The 6-Stages & 5-Triggers That Prevent Group Exit
by Bob Whitesel, excerpted from Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It (Abingdon Press, 2003).
Stage 1: Church is relatively harmonious
Trigger 1: A new idea is introduced by members who think it will help the church.
Stage 2: The idea spreads through like minded change proponents in the church.
Here the routes diverge toward either group exit (route “A”) or group retention (route “B”) based upon if the leader makes Trigger 2 a negative legitimizing event or a positive one.
Trigger 2 (hint – do the positive one):
- Negative Legitimizing Event. The leader says…
- “good idea” or something similarly innocent,
- but the change proponents push too fast and don’t dialogue with the status quo.
- Positive Legitimizing Event. This action will keep the groups intact:
- Instead the leader slows down the change proponents,
- Telling them they must go through the proper channels and seek permission from the right committees.
- The leader then gets the change proponents to talk directly to the people who might be affected by the new idea and get their input before the change begins. We will call them the “status quo.”
- This helps the status quo feel they are part of the process and their concerns have been heard.
Stage-3 Change to Stage-4 Resistance still occur, but group exit is avoided when the leader handles correctly one more trigger:
- Trigger-4, Harmonizing Event: Though the inevitable Alarm Event occurs, the leader on route “B” towards harmony creates a “Harmonizing Event.”
- This is an event where the leader gives everyone in the church a sense that they can do more together, than apart.
- The church is seen as a “partnership of groups” where different groups partner for the good of the whole.
- The overall church’s identity is emphasized and the sub-groups are downplayed.
For more see these books and articles:
This research is based on the work of management scholars Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, who, as laymen themselves, investigated how churches polarize over change. Their groundbreaking research uncovered six stages and five triggers of church change. See Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, “The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model,” Administrative Science Quarterly (1999), 44:792–822.
In addition, I have written a book that illustrates the six stages and five triggers of Dyck and Starke with accounts of actual churches: Bob Whitesel, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003).
(The two last paragraphs are footnotes from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church, by Bob Whitesel 2010. And the figure above is from Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 177).
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