by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., Church Executive Magazine, March 2010, pp. 21-22.
(Download the original article here: ARTICLE_Four Forces-Whitesel (Church Executive Article)
Changing a Church is Challenging!
As a writer and professor of church management and growth, I have found that managing change is a daunting task for church leaders. Regrettably, in most seminaries, managing change is not taught. I thus began to plumb the depths of the mysterious workings of change in churches, and surprisingly I discovered that the process is not so mysterious nor unexamined.
A primary culprit for the failure of church change is because there are more forces pushing for change than church leaders usually recognize. As a result most church change strategies are to narrow, because leaders usually address only one or two of the up to four forces that may be present.
Where did the Four Force Model come from?
Andrew Van de Ven and Marshall Poole are management researchers that have compiled an exhaustive study of organizational change (Poole and Van de Ven 2004). Based upon an analysis of hundreds of articles in prestigious management magazines and journals, they discovered that change theories revolve four forces that push or generate change (Poole and Van de Ven 1995).
These change forces are sometimes called “four basic motors of change” because they push an organization into change (Poole and Van de Ven 2004:6). Sometimes only one force is pushing for change, but often two, three or four forces combine to simultaneously push an organization through change. While Van de Ven and Poole noted the effect of the four forces upon theories of change, I have observed in my practice that these forces also give us clues to the tools that are necessary to help a church change.
Why are the four forces of change important?
If an organization, such as a church, is only addressing one or two forces pushing for change (the usual church strategy) and more forces are pushing for change (up to four), I believe that the change will be unsatisfying and incomplete. If not all of the forces pushing for change are addressed congregants can feel the change did not go far enough or address their concerns. Thus, church change is often inadvertently too narrow and rejected by congregants who feel there are other forces pushing for change. In my consulting practice, I have found that successful change strategies first discover how many forces are pushing your church toward change, and then use the appropriate tools to control each force that is present.
What are the four forces of change?
|If we are to bring about healthy and unifying church change then all the forces pushing for change must be addressed. – Bob Whitesel|
Van de Ven and Poole assigned technical names to these forces, which I have simplified for retention. I will first briefly describe each change force and then follow with examples of tools to control each.
Life Cycle Forces defined.
Life cycle forces are motors pushing for change because an organization is at a crisis point in its life cycle. This could be a church that has an aging congregation or a facility with a different ethnicity moving into the neighborhood. Churches that feel this force are often older congregants who are concerned that the church is not adequately reaching out to other cultures or generations. If a change strategy does not address their concerns about the longevity of the organization, they will not support the change for it does not address the force they feel pushing most robustly upon them.
Life Cycle Forces tools.
Tools to address life cycle forces usually involve crafting long-term plans for growth. This often begins with the “visioning” process. Subsequent tools include starting new services or ministries to reach new generations or cultures. This may require hiring staff from this new culture to help the church make the transformation into a new cultural life-cycle. Many church growth strategies address such life cycle forces.
Goal-oriented Forces defined.
Goal-orientated forces are powers that push for change because a goal has been created for the organization. This may be an attendance goal imposed upon the congregation by a denomination and/or the church leadership. BHAGS are management gurus Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ way of fostering change with “Big Harry Audacious Goals” (Collins and Porras 2004). Such goals often motivate leaders who see the bigger picture better than they see the mechanics of getting there. And, these forces may be generated by a personal vision or a biblical mandate (such as the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19). Goal-orientated forces are often associated with churches that are struggling to survive, mega churches or newly planted churches. While this force is often felt most acutely by top-level leadership, attendees often have trouble appreciating this force. This is because for many attendees there are other forces (such as life-cycle forces described above or dialectic forces below) that are more powerful.
Goal-oriented Forces tools.
Tools to address goal-orientated forces usually revolve around measurement and research. Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth Movement, said there is a “universal fog” in our churches that masks our appreciation for measurement (McGavran 1970). He also pointed out that there is no such reticence in the Bible. Thus, evaluation becomes an important tool for measuring goal-orientated progress and/or when a goal needs to be revamped. Though reaching goals is an important force pushing for change in churches, it is not the only force present. If leadership tries to motivate an entire congregation by goals alone, many congregants who are feeling the push of other change forces will deem the change insufficient and/or inauthentic.
Conflict-oriented Forces defined.
Conflict-orientated forces push a church toward change because there are opposing viewpoints in the congregation. Often this occurs when new concepts are introduced and they appear to conflict with previously held ideas. Needless to say many churches suffer from this. While churches comprehend that this is a widespread problem, my experience is that conflict resolution is poorly addressed in many congregations. My Ph.D. research revealed that conflict-resolution is even a weak area in church leadership writings. This omission may be because congregants feel that the church should be a peaceful place, and thus they often avoid conflict. But conflict is a powerful motor for those that feel conflicted or at odds with other attendees, and thus it too must be addressed.
Conflict-oriented Forces tools.
Tools to address conflict will be found in books and programs that foster conflict resolution. Compromise is the goal of these resources, but first each side must understand the other before they can find middle ground. Research has also shown that it is critical that church leaders go slow when introducing change until widespread clarity and some compromise has been accomplished (Starke and Dyck 1996; Dyck and Starke 1999). I have written an entire book on the six-steps of church compromise and how going too fast with new ideas usually dooms creative ideas (Whitesel 2003).
Trend-orientated Forces defined.
|The reader must remember that most change is being pushed along by multiple motors at the same time, and thus an effective change strategy must be a collage of the tools listed. – Bob Whitesel|
A final force often concurrently pushing for change is the trend-orientated force. This is a motor that drives change because some congregants want change because a new “trend” has evolved and appears to be working in other churches. Change proponents often push enthusiastically and unrelentingly for popular new ideas to be implemented. Often they do so without addressing the change forces pushing upon others (such as life-cycle or conflict-orientated forces). Thus, trend-orientated leaders are seen as dividing the congregation and/or not sensitive to the church’s unity and health.
Trend-orientated Forces tools.
The primary tools used to handle trend-orientated forces is to help all factions see that a popular program or strategy will only fix part of the problem, and that a successful approach must address all forces pushing for change.
Fashionable programs are usually beneficial, but are perceived by life-cycle and conflict-oriented leaders as incomplete or inauthentic. Another tool is to examine the trend carefully and adapt it to the local situation. Thus, leaders must slowly foster compromise, show how their strategy addresses the church life-cycle as well as demonstrates how a strategy can be measurable.
A collage of tools to address your four forces
There are three steps in holistic change. Step one is to determine which forces are pushing for change in your church. This inaugural steps means studying the above definitions with your leaders, reading appropriate books (see the endnotes) and using round-table discussions to create a list of the change forces evident in your church.
The second step is to list the change
Determine which of the four forces are pushing for change in your church.
List the change forces by their relative strength.
Create a collage of tools (from the lists in this article) to control all of the four forces pushing for change.
forces by their relative strength. Some forces will be pushing more forcefully, while others may be present but diminutive. The ranking is subjective, and thus it is important to get as many segments of the church involved as possible. Remember, some congregants may be ostracized or excluded from the leadership process, and yet they may be feeling the push of other forces. Thus, bring as many segments of the church as possible into this listing to ensure all forces pushing for change are identified and ranked.
Finally in step 3 create a collage of tools from the above lists to control change. Organization theorist Mary Jo Hatch believes most effective theories are “collages” or a patchwork of tactics (Hatch 1997). This is required because each local church is unique and the most effective strategies will be those adapted to all the forces present on the local level.
The future of changing churches: four force models.
Many books today are focused on encouraging church change. But few actually address how to do it. Yet, in my consulting practice I have noticed that it is not a desire to change that is missing, buy that most church leaders just don’t know “how” to create positive change. Understanding that there are often four forces pushing for change simultaneously, discovering the relative strength of each, and then combining tools to create a collage tactic are the first steps toward long-term and effective church change.
(The above was reprinted with permission from Church Executive Magazine. Download the original article here: ARTICLE_Four Forces-Whitesel (Church Executive Article)
Collins, Jim, and Jerry I. Porras. 2004. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York, NY: Collins Business.
Dyck, Bruno, and Frederick A. Starke. 1999. The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model. Administrative Science Quarterly 44:792-822.
Hatch, Mary Jo. 1997. Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McGavran, Donald A. 1970. Understanding Church Growth. rev. ed., 1980 ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Poole, Marshall Scott, and Andrew H. Van de Ven. 1995. Explaining Development and Change in Organizations. Academy of Management Review (20):510-540.
———, eds. 2004. Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Starke, Frederick A., and Bruno Dyck. 1996. Upheavals in Congregations: The Causes and Outcomes of Splits. Review of Religious Research 38:159-174.
Whitesel, Bob. 2003. Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (And What You Can Do About It). Nashville: Abingdon Press.
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