CHANGE BOUNDARIES & To Create Change That Unifies, You Need a Statement of Boundaries

Excerpted from ©Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church, Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007, pp. 133-149.

A Statement of Change Boundaries (SCB) is a description of the boundaries across which change in a local church will not go beyond. The SCB depicts the limits, borders and boundaries of principles and actions across which congregants mutually agree that change should not cross. This exercise is critical for allying fears of reticent congregants, as well as ensuring that change does not fundamentally alter a church’s nature, will or character.

Not only principles are listed, but also examples of actions which cross congregational boundaries. Thus, an SCB has the following characteristics.

  1. Some parts of the statement are evolving and some are not.
  • Not changing: Principles of the church (i.e. nature, will and character) and theology should not change.
  • Changing: Actions will change due to changes in relationships (Type-7 change) or because different action is warranted (Type-8 change).
  1. The SCB is regularly reviewed before any major change is implemented to ensure that changes do not cross predefined boundaries.
  2. The SCB is published regularity to help define the character, personality and direction of the congregation.
  3. The SCB is less than one page, single-spaced (approximately 350 words per page), with one additional page (again 350 words) of examples.
  4. The SCB is consulted whenever a potentially divisive change is considered. In such circumstances, the following action is taken:
  • The change is seen to be consistent with the SCB.
  • Or if the change crosses a boundary of the SCB the following is undertaken.
  1. Discussion is opened to consider changes in the SCB. (This would follow the format outlined later in this chapter under STEP 6.)
  2. If the change is deemed to be beyond the boundaries the congregation has currently adopted, then the change is not implemented.

8-Steps To Creating a Statement of Change Boundaries

STEP 1: Do Your Homework

Denominational Theology and Traditions

Churches have personalities and theologies based upon denominational and local histories, perspectives and convictions. To craft a Statement of Change Boundaries first requires a consultation of the denominational statement of faith. These are the basic values that undergird the network of churches to which a congregation may belong.[i] Reading and understanding each of the points in a statement of faith is a critical beginning place for understanding boundaries.

For example, a non-instrumental Church of Christ may want to ensure that musical boundaries include the denominational preference for non-instrumental worship. In these congregations, worship is conduced by voices only without musical accompaniment. This is an important distinctive for churches of this denomination, and they may wish to include a statement in their SBC that changes in worship will not cross the non-instrumental boundary into instrumental forms.

In addition, there is little that could prevent a non-instrumental congregation from having Modern Worship or even Postmodern Worship with voice accompaniment only. I have witnessed in many youthful Organic Congregations engaging and compelling worship services where instruments were eschewed in lieu of a cappella praise.

Unique Characteristics of Your Congregation

Each congregation has unique giftings[ii] that should be reflected in its Statement of Change Boundaries.[iii] Here are some examples of unique characteristics that can be found in individual congregations:

  • Some churches are uniquely gifted in music.
  • Other congregations are noted for the oratory of their speakers and teachers.
  • Churches may have unique giftings such as an emphasis upon supporting missionaries and mission programs.
  • Other congregations may have a multigenerational, multiracial, and/or multiethnic composition.
  • Often churches are known for the ministries they provide for the community, such as one or more of the following:
    • A thrift shop,
    • A food pantry,
    • A 12-step program,
    • Support for a specific community program, such as Habitat for Humanity, United Way, special educational programs, etc.,
    • A teen ministry,
    • A daycare program,
    • A preschool,
  • And churches are known for the ministries they provide for the community and congregation, such as:
    • Ministry to youth,
    • A choir,
    • A women’s ministry,
    • A men’s ministry,
    • Young Adult ministry,
    • Small groups,
    • Sunday School classes,
    • A primary and/or secondary school,

For example, a church that has a highly active Stephen Ministry program will want to ensure that this is reflected in their change boundaries. Stephen Ministry[iv] is a training program that empowers and trains volunteers within the congregation to “provide one-to-one Christian care to hurting people in and around your congregation.”[v] This program, which is highly valued and effective should be reflected in the Statement of Change Boundaries.

If a program like Stephen Ministries was not reflected in the SBC, conflict and clashes could erupt over new ideas. For example, in a church with a vibrant Stephen Ministry, a change in the church’s charter to require that all hospital visitation be conducted by ordained clergy might cross a boundary stating “we will no nothing that undermines, weakens or destabilizes our church’s Stephen Ministry.” Stephen Ministries are often highly involved in hospital visitation, and taking away this duty would severely undercut the program in many churches. When support of the Stephen Ministry is reflected in a Statement of Change Boundaries, conflicting ideas become less divisive, for those pushing for change can readily see that it goes against one of the unique characteristics of this congregation. And, this story actually happened (but unfortunately a SCB was not in place, and conflict ensured). It has been my experience that SCBs help communicate throughout a congregation those things that the church feels are important. And, as a result changes that undermine a unique congregational focus are usually not pursued.

A final example might help. A client church felt deeply that its choir, though now somewhat decimated by old age, was still a viable strength of the congregation. In fact, the community knew of this church primarily because of its gifted choir, even though they were waning in numbers. And thus, the choir leader, whose first name was Varner, was an icon in the area. Varner had led choir camps for many years at a nearby religious retreat center, and he had personally led dozens of adult choir tours to Europe. To the community and to this church, the choir director and the choir were a core competency.

A new pastor was assigned to this congregation, and he set out to attract the many Baby Boomers who lived in this area. Since there was only one Sunday worship service, and the choir took up a good portion of that service, the pastor decided that the choir should be replaced by a modern worship team. “They (the choir) only number 18 people,” the pastor recalled. “And, people have been asking for contemporary music for years.” As a result, and against this consultant’s advice, the pastor ended the choir program and replaced it with a worship team. The choir leader took me aside at my next visit and complained about the introduction of what he called “radio music.” Akin to music he heard (only in fleeting moments) on the radio, Varner was aghast that the pastor would end such an important program. Also aghast were the choir, the community and many congregants who enjoyed the choir-emphasis at the one service. As a result, many of the status quo discontinued their attendance and their support. But they did not leave the church, but rather waited in the background until either the pastor might be gone or he had made a misstep.

Several months, two pastoral missteps and much tension later, the choir was reconstituted. This time, more participants swelled its ranks, almost in protest of the pastor’s erstwhile decision. “It would have been easier if I had some indication of how much the spirit of that choir was still alive in this church,” the pastor confided. He had in the inaugural enthusiasm of his tenure overlooked the choir ministry as a unique gift of this church. He would never do so again. And thus, in this scenario a SCB could have been helpful. The SCB could have alerted a new pastor to a historical and anointed musical ministry that distinguished this church, and as such the pastor could have observed a boundary that he dared not naively cross.

STEP 2: Create An Example

Congregants often need an example of a SCB to unleash their creative juices. Examples provide a structure, a configuration and a demarcation of what you are proposing. However, this example should be just that … a model or pattern, but not a final SCB.

Download the rest of the instructions for creating Change Boundaries here: book-whitesel-excerpt-change-reaction-chpt-7-change-boundaries


[i] If a church does not belong to a denomination, then it is usually helpful to consult the statement of faith of a comparable church and/or its denomination. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure in even new and/or non-affiliated churches, that there is an awareness of historical creeds and vital elements of orthodoxy.

[ii] Saying that a local congregation has unique giftings does not indicate that these giftings are limited to only one congregation. By unique giftings I mean those congregational strengths that the Holy Spirit has empowered the congregation to contribute to the local ministry matrix. As such, these giftings will be noticed by people outside of the congregation as well as within the congregation as unique gifts of this congregation to the Lord and to the community.

[iii] Unique giftings that churches may possess are sometimes called core competencies. Core competencies are skills and attributes in which a church is uniquely gifted and which are recognized as such by the church and the community. Thus, core competencies are those things an organization does well and possess four traits: they are valuable, rare, costly to imitate, and non-substitutable. Another way to say this is that “core competencies distinguish a company competitively and reflect its personality” (Michael A. Hitt, R. Duane Ireland, and Robert E. Hoskisson, Strategic Management: Competitiveness and Globalization, 4th ed., Cincinnati, Ohio: South-Western College Publishing, 2001, p. 113). For more information about core competencies, see Hitt, et. al..

[iv] For information about Stephen Ministries, visit their website:

[v], 2007. A fuller definition is, “in Stephen Ministry congregations, lay caregivers (called Stephen Ministers) provide one-to-one Christian care to the bereaved, hospitalized, terminally ill, separated, divorced, unemployed, relocated, and others facing a crisis or life challenge. Stephen Ministry helps pastors and congregations provide quality caring ministry for as long as people need it” (Introduction to Stephen Ministry,, 2007).

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