CHURCH EXIT & New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers #LifeWay

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In my consulting on church change and church revitalization, I sometimes encounter a judicatory leader or a parent church that will want to change another church’s theology. But, research indicates that you must be very careful in doing so.

I have observed that churches many times grow around a specific theological viewpoint. Sometimes that theological view is in error, unorthodox, schismatic or heretical. In those circumstances it must be changed.

But in my experience I have also seen churches that, while they may have primarily orthodox beliefs, have a unique view on (what John Wesley would call) nonessential theological points. These might include issues such as charismatic gifts, healing, modes of baptism, etc.

In such latter circumstances, the research cited below indicates that we should move cautiously when changing a theological perspective if it is not an essential orthodox belief … or church exit might occur.

Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers

Don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers
Image: via LifeWay Research

… Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher.

But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.

Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.

Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.

“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”

Churchgoers stay put

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers—those who attend services at least once a month—to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.

Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.

Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.

Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure.

“Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor,” said McConnell.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/july/churchgoers-stick-around-for-theology-not-music-or-preacher

GROUP EXIT & The answer to my exercise on how to respond to change proponents

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/02/17.

An exercise to understand how to handle new ideas.

I created an exercise (at this link) to help colleagues, students and clients identify how they should respond to people who bring new ideas to them. According to research by Dyke and Stark when a leader or a person in power gives even slight encouragement to “change proponents,” they will usually run too fast with the new idea and polarize the congregation in the process. The key when someone brings you a new idea, is instead to “Go Slow, Build Consensus and Succeed” (read an overview in the chapter by that name in Preparing for Change Reaction). You can also read more about how this happens in Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press) as well as an excerpted short introduction from on it from my book “Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Wesleyan Publishing House) at this link.

But, if you have undertaken the exercise (at this link) then below is the answer to the question regarding which option (Option A, Option B or Option C) was the “negative legitimizing event.”


(spoiler alert – do the exercise first)


The answer it is not as simple as many think at first view. That is because a negative “legitimizing” event is not the same as a negative event.

Let me explain.  Here is the negative event:

Option 1: Pastor H tells the congregation the church is going to implement Sunday evening small groups.

Most of you correctly saw this as a negative event because the pastor announced the change without first vetting it with the congregation, its leadership and even the naysayers. You all noticed that it was negative event. And, some of you were influenced by its negativity to see it as a negative legitimizing event. However it is not a negative “legitimizing event,” just a “negative event.”

Let me explain further: Here is the negative “legitimizing” event:

Option 2: Pastor D tells Pastor H he must be firm and forceful with the congregation.

What happens differently in a negative “legitimizing” event is that some person “legitimizes a new idea” and as a result the person wishing to implement the new idea moves too quickly. Pastor D “legitimized” the idea in away that would result in Pastor H moving too quickly and having a negative outcome.

So this was a “legitimizing” event that resulted in a negative outcome = negative legitimizing event.

Both Option 1 and Option 2 were negative events.

But, only Option 2 was a negative event where someone “legitimized” the idea. And, the person pushing for the idea (in this case pastor H) moved to quickly.

The lesson to draw from this, is that you must be careful when people bring a new idea to you. If you say to them, “Hey, Good idea” you might think you’re just being encouraging… but you will probably be legitimizing. You probably meant, “Hey, let’s look into it.” But change proponents are so stoked to move forward with this new idea they have been discussing, that they instead hear you say, “Hey, fantastic idea. Let’s move ahead with it.”

It is this “legitimizing” or “supporting” someone else’s new idea without first slowing that other person down that results in a negative event … which grew out of a “legitimizing action.”

So, for Pastor D to instead create a positive legitimizing event, he would’ve done this;

Option 2B: Pastor D tells Pastor H he must slow down, build consensus and even listen to the naysayers before he implements his new idea about small groups.

What happens is that Pastor D “legitimizes” Pastor H’s new idea in a manner that results in a positive outcome: hence, a “positive,” “legitimizing” “event.”

This is a important point to remember when people come to you with new ideas… because their success often depends on how you react.

FIGURE Staying Power Process Model p. 177For more info see Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church, by Bob Whitesel 2010.  The figure is from Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 177).

See also:

Bruno Dyke and Frederick A. Starke, “The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model,” Administrative Science Quarterly 44 (Ithaca, NY: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University, 1999), 792-822.

Bruno Dyke and Frederick A. Starke, “Upheavals in Congregations: The Causes and Outcomes of Splits,” Review of Religious Research 38 (NY: Religious Research Association, 1996), 159-174.

Louis R. Pondy, “Organizational Conflict: Concepts and Models,” Administrative Science Quarterly 12 (Ithaca, NY: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University, 1999), 296-320

GROUP EXIT & My video intro re. how to change a church w/o losing members

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/26/17.

This is another video introduction I’ve recorded for my colleagues, students and clients regarding how to prevent group exit. Students may find this video helpful in understanding their homework on the topic.

More notes that can help the learner watching this presentation are available at the link below:

https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/change-preventing-group-exit-2/

And, see this link for more material on group exit and how to prevent it:

https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/?s=staying+power

keywords: LEAD 600 545 Staying Power group exit Dyke and Starke Go Slow, build consensus and succeed Preparing for Change Reaction

NEW IDEAS & 7 Lessons for Avoiding A Church Split When You Introduce a New Idea

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2009.

For 20+ years I have studied how to successfully employ intervention events (i.e. introducing “new ideas” such as new programs, new pastor, etc. to intervene in a church’s decline).  Below are my top 7 tips for successfully doing so.

These insights are needed today, because a growing literature in church management and group exit suggests that without an understanding of some of the following lessons, most attempts to introduce an intervention event will not start the church on a new life-cycle, but rather split it into two smaller groups of which neither will survive.

However, seven (7) lessons are introduced (below) to make the change agent aware that before she or he creates an intervention event, they must also be prepared to study and manage the process that follows that intervention.

Lesson 1: Usually, intervention events will produce a church exit. Arn (2009) is correct that life-cycles play an important role in managing organization behavior. Management researchers Dyke and Starke (1999:810-811) concur with Arn that new life-cycles can be fostered by, in Arn’s words, “beginning something new … an intervention event” (2009:9). However, group studies literature warns that introducing an intervention event, with proper knowledge of the six-stage process model involved, will in all likelihood produce a group exit (Dyke and Starke, 1996, 1999).

Lesson 2: Usually, intervention events produce a group exit, because intervention events usually polarize the church into competing groups. Pondy (1967) discovered that introducing an idea which conflicts with a organization’s status quo, usually produces enough conflict for opposing sub-groups to form. Dyke and Starke label one group (the group proposing change) “change proponents” and the resistant group the “status quo” (1999:805-806)

Lesson 3: Most people aren’t polarized from each other, until an intervention event. Dyke and Starke concur with Pondy’s conclusion that “felt conflict follows manifest conflict” (1967). This means that most people won’t get upset until after they witness some visible or “manifest” intervention (e.g. see Arn’s list of “intervention events,” 2009:9) over which they disagree with others.[1] Thus, when an interventionist (Schaller 1997) uncritically introduces or supports an intervention, a visible (i.e. manifest) conflict event often ensues which then gets previously non-conflicted people riled up. The intervention event creates such deep internal felt conflict in individuals, that the result is a deep-seated conflict that usually spins out of control (Dyke and Starke 1996). Some may wonder if the conflict that results from intervention events is unavoidable, but Dyke and Starke have demonstrated that it is not (ibid). This leads us to the lesson 4.

Lesson 4: If the reaction to the intervention event is not managed, the change proponents will leave as a group, create a new organization that will compete with the mother congregation, and usually both groups will die. Dyke and Starke (1996:159-174) discovered that typically such intervention events propel Pondy’s sub-group into a trajectory that leads to a “spin-off” or “unplanned birth” of a competitive organization. Lau and Murnigham (1998) observe that the ensuing “we-they” competition creates two unstable organizations. Case study research has supported the grounded theory of Lau and Murningham, and Dyke and Starke (Whitesel 2004, 2009:151-169). An ecclesial organization will usually not have sufficient economy of scale to survive this exit behavior, especially if the sub-group that exits the organization is comprised of change proponents (as it usually is, according to Dyke and Starke 1999:810-811).

Lesson 5: To manage the results of an Intervention Event, ecclesial leaders must understand the “Process Model for Group Exit and Retention.” If an ecclesial leader wishes to retain her or his change proponents, an intervention event should not be undertaken without a preparation to manage the ensuing process model of group exit (an organizational model has been put forth by Dyke and Starke, 1999; and a simpler model has been put forth by Whitesel 2007, 2009:151-169, 177).

Lesson 6: At Trigger 2, go slow … build consensus … and succeed. Church leaders that keep their congregations unified and thwart group exit, undertake two (2) of the “trigger events” differently (Dyke and Starke 1999: 811-815). Trigger 1 (a legitimating event) occurs when change proponents bring a new idea to a leader, and the leader enthusiastically “blesses” or “inadvertently legitimates” the new idea. Dyke and Starke found that if the leader does so, change proponents will run too fast with the new idea. While the status quo will be initially tolerant, they will later resent the fact that they were not consulted. The result is a church split (and group exit). Instead, leaders that kept their church unified went slow … built consensus … and succeeded. When new ideas were brought to a church leader, the uniting leader slowed down the change proponents, encouraged them to go through proper channels (creating compromise and consensus), and even had them dialogue with people who the church leader knew would be suspicious, apprehensive and/or contrary.

Lesson 7: At Trigger 4 the effective leader plans for conflict, uses conflict-resolution skills and emphasizes the power of unity. Dyke and Starke found that even when Trigger 2 was handled correctly, conflict will still occur. However, the unifying leader plans for conflict, and when it arises, he or she brings the different sides together to stress that they can do more together than apart. Therefore, instead of a “polarizing event” on the route to group exit, Trigger 4 becomes a “harmonizing event” on the route to group retention and “dissonant harmony” (Dyke and Starke1999:811-815). Thus, a uniting leader plans for conflict, learns conflict resolution skills, and is adept at inspiring a church to see it can do more together, than apart.

If a leader wishes to assist the church in embarking upon a new lifecycle which Arn laudably suggests (rather than fostering more typical group exit behavior) then he or she should familiarize themselves with the process model of group exit (Dyke and Starke 1999:813, Whitesel 2003:177).

[1] This initial repression may be due to Christians typically eschewing conflict (Whitesel 2003:85-93).

FIGURE Staying Power Process Model p. 177

Citations:

Charles Arn, “Where is Your Church in Its Missional Lifecycle?” (Marion, Ind.: Indiana Wesleyan University, 2009).

Bruno Dyke and Frederick A. Starke, “The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model,” Administrative Science Quarterly 44 (Ithaca, NY: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University, 1999), 792-822.

Bruno Dyke and Frederick A. Starke, “Upheavals in Congregations: The Causes and Outcomes of Splits,” Review of Religious Research 38 (NY: Religious Research Association, 1996), 159-174.

Louis R. Pondy, “Organizational Conflict: Concepts and Models,” Administrative Science Quarterly 12 (Ithaca, NY: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University, 1999), 296-320

Dora Lau and J. Keith Murnigham, “Demographic Diversity and Faultlines: The Compositional Dynamics of Organizational Groups,” Academy of Management Review 23, 325-340)

Lyle Schaller, The Interventionist (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997).

Bob Whitesel, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004).

Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2008).

 

GROUP EXIT & A Review of “Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church And What You Can Do About It” (Abingdon Press)

Quote: “After reading the first chapter, I made a public proclamation that I had wished I had read this book 20 years ago, when I first started in ministry … I recommend every pastor have a copy handy.”

By Rev. Jeff Lawson, lead pastor, Life Church, 1/19/16.

It is with strong conviction that I recommend the book “Staying Power Why People Leave the Church And What You Can Do About It” (Abingdon Press). After reading the first chapter, I made a public proclamation that I had wished I had read this book 20 years ago when I first started in ministry. It is that powerful of a book.

Undeniable statistics, true life stories, and facts and figures are used from cover to cover.

I quickly found while pastoring my first church that there is a constant struggle between the ‘Status Quo’ and the ‘Change Proponents’ in the life of the local church. The book explains that, change means moving from comfortable experiences to more unfamiliar territory. The Change Proponents desire to see the church move and reach new heights that have never been experienced in the life of their church. The Status Quo cling to what they hold dear.

In my previous church, it was my desire to remove a large portion of an existing altar that separated the pulpit from the seating area. I was told during an impromptu congregational meeting that “the day that altar was tampered with would be my final day in this church”.

The misunderstanding between the two camps is that the Change Proponents are not desiring to hurt the local church. Their desire is to see growth happen through new techniques that are unfamiliar to the Status Quo. With that, the Status Quo feel threatened and believe that those things that they hold dear and have grown accustomed to will be taken away or hurt forever. Those people in my previous church did not want to think about changing the existing layout of the auditorium. In their opinion it would forever effect their way of worshiping.

If I had read Staying Power 20 years ago I would have realized that there is a process that needs to be followed.

Through a series of short stories sharing both stages and triggers, Staying Power helps the reader to see that the gap between the Change Proponents and the Status Quo can be bridged.

Whitesel diagrams the process of change like a coach would draw out a play on a blackboard for a team to execute to win a big game. Whitesel shares the process of introducing change with both potential conflicts and struggles to keep the team on the path towards harmony and understanding amongst everyone in both an understandable, but more importantly, godly way.

Many of the remnant in my previous church remember decades ago when the altar was filled every Sunday. When I became pastor the church had dwindled to 35 in attendance on a ‘good Sunday’. It had been almost a decade since the church had seen one convert. One important point that Whitesel brings out is that ‘The Good Old Days’ may not have actually have been so good after all. He points out that periods of congregational peace may seem more harmonious than they actually were. As humans it is our natural tendency to only hold on to those memories that are warm and fuzzy and try to always paint things in a positive manner regardless if they were positive or not. Seeing the building updated was 100% driven by me, as pastor.

Another important point that must be remembered is that diplomacy dictates the leader be a moderator and facilitator of unity. It is integral not to take sides.

Today I understand that my calling as pastor is to serve the local church and not to try to make things to go the way that I think best. Whitesel explains that authority figures must be careful about what they say, as well as when they say it, and do not let passions erupt into poor decisions. Check your emotions at the door, or don’t go.

It is integral to keep in mind that everyone is on the same team and we serve the same God. Staying Power points out that through prayer, open and honest discussions, a willingness to both listen as well as share, and an open mind, change can happen and be a good thing. If rushed or tried to be pushed through with unnecessary authority, no one will truly win. Staying Power will remain on my shelf and be used as an important tool moving forward, and I recommend every pastor have a copy handy.

GROUP EXIT & A Review of “Leading Change” by John Kotter (Harvard Business Review Press)

Quotes: “Change sticks only when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’ when it seeps into the very bloodstream of the work unit or corporate body … (but) The combination of cultures that resist change and managers who have not been taught how to create change is lethal… In an organization with 100 employees, at least two dozen must go far beyond the normal call of duty to produce a significant change” (Kotter).”

By Rev. Jeff Lawson, lead pastor, Life Church, Aurora, IN, 1/19/16.

Leading Change by John P Kotter was not written for pastors, but it is my conviction that every pastor should read this book. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to any person who is involved in leadership.

In this rapidly changing world, Kotter gives a clear cut guide regarding how to be a leader that champions change. He says, “Change sticks only when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’ when it seeps into the very bloodstream of the work unit or corporate body.” So the process for the leader is to take the idea and slowly work to develop a guiding coalition until it becomes the norm.

When I pastored in Illinois the church quickly went from a church of 30 to a church of 100 in less than a year. Every single Sunday would bring new faces to our growing congregation. With those new faces came new problems. I believe if I had read Leading Change before I arrived at my church that I would have been ready to handle the coming problems.

There are potential pitfalls that the leader must foresee and battle. One of those battles are with those who oppose the change. Kotter says, “The combination of cultures that resist change and managers who have not been taught how to create change is lethal.” This is why it is imperative that the leader is prepared for opposition. I was not prepared in my church in Illinois.

I challenged the congregation that if we had 100 in attendance for Easter Sunday that they could put a pie in my face. We had more than 150 with more than a dozen first time decisions for Christ. I exclaimed during the service that we had a unique problem. I told them we had to begin to think about adding on to receive the new attenders that God was sending us. The next day the elders came in with another option. It was time for me to resign my position as pastor. I was all wrong on how I introduced change and those who opposed it had already dug in their heels.

In retrospect I should have spent more time in building the vision of the church to the leadership. Kotter says, “Vision plays a key role in producing useful change by helping direct, align, and inspire actions on the part of large numbers of people.” If the leadership had walked the path to see the vision coming to fruition it would have been more feasible for them to accept the needed change that they were experiencing. What I was proposing was coming solely at this time from me. Kotter says, “In an organization with 100 employees, at least two dozen must go far beyond the normal call of duty to produce a significant change.” I had yet to build a team that was ready to see the vision happen.

Even with the church growing, people coming to Christ, the giving at an all-time high, and an eager excitement oozing from the new attenders I failed to realize what Kotter said, “Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.” When the elders came to me the next morning they had more than enough support to ask for my resignation. “A strong guiding coalition is always needed-one with the right composition, level of trust, and shared objective.” I had none of these, and by the time that my District Superintendent got involved, it was too late

The problems in my church were good problems, but even so, they were problems. I wonder at times how things might have been different if I had introduced change at a slower pace with better methods and a grand plan.

Thankfully we can learn from our mistakes and learn from competent leaders like Kotter and break such cycles.

GROUP EXIT & Examples with Prescriptions That Prevent Groups Leaving During Change

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min, Ph.D., 10/28/15.

I have explained the 6-stages & 5-triggers that lead to groups exiting a church in two books and at these links: GROUP EXIT & Preventing Group Exit During Change and Group Exit Articles. To visualize the critical misstep to which leaders fall prey when they create a “negative legitimizing event,” I have posted below several case-study examples.

These are real stories that demonstrate real situations where the pastor made a misstep and created a “negative legitimizing event.”  Though the names are changed, it was because of the conflict that ensued that these churches wound up hiring me to consult for them.  They are among many others who have said they were helped immeasurably by seeing the stages and triggers that lead people to exit their churches in groups.

A simple event sequence toward group exit:

  • First Church has many Sunday Schools, but nothing for congregants like Brad who work Sunday mornings (Stage 1: Relative Harmony).
  • Brad goes to a seminar at another church that explains an exciting new small group program that meets on Sunday evening (Trigger 1: Conflicting Ideas Event).
  • Brad goes to Pastor Jerry and explains this new program, and tells how he has recruited his friends and that they will help run it.  The pastor sees that this could help the church and responds, “this sounds like exactly what we need.” (Trigger 2: Negative Legitimizing Event, because the pastor has inadvertently given Brad and his team carte blanche and they will move too fast, alarming the status quo.)
  • Brad and his friends begin to organize and publicize how they will start this small group program at their church (Stage 3: Change).
  • Brad gets the pastor to throw his support behind the program, and the pastor pleads with the congregation from the pulpit to attend this program, saying “even if you have a Sunday School you go to, you need this group too!” (Trigger 3: Alarm Event, because most people already have a Sunday School, which is their small group, and now they are being urged to attend yet another small group.)

Here is how Pastor Jerry could have handled this differently, and create a “Positive Legitimizing Event:”

  • Trigger 2 on Route B – Group Retention: Pastor Jerry says, “Brad, this is very interesting.  I want you and I to talk to some of the opinion makers in our church about this.”  When they do, Pastor Jerry and Brad learn that some people are leery of this program, for they feel Brad and Pastor Jerry in their enthusiasm will make them attend Sunday evening small groups in addition to their Sunday School classes.  Pastor Jerry and Brad realize that Sunday Schools are a type of small group, and so they approach the Sunday School attendees by saying: “We want to start a new type of small group on Sunday evening, for people like Brad that can’t make a smaller intimate group like Sunday School in the morning.  In fact, we’re going to call them ‘Sunday Evening Sunday Schools.’  Would you help us get the word out and to pray for this?”
  • Group Retention:  This actually happened to a client church, and now the church has many “Sunday Evening Sunday Schools” and even a growing ministry they call “Wednesday Evening Sunday Schools.”

A more complex event sequence toward group exit:

  • Vintage Church has a Sunday morning church service that runs about 40 in attendance, and 15 in a choir.  It is a traditional service, with favorite hymns and a standard liturgical structure (Stage 1: Relative Harmony).
  • Pastor Mary’s job is to reach out to people under 35.  She attends a seminar on Ancient-Future Worship, where ancient elements like liturgy are added to modern elements such as rock music, to create a vintage, yet modern feel (Trigger 1: Conflicting Ideas Event).
  • Mary shares her excitement over such a program with the lead pastor, saying “young people like ancient elements wed with modern music.  If we can just get the older people at the first service to modify their service some, we can transition their traditional service into something that will attract more people.”  Pastor Mike responds, “sounds interesting.  Why don’t you go to them and work with them on implementing this idea?”  Now, on the surface this seems like a “Positive Legitimizing Event” because Pastor Mike is telling Mary to go to the status quo people and work with them.  But, the status quo are loyal to Pastor Mike, and Pastor Mary has never been their shepherd.  Thus, when Pastor Mike sent Mary to the status quo instead of himself, he didn’t create the broad support that is needed for a new idea to succeed.  (Thus, this was a Trigger 2: A Negative Legitimizing Event).
  • Mary tried to make some changes in the traditional service (Stage 3; Change),
  • But because Mary didn’t know the older people, she stepped on some toes (Trigger 3: Alarm Event)
  • The traditional service attendees began to slow down and even stop Mary’s changes (Stage 4: Resistance).
  • Mary got frustrated and shared her frustrations with Pastor Mike, who went to the older service and criticized them for making Mary feel bad.  The status quo tried working behind the scenes to get Mary moved back to overseeing just younger people.  But, Mary was so hurt in her failure that she resigned (Trigger 4: Polarization Event).
  • Both sides blamed the other for Mary’s departure (Stage 5: Intense Conflict).
  • Who is at fault?  The real person at fault was Pastor Mike, because he didn’t know about the key Trigger 2: the Legitimizing Event, and how to make it a positive event, rather than a negative event.

Here is what Pastor Mike might have said at Trigger 2: Legitimizing Event, to make it a “positive” and not a “negative” event:  

  • Trigger 2 on Route B – Group Retention: “Mary, I can tell you are excited about this idea.  And, I want to ensure it succeeds. Thus, we are going to need to take some time to help the traditional service attendees decide if this is for them.  And, even if they decide they want to go this route, there are some power-brokers that we will need to go to and listen to about their concerns.  In fact, I will need to go with you, not because I don’t trust you, but because I have been the pastor to these older members.  They will be more open to sharing their deepest concerns and opinions with me because of that history.”
  • Group Retention: The traditional service attendees decided they did not want to change, but they agreed to pray for and help the church launch a successful new service called: Vintage Faith.

GROUP EXIT & An Executive Summary of How to Prevent Church Splits

by Matt McCarrick (Missional Coach), 10/25/15.

In Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (And What You Can do About It), Bob Whitesel dissects a framework for the change process in an organization. This framework is based on the work of Bruno Dyck and Frederick Starke in realm of business. However, Whitesel discovered that this framework could be overlaid over any organization, including the local church. This framework maps out how change occurs in an organization and how two groups of people, the “change proponents” and the “status quo” react to this change. Whitesel outlines six key stages to change in an organization: Relative harmony, idea development, change, resistance, intense conflict, and group exit. Whitesel also uncovers five triggers that act as catalysts to each of the six stages.

In Stage 1, Relative Harmony, churches are content, live in concord, and are able to handle some conflict. There is not total peace, but the church experiences overall harmony. In Stage 1, churches are faced with the issue of complacency. Many churches think they are successful or in a simple state of plateau. However, once outside factors are considered, such as population growth or a change in the generational or ethical culture of the area, it may discovered that the church is actually losing ground. It is at this point that a subgroup within the church will seek change.

Stage 2 is Idea Development and is triggered by a Conflicting Ideas event. It is this event that the subgroup makes its voice heard and begins to call for change within the church to address an issue of problem. A Conflicting Ideas event can be leadership books that are being passed out by the subgroup, having a guest speaker one Sunday, a private study by members of the subgroup, or attending worship seminars and conferences. In Stage 2, the change proponents begin to form new ideas, although at this point, it is still informal. Polarization of the change proponents and the status quo are beginning to take hold.

Change begins to take place in Stage 3. This stage is triggered by a Legitimizing Event. This event could either be a positive or negative event. This is a critical juncture in the change process as the Legitimizing Event will place the change process on one of two paths, one leading to a positive outcome with the other path leading to group exit. The negative Legitimizing Event usually takes place when a leader blesses the ideas of the change proponents, even unknowingly.

Once the change proponents begin to act on their ideas, the third trigger happens. This is the Alarm Event. The Alarm Event occurs when the status quo believes the change proponents are moving too quickly or down the wrong path. This trigger activates Stage 4, Resistance. There are two types of Resistance, one for path A and one for path B. On path A leading to group exit, the Resistance leads the status quo to form a subgroup and prepare to stand for their cause. On path B, Resistance is met with positive communication and is strategic and not hurried along. The status quo does not form a subgroup in path B.

On the negative path A, a Polarizing Event (trigger 4) leads to Stage 5, Intense Conflict. This polarizing event is usually a public event where one of the groups feels offended or attacked. This event has a permanent effect on the relationship and communication between the status quo and the change proponents. On the positive path B, there is a harmonizing event that elevates the unity and vision of the entire congregation. According to Whitesel, this leads to Dissonant Harmony, where each group is able to live with the other, even if some conflict exists.

Stage 6 has two options: Group exit for path A or group retention for path B. On path A, stage 6 is triggered by a Justifying Event. This event views unity as unreachable between the two factions. It justifies the motivation of the group that leaves. However, if time has been taken for the groups to be heard and unity to be achieved, no justifying event needs to take place and the result is group retention.

Whitesel does an excellent job of outlining the change process in a way anyone can understand. Staying Power takes the complicated situation of change in an organization and breaks it down into six stages and five triggering events.

What I found most interesting was that, even though there are six stages to change, the critical event happens all the way back at trigger 2: having a positive or negative legitimizing event. Based on Whitesel’s advice, a church is then able to back up and create a new legitimizing event, moving from negative to positive. By taking time and listening to both sides, the two groups of the status quo and the change proponents can live in harmony with little conflict. Change can take place with no group exit.

GROUP EXIT & How a Negative Legitimizing Event Can Push People Out of Your Church … (and How a Negative Decision is Different)

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/24/15.

I’ve written about how research reveals you can prevent group exits in churches by altering two “triggers” during the process of introducing a new idea.  The first trigger you must alter is called a “negative Legitimizing event.”  Here a person in leadership (usually a pastor) legitimizes a new idea and the “change proponents” begin to run too fast with their new idea. This headlong speed will eventually lead to “status quo congregants” feeling left behind and polarized.  The result is polarization in the church between the change proponents (who you need for cultivating new ideas) and the status quo (who you need because they control the finances and have experience).

I have written a book describing this (Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press) as well as created a short introduction in my “Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Wesleyan Publishing House) at this link.

But, a negative legitimizing event is very different from a “negative decision.”  And, often my students confuse the two.

So, I thought I’d share a little bit more clarity on what comprises a Negative Legitimizing Event. This is because at first reading, students can miss-identify the “negative legitimizing event” as simply a “negative decision.”  It is really more than that with many of you correctly identifying a “negative legitimizing event.”

But, for further clarity let me explain how I once addressed the difference between a “negative legitimizing event” and a “negative event” with a student.   You see, sometimes students don’t find the “negative legitimizing event,” but instead describe a “negative decision” a leader has undertaken.

Here is an example of what a student once said:

”My Negative Legitimizing Event: The senior pastor at the time felt that the church financially could not sustain a full time assistant pastor. So, in order to pay bills and for the church to be financially stable, the senior pastor and the local board of administration, decided to eliminate the position of the assistant, which was for all purposes, the position of a youth pastor, one specializing in the ministry towards teens from ages 12 to 18.”  This person is a good student, but was thinking I was asking for a “negative event” and thus described a “negative decision event.”

Here is my response:

A “Negative Legitimizing Event” is different.  It is a decision by someone in power (Pastor Jim in the textbook, Whitesel, 2007, p. 158, para. 1) who legitimizes a change, without first building broad support for it.  A “Negative Legitimizing Event” probably happened in this student’s story, but he did not make it clear when and by who.

Thus, if you have questions (or if you are a student, before you post your answer to this week’s questions) reread pp. 157-158 (Whitesel, 2007), plus look at the Questions for Group Study on pp. 157 (especially “Trigger 2”). This should help you identify who/when/where did someone in power legitimize a change without first building broad support. And, thus the leader’s “legitimizing” of a change, would result in a “negative” outcome and lead the church down ROUTE A to group exit.

FIGURE Staying Power Process Model p. 177

For more info see Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church, by Bob Whitesel 2010.  The figure is from Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 177).

GROUP EXIT & An Exercise to Help You Notice When People Are Preparing to Leave a Church

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/23/15.

Research indicates there are six stages and five triggers that occur before groups exit a church in disgust.  But research also demonstrates that be altering just two triggers, you can prevent group exit.  I have written an entire book on this (Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press) as well as excerpted a short introduction from on it from my book “Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Wesleyan Publishing House) at this link.  If you have not already done so, read the link before undertaking the exercise.

For this leadership exercise, investigate how to correctly spot (and not replicate) “Negative Legitimizing Events.” This exercise is called “Locate the Negative Legitimizing Event.” It is similar to pin the tail on the donkey.

We begin with a scenario with three actors.

1  Read the story and tell us which one created a Negative Legitimizing Event.

2 Then, create your own story.

2.1  Make it about a ministry-related situation and include three characters.

2.2  Then give us three options for the person who committed the management faux paux: i.e. they created a “Negative Legitimizing Event.”

I’ll start.

Pastor H had been a proponent of Sunday evening small groups, and he had spoken on this at many denominational seminars.  Pastor H thinks Sunday evening small groups might work for this new church, and he consults a nearby pastor (Pastor D) who tells Pastor H, “you must be firm with them.  They’ve drove off other pastors and they will if you aren’t forceful with them.”  Pastor H decided that Sunday evening small groups had been successful in his previous church. Thus, he decided to announce to the congregation that everyone should go to Sunday evening small groups, even if they were already involved in committees, Sunday Schools, etc..  He announced this from the pulpit. Pastor J is a retired pastor who attends the church and was sitting in the audience.  Pastor J begins to call others congregants from his Sunday School class to complain.

Here are the options for a “Negative Legitimizing Event”

Option 1:  Pastor H tells the congregation the church is going to implement Sunday evening small groups.
Option 2:  Pastor D tells Pastor H he must be firm and forceful with the congregation.
Option 3:  Pastor J calls other congregants from his Sunday School class to complain.

Now, if you are not a student in one of my courses you can find the answer here.  But, if you are a student, please undertake this exercise before you click the link for the answer.  And, if you got the answer wrong share a bit more in class regarding what you learned.

FIGURE Staying Power Process Model p. 177

For more info see Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church, by Bob Whitesel 2010.  The figure is from Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 177).

POWER PLAYS & A Leadership Exercise to Uncover When Influence is Abused (& what to do)

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/6/15.

An important exercise for leaders is to reflect and address abuse of influence by others … and by ourselves.  Here is the leadership exercise I use with my students and which is suited to be utilized with leadership teams:

1)  To delve into the difficult even sometimes shadowy, but always critical area of the “abuse of influence” the leadership exercise begins with rereading  two pages from Wayne Schmidt’s Power Plays: Overcome the Need for Control and Learn to Live with Strength and Integrity (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2006, pp. 155-156).

2) Then take 10 minutes of quiet reflection in prayer.  Spend this time communing with God, asking Him to show you how this lesson from your textbook relates to you and your ministry.

3)  Then write down in one paragraph your thoughts.

4)  Finally, share with your team (or classmates) what you can.  Don’t divulge anything that might be too personal.  But, share what God has taught you about your own abuse of influence.  Write a paragraph or two.

I’ll start.

I have to admit that abuse of influence is a difficult area to address, for in my early years of ministry I succumbed to it without realizing it.  I often saw naysayers as a hindrance that must be confronted and if not compliant, be encouraged to go elsewhere.  I did not see them as God-given mediators, that might help broaden my vision.  Rather, it was the people who caught my vision who I wanted to join me, and it seemed a waste of time (as Schmidt says on p. 156) to “move people who are negative about the church to a position of neutrality and people who are neutral about the church to a place of positive contribution.”  It just seemed too much effort and too slow, and besides I was leading a young church plant and we had plenty of new attendees always joining our church.  A loss of a few was no great loss.  At that same time I began to be asked to conduct church growth consulting for churches due to my doctoral work at Fuller Seminary.  As I consulted for churches, I suddenly was exposed to the other side of the issue.  I consulted for many aging churches, and here I met dear senior saints who the world, and often their pastor, had left behind in the name of progress.  I conducted focus groups with all people at the church, and I heard story after story of how their long-years of sacrifice and commitment were now called into question because they were of a different generation (i.e. culture).  I began to realize that I had not worked with the people God had sent me in the past, but often dismissed them because they did not resonate culturally with my strategies.  Rather, I began to see in my consulting practice that my lack of compromise on methodology (still I never compromised on theology) was an abuse of influence.  To right this wrong has been my mission since.  My books have focused upon the research that shows that churches grow best (Dyke and Starke, 1999, pp. 800-803), not when they have what Schmidt calls “body counts” (2000, p. 156), but when the Body of Christ grows together in unity (Acts 2:44).

So, how about you?  What did God show you during your quiet time?

Yet, if this is too personal of a question, here is an out.  As an alternative question answer the following from Power Plays (p. 156):  Is “a high body count … a sign of healthy change or a symptom of the abuse of power?”

CHANGE & First Aid for a Change Gone Bad

by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, (Orlando, FL: Greater Orlando Baptist Assoc.), Jan-Feb. 2015, pp. 48-49, http://issuu.com/renovate-conference/docs/jan-feb-2015-the-church-revitalizer?e=0/12149636

7 Steps To Recovering From a Church Revitalization Misstep

As an active church-revitalization consultant of 20+ years, I knew “church change” was understudied. This drove me to Fuller Seminary to earn my third degree there: a Ph.D. with a focus on church change. A resultant book, Preparing for Change Reaction: How To Introduce Change in Your Church, was awarded co-resource of the year by a national magazine. And, people often come up at conferences and tell me how helpful it is.

But people also come up and say,” What do I do now that I made a bad change?! How do I get out of that?!”

I realized leaders are often too stressed when everything is going wrong to find the answer in the book. So, I decided to set out in this article an overview of the “7 Steps to Recovering from Bad Change.”

Step 1: Take a breath. Once you realize a change is bad, your natural inclination is to rush in and halt the change … or plunge forward more earnestly. Both actions will usually doom the change, because you have “two emerging camps.” One camp we will call the change proponents and the other camp we will call the status quo.

On the one hand, change proponents (people pushing for the change) are excited about the change and stopping it abruptly will alienate them. And on the other hand the status quo (people who want to keep things the way they are) will step up their resistance if they feel you are ham-fistedly moving forward.

But, you may ask, “What’s wrong with alienating the status quo? They aren’t the future. Go ahead, let them leave.” That might be an option if they would actually leave, but research indicates the status quo will likely not leave the church. If change polarizes, research shows change proponents will leave, not the status quo. Then you are stuck with an angry status quo (not something many pastors can survive). So from the very beginning of this process, you have to figure out how to move forward while living with both the status quo and the change proponents.

So instead of stopping abruptly or driving forward, tell everyone you are going to talk to people about the change and take some time to pray about it. Tell them that though the change will continue, it will do so more slowly and you are praying to find consensus. This gives the status quo a chance to see you are aware things aren’t quite going well. The change proponents will also be pleased that you understand the change is causing division.

Step 2: Talk to the naysayers. Research confirms that you must go to those who are against the change and listen to them. Don’t act immediately on any of their suggestions, this is just a “fact finding” visit. People against the change usually just want to be heard. They care for the church too! They just want to ensure that your change does not take away something that is important to them.

Pastors seem to have a hard time with this step. In my consultative practice, it seems many pastors exhibit conflict-avoidance behavior. Unfortunately, this will usually doom a church into warring factions unless the pastor takes up the role of moderator: bringing disparate people together in mission.

Step 3: Bring together the status quo and the change proponents. The pastor can be the moderator, but must not appear to take sides (even if they have in the past). Again, research cited in the book shows that when two sides get together they can come up with a “hybrid-plan” that works for both sides and works better than a plan with input from only one side.

Step 4: Apologize for not getting more input. You are not apologizing for the change, but for the data gathering beforehand. Everyone could do more data gathering. But, maybe you are thinking, “Hey, I shouldn’t have to apologize. I’m the leader.” Or maybe even “Why should I apologize, it was their idea?” And yes, the change may have been thrust upon you or you may have felt that they hired you to bring about change. But, as Jim Collins found when researching why healthy companies fall, it is often because leaders develop hubris that they make bad decisions. Hubris means a pride and ambition based upon education, social status, professional status or experience. Collins found the best leaders are ready to say, “I may have made a misstep here.”

Step 5: Implement the hybrid-plan. This may be the easiest step. Still snags will develop. But, because you got the two sides talking to one another in Step 3, it is easier now to get them back together to work out challenges.   A key here is that the pastor does not get between the two sides, or else both sides will take pot-shots at the pastor. Let them work out and adjust their hybrid plan together. You can be the coach, but for success they must be the players.

Step 6: Evaluate. This is a key step, that is often neglected. Evaluation adjusts strategies and increases impact. And, if you are going to adjust your strategies it is good to have both the status quo and change proponents doing the adjusting. So, just like in Steps 3 and 5, get together the two sides (after a month or so, sooner is better) and ask them to talk about what is working and what is not. Ask them to adjust their hybrid-plan.

Step 7: Bathe the whole process in prayer and listen to God. Both sides should be encouraged to pray, since the status quo and the change proponents, really in their hearts want the same thing: a church that is healthy and growing. Remember, when Jesus prayed for those that would follow Him down through history He prayed for our unity and for impact, praying “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

Bio: Bob Whitesel is nationally-recognized church revitalization consultant, who holds a Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary on church change and has been called by a national magazine “the chief spokesperson on change theory in the church today.” In addition to consulting he serves as founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University and their professor of Missional Leadership.

For more details on the “7 Steps” or information on church revitalization and growth consultations with Dr. Whitesel, visit http://www.BobWhitesel.com or http://www.ChurchHealth.expert

Speaking Hashtags: #BreakForth16

CHURH PLANTING & Church Starting, So What’s the Difference? Good explanation from #EdStetzer

Church Planting or Church Starting?

by Ed Stetzer, 6/20/13

When we talk about church planting it can be a little different than church starting. What’s the difference? Well, I think church starting happens a lot of ways. The most popular church starting strategy involves a group of people getting mad, leaving their home church, and starting another church. In most cases I wouldn’t advise this strategy.

Church planting, on the other hand, involves an individual, mother church, and/or a group of people going out to start a church for the purpose of engaging a community through gospel proclamation and demonstration.

Church planting, unlike church starting, should/must be mission driven.

Church planting grows in the soil of lostness (hence “planting”) where men and women far from God are challenged with the claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ by a group of intentional believers…

Read more at … http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/june/how-does-church-planting-relate-to-gods-mission.html?paging=off

REST: A TED talk In praise of slowness

In praise of slowness
A TED Talk with Carl Honore, 4/05

Journalist Carl Honore believes the Western world’s emphasis on speed erodes health, productivity and quality of life. But there’s a backlash brewing, as everyday people start putting the brakes on their all-too-modern lives.
pinThis talk was presented at an official TED Conference. TED’s editors featured it among our daily selections on the home page.

http://www.ted.com/talks/carl_honore_praises_slowness

GROUP EXIT & Preventing Group Exit During Change

FIGURE Staying Power Process Model p. 177The 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.

PreparingChange_Reaction_MdStage-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).

Speaking hashtags: #BetterTogether #BreakForth16 #ReclaimedLeader #Reclaimed #CLIOrlando2018