A Formula for Navigating Change at Church
I have three children in their 20s. Once in a while, they still ask me, "Dad, what do you do for a living?" The best way I know to describe it is that I help people navigate change. Change is constant. Having worked with organizations in the social, private and public space for years, we've discovered certain patterns of change. And based on those patterns, we created the following Change Formula to help with that process:
(D + C2V + CP) x TLS > PCOC
Now, this is not an algorithm, nor is it linear. To understand this Change Formula, we have to unpack it one component at a time. So what does it take for a church to embrace and navigate change?
Dissatisfaction with the Current State (D)
The D in the formula stands for dissatisfaction. One of the necessary precursors for change is recognizing we are in a place where we do not like what is happening. My wife and I recently read from a series of books calledYounger Next Year. Because we're both in our 50s, we're looking ahead at our 70s and 80s, and thinking, what can we do now that will help us enjoy life later? We have to be dissatisfied about how we're feeling right now in order to motivate us to get to the gym six times a week for 45 minutes.
Unless churches are dissatisfied with where they are, they will not go through the pain of change. They just won’t. When I'm working with a church, I want to know if there is enough dissatisfaction to motivate them to enter a process that will accomplish change. It always starts with discomfort or disequilibrium.
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A Clear and Compelling Vision (C2V)
The next factor we want to see is a really clear picture of where a church is trying to go. The good news is that many churches don't struggle quite as much with this part. This is the easier part of strategic planning. It's the question of "Where are we going?" We want to be able to imagine a picture of the church’s future and share it with others.
A Clear Path Toward the Future (CP)
The third component is to have a clear plan to actually get where we want to go. We see a dissatisfaction with the present, a clear and compelling vision, and then an actual process in place for us to get there. Do you have this plan? What will you do first? Can you explain it to others?
Empowered by Cultivating Tacit Leaders (TLs)
Next, you need to cultivate what's called tacit leadership. It's not usually difficult for positional leadership to say, "Here's where we're going." Alternatively, tacit leadership refers to influence in a system that's not official. Who are the “E.F. Huttons” in the organization? Who are the people that when they speak, everybody listens?
One church I worked with wanted a new building. At the time, they were in a multi-purpose facility and tired of doing weekly setup and teardown. They wanted to build an awe-inspiring sanctuary and seem to be well poised to build it. Through the process, they completely pivoted from the initial vision. Instead, they built a two-story children's ministry building and brought the staff together in one location.
For the opening of the new building, they invited me to preach. I was so excited. As I was standing in the back of the sanctuary getting ready, I turned to a man who was considered an “E.F. Hutton” of the church. His family had donated the land that the church was located on. I turned to him and said, “Well, what do you think?"
This older gentleman, with arms crossed, said, "Kurt, I completely disagree with what we're doing." And I'm thinking, "Okay, that's not really helpful for me right now." But that wasn't the end of his thought. He said, "But I completely agree with the direction that we're going."
His own personal desire didn't get fulfilled, but he was convinced what they were doing was the right thing. When it comes to change, there will be this tension between self-interest and mission. Self-interest says, "What do I want?" Mission says, "What does the community need?"
Every organization has to deal with competing values at times. As church leaders, we have to realize when it comes to navigating change, we're actually moving people into the world of competing values. It's really difficult. But it's unbelievably critical.
The Perceived Cost of Change (PCoC)
In order for change to take place effectively, those first four components combined have to ultimately be greater than the perceived cost of the change. That is what will keep churches taking steps in a new and fruitful direction.
Over the years, I've worked with more than a thousand churches, many businesses, and government agencies. I've seen this Change Formula applied again and again. We follow this formula, continue to vet it, and every time we find it’s simple but true.
So how about you? Based on this Change Formula, does your church have all of the right components to navigate change?
Once leaders process how the Change Formula applies in you environment, they often ask, “What can I do to take my church through change? What are the needed skills and competencies I should be focused on?” In a follow-up blog post titled, "8 Key Leadership Tasks for Navigating Change at Church," I offer the essential tasks to focus on in order to navigate change well at church.
About Kurt Andre
Kurt André is a master-certified coach who helps government, business, church, and nonprofit leaders deal with the practical aspects of transformational change. His passion for leader development and his interpersonal skills enables him to successfully transform groups of strong individuals into high performing teams. His professional experience includes working with multiple generations, from Baby Boomers to GenXers to Millennials. His Ph.D. work centered on post-modernism, and Kurt has long studied and consulted with churches and companies on the unique ways Millennials view and engage in the church and world, both under the banner of TAG Consulting, and his own company, Transformational Coaching and Consulting International. Kurt has written numerous articles, contributed to several anthologies and has served as an adjunct professor at Eastern University. He is currently writing a book on creating high-performance teams, titled: “Eagles in Formation; Creating High-Performance Teams from High Performers.”