receptive to healthy change. They are also going to be more understanding if their preference is not chosen by those in authority.

Maple Grove Evangelical Free Church in Minnesota is an example of a leadership team that has built change leadership on these two primary qualities.

In 2011, the church concluded that they had too many ministries that didn’t align with a Great Commission focus of making disciples. To address this less-than-appealing reality, they created a ministry initiative called “Sharpen Ministries.” This initiative authorized ministry leaders to refine or eliminate ministries as needed to better align their programming with their mission. As a result, they have increased their effectiveness.

Next Time: Followers follow trustworthy leaders

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

5 Essentials of Leading Church Change Part 1: Leaders Define Healthy Change

This is Part 1 of a 5-part posting on the topic of leading change in the church. There is no lack of opportunity to facilitate change. While there are pockets of great church vitality, far too many are characterized by stagnancy and decline. If change were easier, the need for it would be much less. But it's not easy and many churches need to develop a more effective change-leadership tool bag.

We have a firm promise that Jesus will and is building His Church (Mt. 16:18). However His method is actually a blend of His superintendence of the Church and the development of its leaders in each church. That development is the focus of my thoughts. Of the 5 Essentials I would like to share, each church leadership team is likely strong in some areas and weaker in others. It is my hope that these postings will provide a way for churches to self-assess and grow.

The first essential I have observed is that effective change leaders define healthy change. They come to consensus on the answers to these three questions:
·       What are the functions of The Church?
·       What should be the form of our church?  
·       What is a biblical, culturally-sensitive method of change in our church?

The first question is theological and ecclesiology to be exact. The answer tells us what is healthy for all churches for all time in all circumstances. An evangelical list here will include the Great Commission, the Great Commandment, and the functions of the church seen in Acts 2:42-47. Healthy change focuses on ensuring that we are assessing our strengths and weaknesses in these areas and moving to a better place of shepherding the church according to the revealed will of God (1 Peter 5:2).

The second question is contextual about our church. The answer tells us what is healthy because we are where we are in the year 2015 in Mumbai, Manhattan, or Minneapolis. It also takes into account the most effective structural form for our church size. Healthy change in this area focuses on ensuring that we are becoming and being a Jew to a Jew or a Gentile to a Gentile as we should (1 Cor. 9:19-23). It also ensures that our organizational structure serves the church and not vice versa.

The final question seeks a balanced perspective on the authority of leaders to make changes, and in American culture, it also appropriately involves people in decision-making. Most people do not want to be told what to do. Most also do not want to function independently of leadership. Most want to follow leaders who involve them, listen to them, and then make decisions and changes that are in the best interest of their local church. How that balance is achieved is another important contextual decision depending on the size of the church and its polity.

Leaders who take the time to define and lead healthy change in these three areas have the best opportunity to see their church simultaneously become healthier, more fruitful, and more unified.