GROUP EXIT & Executive Summary of book: Staying Power – Why People Leave the Church Over Change

Executive Summary by Drew Wilkerson of Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT) (Abingdon Press), July 27, 2016.

INTRODUCTION: Pgs. 13-17

This overview summarizes a book by Dr. Bob Whitesel entitled Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT). This book is designed for the church leader that wants to understand “one of the most baffling questions facing church leaders today – why do people leave the church over change and what can be done about it” (p. 7). Staying Power is a book that is essential to every church leader. Change is inevitable and necessary. Whitesel outlines a process to oversee change in a way that minimizes the fallout of the effects of change in a church.

PURPOSE:  Pgs. 18-30

The purpose of Staying Power is found in Dr. Whitesel’s desire to counsel the local church pastor and leader how to bring about positive change. In a succinct overview Whitesel states, “…change and the tensions that accompany it are not only inevitable but also survivable” (p.7).

 

PROCESS & BENEFITS: Pgs. 33-168

Whitesel outlines the six stages that a church goes through that lead to either group exit or group harmony. Route A leads to polarizing and intense conflict. Route B leads to change that is grounded in harmony. The tensions of change will impact every church. Too often churches embroiled in polarizing change never fully recover. Whitesel outlines a step by step process that refocuses church transformation into a healthy course of action. Following a brief explanation of the problems change can bring to a local church, Whitesel defines the stages of change churches must go through. They are as follows:

 

  1. Stage 1: Relative Harmony. A church begins looking at changes that may be needed or desired. Trigger #1 comes into play, “Conflicting Ideas Event.”
  2. Stage 2: Idea Development. At this juncture Trigger #2 emerges, “A Negative Legitimizing Event” occurs.
  3. Stage 3: Change. It is at this point that Route A (Trajectory for Group Exit) and Route B (Trajectory for Group Retention) become visible even though often subtle. It is at this stage that the third Trigger called “The Alarm Event” becomes visible.
  4. Stage 4: Resistance. It is essential that leaders recognize that resistance to change will appear no matter what the catalyst, but during Stage 4 leaders begin to determine whether the debated changes will bring resistance that leads to Trigger 4, “A Polarizing Event” or “A Harmonizing Event.”
  5. Stage 5: Intense Conflict/Dissonant Harmony. A church in the change process will begin to demonstrate, intentionally or unintentionally, whether they will work toward unity or division. At Stage 5 on Route A, Trigger 5 gives way to “The Justifying Event.” On Route B at Stage 5 there is a carryover of Trigger 4, “The Harmonizing Event” that brings about change embedded in unity.
  6. Stage 6: Group Exit/Group Retention. The proceeding stages and triggers will determine if Stage 6 brings a “Group Exit” from a church due to polarization or if the church can embrace change in way that brings “Group Harmony” that empowers the church to become revitalized.

CONCLUSION:  Pgs. 169-182

Dr. Whitesel does an excellent job of unraveling the complex process of change that has been harmful to so many churches. The author shows leaders a very practical way of looking at change as a process of eventual growth and unity. As Whitesel writes, so it is true, “…the church can become a model to the world of conciliation, diplomacy, patience, and conflict resolution – all in the midst of change” (p.176).

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. Believe that change can be a healthy process that brings glory to God and revitalization to the local church if pursued intentionally and carefully.
  2. Empower local church leaders to understand the “6 Stages” of change that can either lead to group exit or group retention.
  3. Work together to bring about needed church transition by understanding the “Triggers” as outlined on Route A and Route B.
  4. Realize that all change will have the potential to cause “friction, tension, and uncertainly among congregants,” but through a process of “unhurried, prayer-infused, and bi-partisan strategy,” unity can be preserved and the Good News can be shared (p.170).
  5. Regularly scheduled change communication, based on the “6 Stages and the 5 Triggers,” must be woven into the fabric of every church as leaders continue to remain relevant in a constantly changing culture.