by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., The Great Commission Research Journal, Biola University, 3/1/17.
Theories of change and theories of changing 1 are insufficiently studied, hence often inadequately understood by the ecclesial academy. The few theories that are available are based on an author’s experience with singular process model developed from similar homogeneous contexts. However, the present author, reflecting on case studies over a ten-year window, strengthens the argument for a holistic, eight-step model as first developed by John P. Kotter at Harvard University. Whitesel argues that the eight-step process model is resident and visible in ecclesiological change. He then suggests that the requisite change objective for many churches will be a heterogeneous, multicultural model, which will intentionally or unintentionally follow one or more of the five classifications.
Delivered to the Great Commission Research Network, Oct. 6, 2016, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX
Author Dr. Robert Whitesel Pages 212 – 222
The need for research by the Academy.
In my literature review on ecclesial change 2 I found that most popular books on church change are penned by prominent (e.g. megachurch) authors who customarily tout one model that has worked for her or him. Subsequently, overall general principles of organizational change in the ecclesial context are contextually bound and may be too narrow.
In addition, a theology of change/changing is poorly understood. Yet, both the Bible and church history are replete with ecclesial change, e.g. from old covenant to new covenant (Hebrews 8:13, Col. 2:16-17) and from monarchies (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings), to oligarchies (e.g. Judges) to synodical forms of government (e.g. the council of Jerusalem, Acts 15, 1-12, see Schaff, 1910, p. 504)
To establish a theological context for church change, I penned three chapters in the book Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church. This current article will assume that either the reader has read those chapters or will consult them later. Subsequently, the present discussion will be delimited to the theory and practice of changing with one of five potential multicultural objectives.3
A case study basis for research.
Reliable and valid process models usually arise from examining and comparing numerous case studies. In this regard, the best organizational researcher may be John P. Kotter, former professor at Harvard Business School. Having read hundreds, if not thousands of student case studies, he began to formulate a process model that would explain successful change. His seminal article in Harvard Business Review titled “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” created a seismic shift in the way organizational theorists and practitioners applied the change process. His theory of changing as reflected in his 8-steps for leading change became a staple for the study of organizational change in business schools and increasingly in seminaries.
In my position as professor of missional leadership for over a decade, first at Indiana Wesleyan University and then at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, I have been afforded the opportunity to also study hundreds of student case studies on ecclesial change. I have observed that ecclesial change follows very closely Kotter’s 8-step model. In this paper I will briefly explain how Kotter’s model can inform a process model for ecclesial change.
Outcomes: 5 Models of Multicultural Churches
As mentioned above, a delimiter for this article is that I will consider objectives with more colorful (i.e. multicultural) outcomes. I do this because of my research interest and because it is of growing relevance to homogeneous churches in an increasingly heterogeneous world. I employ the term multicultural in the broadest sociological sense and a list of ethnic, generational, socioeconomic, affinity, etc. cultures as relevant to this discussion can be found in The Healthy Church, pp. 58-59.
In a previous article for The Great Commission Research Journal, I put forth in detail five multicultural models as a contemporary update of the historical categories of Sanchez (1976). I also demonstrated some of these models afford a more comprehensive and reconciliation-based approach. I then evaluated each model through a 10-point grid of “nomenclature, mode of growth, relationships, pluses, minuses, degree of difficulty, creator complex, redistribution, relocation and reconciliation” (2014). This present article will assume that the reader has access to this article for further reading. An overview of the five models will frame the process model’s objectives….
1 There is an important difference between theories of change and theories of changing. The latter, and the focus of this article, investigate how to control and manage change. Theories of change however seek to understand how change occurs. I have discussed theories of change as well as theologies of change in the book Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007). For a fuller treatment of the differences between theories of change and theories of changing see Warren G. Bennis, Changing Organizations (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996).
2 This article will expand some of my previous theorizing as represented in two of my books: Preparing for change reaction: How to introduce change in your church (2007) and The healthy church: practical ways to strengthen a church’s heart (2013). In addition, my initial thoughts on the “How to Change a Church in 8 Steps” can be found in my article of the same title for “Church Revitalizer Magazine.”
3 I embrace the term multicultural in lieu of multiethnic or multiracial, because the latter carry important implications for reconciliation between cultures that have been polarized by violence and bigotry. My co-author Mark DeYmaz and I in re:MIX – Transitioning your church to living color (2016) spend several chapters addressing the importance of multiethnic and multiracial reconciliation. The reader of this present article should consult our more exhaustive treatment there. Thus, the present article will be delimited to general procedures, processes and plans that can result in a multicultural church regardless if that cultural mix is ethnic cultures, affinity cultures, generational cultures, social economic cultures, etc.