How to Manage a Needed Environmental Shift in Local Churches

by: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th. 

Throughout all of the differing expressions of Christianity there are so many pastors who continue to shoot themselves in the proverbial foot while trying to affect major changes at their local congregational. It isn’t that change may not have be needed. In fact, there are countless of local congregations who would be remarkably better served if they would only embrace and acknowledge the process of transformation itself. 

I may only be exaggerating slightly when I estimate that there may be thousands of great ideas thought of every year that could help a local Christian congregation. Yet, 80%-90% have failed to launch successfully because of bad implementation management and an equally poor level of patience.

By their very natures, Divinely called pastors are extraordinarily visionary. They can see and imagine what should be done at a local congregational setting with clarity. Taken alone, that gift is normally a good thing. However, when a pastor is either unaware or unwilling to do the necessary preparation of “preparing the way” for successful congregational transformation, more often than not, the desired “changed” fails to reach the desired outcome. Why? Because of the partnership of ignorance of the requirements of their organization’s social dynamics AND the goal of positive change has highlighted their ineptness of strategic planning and the patience to employ it.

It is not a simple thing to successfully manage “change.” However, it can be done IF YOU TAKE THINGS SLOWLY AT FIRST. I am NOT SAYING to be lazy about the process. Not at all! But it is incredibly advantageous to think and act in a highly strategic fashion when you are PREPARING THE WAY to move a group of human beings….who are naturally fearful of large amounts of change….through a sensitive journey of organizational transformation.

Rarely, although sometimes required, is sustainable change possible if it is hurried or forced. Are there certain items of change that will require immediate alterations to the normal course of how the church is experienced? Yes. If there is an immediate issue of security, make a couple of phone calls for clarity and take action. If there is a possible major legal issue that involves financial or criminal risk, make a couple of calls for clarity and take action. Again, I’m NOT SAYING if there is an emergency that requires your immediate leadership for you to stop and make a few calls and then schedule a committee meeting. 

PLEASE DON’T DO THAT. 

However, if you are prayerfully moved to guide a needed transformation in the music department, financial management, Christian education, ministerial care programs, public outreach, congregational marketing, or worship expressions…..PLEASE PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE FOLLOWING LIST.

Here are a few helpful hints that should guide your leadership efforts.

Clearly identify both through practical and varied discovery sources outside supportive data, similar congregations who have had successful outcomes, minimum financial commitments (if applicable) and easily recognized biblical foundations highlighting the positive transformation desired.

In all groups of human beings there are several categories of social importance. Two categories that should be definitively identified BEFORE any formal presentation or action are attempted should include; 

(1) who are the respected and openly loved matriarchs and patriarchs within the specific group dynamic, and

(2) who are those within the congregation, whether they are currently in positions of elected authority or not, who are assumed OPINION-LEADERS. Opinion-Leaders are the ones who consistently will voice their opinions, in or out of a public setting, and the general membership will often be swayed by their thoughts.

Never officially instigate an intentional change in a local church UNTIL or UNLESS you’ve taken a great amount of time making sure that the congregation’s assumed matriarchs and patriarchs as well as “OPINION LEADERS” are completely on board coffee-counterwith the proposed needed transition and the basic strategies/tactics to deploy it. 

All of these preparation meetings will be person-to-person and generally held away from the church building itself. A living room, kitchen table, breakfast coffee or afternoon bakery shop are a examples of non-church building places to interact and start the process of both further discernment and building behind the scenes momentum.

While describing the actual CHANGE needed…..never, ever….NEVER use the word “change.” 

Get use to using words or phrases such as; enhancement, transition, improvement, transformation, environmental shift, quality correction, as we begin moving from “x” to “y,” or taking a new journey toward…, etc. Human beings are quite adaptable IF THEY DON’T BECOME FEARFUL of the change that is about to take place. Inevitably those who you are speaking with will start to interject the word “change.” Don’t all for the bate! Avoid the word “change” as if it is a dreaded plague.  

Get the church’s Administrative Board’s Executive Committee members to meet with you separately to prepare them and receive their individual support for the full board approval.

Make a formal presentation to the congregation, or if a sub-ministry, the stakeholder group for their buy-in. Make sure the OPINION-LEADERS that are specific to that group are present during your (hopefully add one of them to the actual presentation) presentation. 

Note: Do NOT over sell it!

Enthusiasm is great. However, don’t bowl people over. The group has to be respected in their process of discernment. If the presentation goes well ask for a 3-5 person team to form a task force for the purpose of devising the strategies and tactics necessary to accomplish the desired change.

If YOU SAY IT….it might be true. 

If THEY SAY IT.it has to be true. 

All CHANGE…..excuse me…. transformational opportunities…. must be approached as a TEAM EFFORT. This is an essential reality for sustainable CHANGE….excuse me….environmental enhancement. Remember, it’s not about how much you want it or believe in it. It’s about how much they believe and are willing to work toward putting the needed change….excuse me….quality correction into action.

Lastly, about 6 months after you start the actual transformational journey formally check back in with the group for their thoughts, reactions and suggestions.

Follow these simple foundational rules of initiating “change”…. sorry….transformation management…. and the desired outcome will be far more likely.
Peace.

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