STO LEADERSHIP & A video intro for my students & others to discover your mix of 3 leadership traits

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 9/25/17.

STO Leadership (Strategic-Tacical-Leadership traits) is a meta-model of leadership I have adapted/applied to ministry leadership. Most leadership colleagues/students find very helpful.  For a brief introduction …

A) Watch the video introduction below.

B) Read this short explanation of the three traits of leaders: Strategic-Tactical-Operational here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/sto-leadership-an-overview-are-you-a-shepherd-or-a-visionary-or-a-little-of-both/

C) Read about the different names authors have used interchangeably with Strategic-Tactical-Operational here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/sto-leadership-alternative-names-for-strategic-tactical-operational-leadership-styles/

D) Then read the “Questions and Answers at STO Leadership” at this link: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/teamwork-my-answers-to-questions-about-sto-leaders-strategic-tactical-operational/

E) Finally, take the questionnaire yourself to find which is your dominant and sub-dominant leadership traits. The questionnaire is available FREE here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/sto-leadership-a-questionnaire-to-discover-your-leadership-mix/

LEAD 600 LEAD600 STO GCRN

STO Leadership & Alternative Names for Strategic, Tactical & Operational Leadership Styles

Excerpted from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church by Bob Whitesel (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007)

Strategic Leadership Characteristics:

Strategic leadership is “future directed,”[i]” strategic leaders often want people to move forward, and thus they are the first to start moving in new directions. Historian Martin Marty said they “are extremely sensitive to where people are, but are not content to leave them there.”[ii]

Other names for strategic leaders are:

  1. Visionaries (George Barna,[iii] Leith Anderson[iv] and Phil Miglioratti[v]).
  2. Role 1 Leaders (Phil Miglioratti[vi]).
  3. “Top management” (John Wimber, Eddie Gibbs[vii]).
  4. “Strong, authoritative, directive pastoral leadership” (Wagner[viii]).
  5. Upper-level Management (John Kotter[ix]).
  6. Sodality leadership, which is described as “vision setter, goal setter, strong leader, visionary, upper management” (Ralph Winter[x]).

Tactical Leadership Characteristics:

Tactical leadership is an integrated skill. The tactical leader weds the past, the present and the future to move the church ahead. The tactical leader grasps the strategic leader’s vision of the future, but the tactical leader enjoys integrating these future plans into the ongoing and present life of the church. Tactical leaders also relish the planning process. They set timelines and allocate duties. They are delgators in the truest sense of the word. They should not be confused with operational leaders who do the work themselves. The tactical leader delegates fully, but then carefully evaluates the results.

And thus, tactical leaders are often pen and pencil (or stylus and PDA) people, who make copious notes as strategic leader expounds upon the future. Tactical leaders create spreadsheets, flowcharts, diagrams and designate work teams. Tactical leaders know who to bring big long-term projects down into easy, doable steps.

Thus, tactical leaders are the needed go-between to connect strategic leaders who grasp the big-picture, and operational leaders who get things done. Everyone appreciates tactical leaders, but regrettably they are usually outnumbered in our churches by strategic leaders and operational leaders. Thus, the organization suffers.

Other names for tactical leaders are:

  1. Administrators (Phil Miglioratti[i]).
  2. Role Two Leaders (Phil Miglioratti [ii]).
  3. Middle-level management (Martin Butler and Robert Herman[iii]).
  4. “Middle management” (John Wimber/Eddie Gibbs[iv] and John Kotter[v]).
  5. “Enables others to achieve goals” (Richard Hutcheson[vi]).
  6. Problem solvers (Gary Yukl[vii]).
  7. Modality leadership, which is described as “enabler, team builder, ally, implementer” (Ralph Winter).[viii]

Operational Leadership Characteristics:

Operational leaders have the knowledge, skill, relational abilities and dedication to get a job done. Once the parameters are defined and they see how their task fits into the bigger-picture (they are helped in this by the tactical leader), the operational leader can accomplish almost anything. Anthropologist Margaret Mead observed, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” [i] And, thus the contribution of the operational leader is critical to the change process.

Operational leaders often love their job so much, that they do not see themselves “moving out” of this role in the foreseeable future.[ii]

But, if the operational leader does not have the go-between of a tactical leader, the strategic leader’s vision may be too imprecise to motivate the operational leader. Thus, we see once again while all three types of leadership are needed, but it is the glue that the go-between tactical leader provides that helps the operational leader move the strategic leader’s vision forward.

Other names for tactical leaders are:

  1. Workers (Phil Miglioratti[iii]).
  2. Role Three Leaders (Phil Miglioratti[iv]).
  3. Foremen (John Wimber, Eddie Gibbs[v]).

Download the chapter here: book-bw-excerpt-cr-change-reaction-chpt-2-sto-leaders-dr-whitesel

Strategic Leadership Footnotes

[i] Popular attestation, http://www.quoteworld.org/quotes/8891

[ii] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” op. cit., p. 146

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] ibid.

[v] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, op. cit., pp. 380, 381.

Tactical Leadership Footnotes

[i] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” op. cit., p. 146

[ii] ibid.

[iii] D. Martin Butler and Robert D. Herman, “Effective Ministerial Leadership,” Nonprofit Management and Leadership (1999), 9:229-239.

[iv] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, op. cit., pp. 380, 382-383.

[v] John Kotter, A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management, op. cit.. Kotter muddies the water a bit, by making a imprecise distinction between leadership and management. Kotter would agree with this author, that there are strategic leaders and tactical leaders. However, Kotter calls what strategic leaders do: “leadership.” And he labels what tactical leaders do as: “management.” While it is laudable that Kotter is trying to help distinguish between strategic and tactical leadership, the widespread use of the terms “leadership” and “management” probably mean they are too popular to now be more narrowly defined. Thus, Kotter’s goal is good, to distinguish between strategic and tactical leaders, but his terminology is probably too imprecise.

[vi] Richard Hutcheson, J., The Wheel Within the Wheel: Confronting the Management Crisis of the Pluralistic Church (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979), p. 54.

[vii] Gary Yukl, Managerial Practices Survey (Albany, New York: Gary Yukl and Man Associates, 1990).

[viii] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, op. cit., pp. 141-165.

Operational Leadership Footnotes

[i] H. Ozbekhan, “Toward a General Theory of Planning,” in E. Jantsch, ed., Perspective in Planning (Paris, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1969), p. 151.

[ii] Martin Marty, “Lutheran Scholar ‘Sprinkles Methodist Advice,” in The United Methodist Reporter (Dallas, Texas: 1986), March 28.

[iii] Christian pollster George Barna correctly emphasizes that for a strategic leader, a clear vision of the future is important. And, Barna in his popular book, The Power of Vision (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1992, p. 28, 38-39) describes a vision as “ a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God, and based on an accurate understanding of God, self and circumstances.” Yet, the popularity of Barna’s definition may have clouded the picture, as strategically-orientated pastors latched on to this definition, which lacks the complimentary emphasis that it is tactical leadership that will get you there.

[iv] Leith Anderson, Dying for Change (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Publishing House, 1990), pp. 177-178.

[v] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook (Pasadena, Calif.: Church Growth Press, 1979), p. 146.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing House, 1981), pp. 380, 383-385.

[viii] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1984), p. 73-74.

[ix] John Kotter, A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1990).

[x] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, op. cit., pp. 141-165.

Speaking hashtags: #STO

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


Footnotes:

[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: http://www.stephenministries.org

[v] http://www.stephenministries.org/stephenministry, 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, http://www.stephenministries.org/stephenministry, 2007).

Speaking hashtags: #NewDirectionChurch

WORSHIP & Reasons Why Blending Worship May Not Be An Effective Evangelistic Strategy

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

A student once tendered the following query.

“You really believe that three services are necessary to reach the three different generations? I understand a little difference in order to reach a different group, but three seems a little over the top…. Our church currently has two services. One is praise and worship, and one is Traditional. These two services have come with pros and cons at our church. It has expanded the ministry and allowed us to reach some new people. It also has created some division among some who don’t like the other service or feel the two services are actually driving the two groups further apart instead of together.  Personally, I am a proponent of a well blended service. Ideally this brings generations together in the same service and teaches them both about compromise when it comes to music styles. I will say for this to work the musicians and music leaders must be good and do a good job of blending the music. Music hopefully is a tool to lead us to worship, that is why I don’t get hung up on styles. I have a problem with those that think only one style is the correct way to worship.”

These are good, and common questions.  And, here are my answers.

Hello ___student_name___;

You queried, “You really believe that three services are necessary to reach the three different generations?”  Yes, I do.  However, variations of this exist so let me give you some general parameters.

Some churches will have a traditional (reaching older adults who want stability in their increasingly unstable lives), blended (really a Christian variation that can seem culturally confusing to unchurched people), contemporary (upbeat with a backbeat) and modern (more engagement and improvisation, see my case-study book: Inside the Organic Church, 2006).

You noted that this has “allowed us to reach some new people.”  That is good news!  And, wait until you read Chip Arn’s book, How to Start New Service (a textbook for this course) and you will see that his research supports your conclusion: more variation in service styles has been proven numerically to reach more people for Christ!

But, I also think you can see that each of these worship expressions are stylistically different enough to require separate venues, or a sizable segment will not relate and not worship.  While your desire to mature people by “teaching them to compromise” is a laudable goal (and one with which I wholehearted agree), the worship service man not be the best venue for this.  You see, if you have only a blended service you will lose some of the babes-in-Christ because they may not be ready for adult food.   Romans 15:1ff is as good summation of the writer’s argument that for salvation sake, we must try not to put roadblocks (if they are culturally inspired and morally neutral) in the path of young believers.

Thus, if your goal is to reach the unchurched and introduce them to Christ, you will need to get them into an environment where they are not uncomfortable or perplexed by the culturally-derived aesthetics.  You won’t want to leave them there. But, you will want them to be able to start there, in a place where they are more culturally comfortable.  This is what a missionary does, they take the Good News and put it cultural aesthetics (and worship styles) of a society.

Since my purpose is to introduce them into an encounter with God, it makes sense to present the encounter in the most relevant (to them) way possible.

Many people note that this creates division.  And, it does.  But I am not sure that worship is the best venue for unity.  One young man I asked about this responded to me “you can’t create unity in worship, the seats face the wrong way.”

That is why I agree with you that we need to foster compromise.  I wrote two books about this: Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church (Abingdon Press, 2010) and Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It (Abingdon Press, 2003).

But, to create this unity I am not sure worship is the best venue, for it is a place of spiritual encounter.  Thus, you will notice in my books that I strongly emphasize that we supplement varied worship venues with new community spaces where people can gather after church and talk about the same message they heard in the different culturally stylistic venues.  Therefore unity experiences and venues, where people can fellowship and get to know each other, must be created.  It means not trying to create this in worship, for there it can rob us of our heavenward focus.  But rather it means creating unity experiences and opportunities; and offer as many each week as we offer worship experiences.

EVALUATION & Websites for Tracking Ministry Objectives

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/2/15.

I’ve asked my students to help me create a list of helpful websites or software programs that can help track the numbers in a church or ministry.  Such tools can be especially helpful if they let you track participation in small groups as a percentage of overall attendance (this would allow you to track “maturation growth” or what is also called “growth in maturity” Acts 2:42)

Below are a few sites that can help with data gathering. They will probably invigorate tactical leaders (those who lead by numerical analysis) and will make life easier for strategic leaders (those who lead by vision) and operational leaders (those who lead by relationships).(1)

Automated Church Systems:  http://www.acstechnologies.com

Life Church in Edmond, OK http://www.churchmetrics.com (This church you may remember was an example of a church with healthy growth which I profiled in Growth by Accident, Death by Planning: How NOT To Kill a Growing Congregation (2004).

More to come …

Footnotes:
(1) If you can’t remember the distinctions between Strategic-Tactical-Operational leadership see Preparing for Change Reaction: How To Introduce Change in Your Church (The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007, pp. 31-46).  You can also take a test to discover your leadership traits on pp. 46-47 of the book or click here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/leadership-3-types-strategic-tactical-operational-freedownload-changereactionbook/

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 & 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).