SYSTEM 6 of 7SYSTEMS.church: UNIFIED & How to Unite a Conflicted Church 

7.6 systems yellow

This is sixth (6th) in a series of articles by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D. (12/23/16) introducing the 7SYSTEMS.CHURCH and which first appeared in Church Revitalizer Magazine.

The “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) is based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice.  An introduction to the “7 Systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) can be found here: www.7systems.church

This sixth installment of how to turn around a church, like the previous installments, is based upon the most comprehensive study of churches ever conducted in North America: The American Congregations Study (Hartford Seminary, copies available at www.FaithCommunitiesToday.org).

A church that has “dissonant harmony” can be turned around, but not usually one with “severe conflict.”

Every church has some degree of conflict. But “severe conflict” is defined as when opinions are so opposed that even in times of emergency the groups will not work together. A different type of tension is “dissonant harmony,” a term coined by Starke and Dyck in their groundbreaking research on church splits. They found that while all churches have a degree of disagreement, if people overlook disagreements to work together for the common good when necessary, there is harmony with some dissonance.

To find out if you have “severe conflict” or just “dissonant harmony” ask yourself the following four questions.

1. Does your church have a guiding vision or mission which most of the people work toward?

2. Do committees, choirs, Sunday School classes and teams focus mostly upon finding the good in others (inside and outside the church)?

3. When unexpected challenges occur, do the people pull together for church survival?

4. Does the congregation view itself as a faith community that at times “agrees to disagree?”

If you said yes to three out the four, then you probably have “dissonant harmony.” If so, you can unite the congregation around a turnaround mission/vision.

The secret cure for turning around a church that has “severe conflict.”

If you could not answer yes to three or more the questions, you are probably bordering on, or already in, “severe conflict.”

Most church leaders will tell you conflict is poorly addressed in the church. Having perused libraries/bookstores for decades on leadership, my hunch is that conflict resolution is the category with the fewest books published. Yet every church leader knows that conflict resolution is a key part of that leader’s job. 

But in conflict resolution literature you find that there are two simple and basic principles in almost all conflict resolution strategies. Here they are.

First, don’t get in the middle as a go-between or so-called peacemaker between the factions.

Church leaders are often inspired by Jesus’ lauding of the peacemakers in Matt. 5:9. Leaders interpret this as a “go-between” or “diplomat” between warring factions. But the Greek does not carry an idea of “go-between” but rather, “keeping aloof from sectional strifes and the passions which beget them, and living tranquilly for and in the whole.” Starke and Bruno found that go-betweens are also usually blamed for resolution failures, because they are not perceived as correctly communicating each party’s perspective. Both sides take aim at the so-called peacemaker who is then often pushed out of the organization. 

Second, get the disagreeing parties talking directly to each other.

Surprisingly, this is the central component of almost all conflict resolution programs. Only when warring parties meet face-to-face to hammer out a compromise, does resolution result. It means getting people with differences to sit down together and tasking them to come up with an amicable solution. The leader makes it the duty of people with differences to come up with a plan that meets both factions needs. 

What if conflict can’t be overcome?

In some churches conflict has been so severe, for so long that compromise may be impossible. But we have a scriptural example to follow when conflict is so severe it may be better to part ways. We see this in Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement about taking John Mark with them on their second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-39). John Mark had accompanied them on the first journey, yet left midway and Paul seemed to feel it was because of his lack of commitment and perseverance. Barnabas, whose very name means son-of-encouragement, undoubtedly saw the potential in John Mark (after all John Mark would later pen the Gospel of Mark) and urged Paul to let him come along. The scriptures indicate that between Paul and Barnabas a “sharp disagreement” arose, which in the Greek literally means “incited … to anger.” The end result was that Paul and Barnabas agreed to go on two separate missionary journeys where twice as much ministry took place. 

It may be that conflict in your church is so severe and so historic, that only by parting ways can both organizations be revitalized. Even after a church split, I have found those who remain are usually more open to change. Without the emotional disagreements and historical baggage of the factions in their midst, churches that go their separate ways can often subsequently be revitalized.

Utilizing the tools above.

If you are in dissonant harmony, continue to take the focus off of differences and get the focus back upon overarching goals. But, if you are in severe disunity then agree to disagree, parting ways if necessary. Use the questions and tools in this article to help.

For an overview of the “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice, see www.7systems.church

Speaking hashtags: #CaribbeanGraduateSchoolofTheology

CHURCH CHANGE SECRETS & Number 5: Listen to the naysayers, even though they may not be part of your guiding coalition, your coalition should hear them out.  This is a step that if overlooked, will usually splinter the congregation. – Bob Whitesel DMin PhD in his book: re:MIX – Transitioning your church to living color, Abingdon Press, 2017)

STATUS QUO & The 20/60/20 Rule: How to Handle Misaligned Employees/Volunteers

by Brian Fielkow, Entrepreneur Magazine, 7/23/18.

… I first heard this concept referenced when I was an executive with Waste Management. Our CEO had been hired to turn the company around after a scandal. Legend has it, he called a leadership meeting and made this statement: “Twenty percent of you know where we are going and are on board with it. Sixty percent of you understand the need for change but are skeptical that we can really do this. My job is to win you over. And 20 percent of you do not agree with our plan and have already made up your minds about it. My commitment is to ensure you a fast and graceful exit.”

From that moment on, I have never forgotten the 20/60/20 rule. I urge you to keep this concept firmly in mind as you go about building your company. Trying to win over 100 percent of your team is a fool’s mission.

… 20/60/20 has no scientific basis. It is to make a point. Whatever the number is — 20 percent, 5 percent, 1 percent — most organizations have some employees who may never fit the culture, and your job as a leader is to either bring them fully on board or weed them out.

Read more at … https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/316461

#StMarksTX  #StLizTX

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

CHANGE & How You Can Lead Change Better By Doing One Thing (That Most of Us Fear Doing)

by James Sudakow, Inc. Magazine, 1/24/17.

In many ways, though, the single biggest strategy I found that worked isn’t really a secret at all. And it isn’t that hard to do except that most of us don’t do it simply out of fear:

Find the people who are dead set against the change you are trying to lead, and go get them involved in it.

It sounds counter-intuitive. Why would you actually seek out the people who want you to fail or who are actively, or frequently passive aggressively, lobbying against you? Why would you put them on the core team who is leading the change? Isn’t that kind of like sabotaging yourself?

Maybe not.

In every change effort I lead, I actively find the loudest conscientious objectors to genuinely get them involved because they do two critical things that will make the change actually stick:

1. They will tell you all of the reasons (that you don’t want to hear) about why people don’t want to, or can’t, make the change a reality.

That information is really important. Not only does it help you understand why people may resist so you can think about how to handle it, but it also forces you to confront potentially legitimate flaws in the change you are trying to make or blind spots in your thinking. Whether you like it or not, you will be forced to hear perspectives counter to your own about the change.

2. If you find a way to work with them towards a solution they support, they will become your biggest advocates in selling the change.

There’s an old expression that says that “nobody is more zealous than a convert.” If you can truly find a way to collaborate with the objectors and find a solution they can support, they will sell the change enthusiastically. A lot of the objectors are quite influential across the company.

Read more at … http://www.inc.com/james-sudakow/how-you-can-lead-change-better-by-doing-one-thing-that-most-of-us-fear-doing.html

CHANGE & Understanding the J-curve of Resistance

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Jerald Jellison, famed University of Southern California Professor of Psychology created the change management “J-curve” to explain how people deal with change. It confirms Dyke and Starke’s 6-stage/5-trigger model of change. For more on this latter model and it’s application to the church, see the books: “Preparing for Change Reaction: How to introduce change in your church” and “Staying Power: Why people leave the church of a change and what you can do about it.

J-curve 1.png

J-curve 2.png

J-curve 3.png

J-curve 4.png

J-curve 5.pngRead more at … change management “J-curve”

Speaking hastags: #NewDirectionChurch

Save

Save

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 & Executive Summary of book: Staying Power – Why People Leave the Church Over Change

Executive Summary by Drew Wilkerson of Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT) (Abingdon Press), July 27, 2016.

INTRODUCTION: Pgs. 13-17

This overview summarizes a book by Dr. Bob Whitesel entitled Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT). This book is designed for the church leader that wants to understand “one of the most baffling questions facing church leaders today – why do people leave the church over change and what can be done about it” (p. 7). Staying Power is a book that is essential to every church leader. Change is inevitable and necessary. Whitesel outlines a process to oversee change in a way that minimizes the fallout of the effects of change in a church.

PURPOSE:  Pgs. 18-30

The purpose of Staying Power is found in Dr. Whitesel’s desire to counsel the local church pastor and leader how to bring about positive change. In a succinct overview Whitesel states, “…change and the tensions that accompany it are not only inevitable but also survivable” (p.7).

 

PROCESS & BENEFITS: Pgs. 33-168

Whitesel outlines the six stages that a church goes through that lead to either group exit or group harmony. Route A leads to polarizing and intense conflict. Route B leads to change that is grounded in harmony. The tensions of change will impact every church. Too often churches embroiled in polarizing change never fully recover. Whitesel outlines a step by step process that refocuses church transformation into a healthy course of action. Following a brief explanation of the problems change can bring to a local church, Whitesel defines the stages of change churches must go through. They are as follows:

 

  1. Stage 1: Relative Harmony. A church begins looking at changes that may be needed or desired. Trigger #1 comes into play, “Conflicting Ideas Event.”
  2. Stage 2: Idea Development. At this juncture Trigger #2 emerges, “A Negative Legitimizing Event” occurs.
  3. Stage 3: Change. It is at this point that Route A (Trajectory for Group Exit) and Route B (Trajectory for Group Retention) become visible even though often subtle. It is at this stage that the third Trigger called “The Alarm Event” becomes visible.
  4. Stage 4: Resistance. It is essential that leaders recognize that resistance to change will appear no matter what the catalyst, but during Stage 4 leaders begin to determine whether the debated changes will bring resistance that leads to Trigger 4, “A Polarizing Event” or “A Harmonizing Event.”
  5. Stage 5: Intense Conflict/Dissonant Harmony. A church in the change process will begin to demonstrate, intentionally or unintentionally, whether they will work toward unity or division. At Stage 5 on Route A, Trigger 5 gives way to “The Justifying Event.” On Route B at Stage 5 there is a carryover of Trigger 4, “The Harmonizing Event” that brings about change embedded in unity.
  6. Stage 6: Group Exit/Group Retention. The proceeding stages and triggers will determine if Stage 6 brings a “Group Exit” from a church due to polarization or if the church can embrace change in way that brings “Group Harmony” that empowers the church to become revitalized.

CONCLUSION:  Pgs. 169-182

Dr. Whitesel does an excellent job of unraveling the complex process of change that has been harmful to so many churches. The author shows leaders a very practical way of looking at change as a process of eventual growth and unity. As Whitesel writes, so it is true, “…the church can become a model to the world of conciliation, diplomacy, patience, and conflict resolution – all in the midst of change” (p.176).

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. Believe that change can be a healthy process that brings glory to God and revitalization to the local church if pursued intentionally and carefully.
  2. Empower local church leaders to understand the “6 Stages” of change that can either lead to group exit or group retention.
  3. Work together to bring about needed church transition by understanding the “Triggers” as outlined on Route A and Route B.
  4. Realize that all change will have the potential to cause “friction, tension, and uncertainly among congregants,” but through a process of “unhurried, prayer-infused, and bi-partisan strategy,” unity can be preserved and the Good News can be shared (p.170).
  5. Regularly scheduled change communication, based on the “6 Stages and the 5 Triggers,” must be woven into the fabric of every church as leaders continue to remain relevant in a constantly changing culture.

 

SACRED COWS & A case study on how to modernize them (go slow = build unity)

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: With my students and clients I talk about how to identify and modernize “sacred cows.” These are traditions, artifacts or sometimes even people who so embody some tradition or history that they appear unlikely to be changed. But they can be changed and modernized, only it must be done slowly and after building consensus. I explain more about how to do this in the book “Preparing for Change Reaction,” in the chapter: “Go Slow Build Consensus and Succeed.”

Here is how one of my students intuitively applied this principle (used by permission):

RE: “Sacred Cows”

I have pastored churches in most all contexts. The sacred cows spoken of are evidenced in every context.

I have discovered that the sacred cows are best sacrificed by way of a very clear strategic vision where everyone (or almost everyone) is moving in the same direction. It is then that the sacred cows are seen as a detriment to achieving the vision goals and are more easily dealt with.

To get rid of the old organ in one church, it took about 18 months to actually remove it. One of the old saints who had died before my arrival used to play it every Sunday. Her husband, who was a board member and wonderful saint himself, would place a bulletin on the organ for his deceased wife every Sunday. We never ever played the organ, however, I could not remove it physically until after the husband passed away.

Sometimes it just makes sense to leave things for a season.

 

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.

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.

UNITY & How a “Wall of Wonder” Can Unite a Church Undergoing Change

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Bruno Dyck and Fredrick Stark at the University of Manitoba (Administrative Science Quarterly) found in their research that when a church undergoes change it can remain united if during the change it remembers and celebrates times when it endured change and remained united in the past. This “4th Trigger” in their process model demonstrated that celebrating times of unity from the past is critical for effective congregational change to take place. Here is an idea from the United Methodist News Service about one tool that can bring that about.

Comfort in changing times
By Heather Hahn, 12/1/15, United Methodist News Service.

(The) United Methodist Commission on Archives and History… housed at United Methodist-related Drew University, offers materials — like that letter — that connect church members with their Wesleyan heritage.

“We’re the family album of The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Alfred T. Day III, the top executive of Archives and History since 2014…

Is your local congregation undergoing a time of change or struggle? In times of difficulty or uncertainty, church records can be a comfort.

Day suggests that churches not wait for major anniversaries to display the photographs and other artifacts that tell the story of their ministry. Instead, he recommends that congregations assemble he calls a “Wall of Wonder” when times are tough.

Archives and History can augment such exhibits with a corresponding timeline for the denomination and its predecessors.

“In seeing that timeline of a congregation’s life, you see as the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ says, ‘Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come,’” he said.

Simply put, such mementos help people of faith see God at work over the long haul.

It’s a perspective John Wesley would appreciate. His devout wish to end legalized slavery in North America took almost a century to come to fruition.

The British Empire did not outlaw the slave trade until 1807, 16 years after Wesley’s death. The fight over slavery actually split Wesley’s movement in the United States in 1844. The United States finally officially abolished slavery with the ratification of the Constitution’s 13th Amendment on Dec. 6, 1865.

Even that did not settle the dispute among Wesley’s followers, but the Methodist Church ultimately reunited in 1939.

“I think what history helps us to do is to take a longer view,” Day said. “Look at what we’ve come through in the past. Why should we think that God’s grace isn’t going to lead us into the future?”

Read more at … http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/for-churchgoers-treasures-from-the-family-album.

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).

HIRING FROM WITHIN & My Top 3 Things to Avoid If You Are Hired from Within the Organization

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

A student once shared that he was hired from within the organization to fill the lead pastor role.  I have written (Growth by Accident, Death by Planning: How NOT to Kill a Growing Congregation, pp. 109-120) about why this is often a strategically wise practice.  And, research confirms this.

However, hiring from within also brings caveats.  Following the student’s comments, are my top three things you must avoid.

Joshua D. (a student) wrote, “This article is very encouraging.  I have been at KSM for 15 years as music pastor and Administrator and just found out Monday, as of January 1st I will be taking the Senior Pastor position.  This class could not have come at a better time.  Thank you for investing in us.”

My response about Top Three Things to Avoid:

Congratulations Joshua, I have a couple suggestions I make students:

RULE #1:  Even though you’ve been at the church a while, a “listening tour” is the first thing I would do. Tell the people that though you have been around for a long time, you want to have fresh eyes and fresh ears to hear what they haven’t told you before. This is because in this new position you have a new relationship! So don’t get defensive or answer them yet. Just go to them privately and ask them, “What do I need to hear from you?”

RULE #2:  Secondly tell them you’re going to go slow before you make any changes. Remember going slow and building consensus is the secret to making change happening in a unifying manner (see research and examples in the chapter, “Go Slowly, Build Consensus and Succeed” in Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church, pp. 151-169 which you can download here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 8 Go Slow. Also, you will find even more extensive examples in Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About ItAbingdon Press.)  Even though you have been at the church for some time, some people may have felt that the previous later wasn’t open to their ideas. And, they will immediately start to politic you. You do not want to be perceived as taking sides. So listen to them and explain to them their ideas must go through proper channels (baords, vetting by people affected, etc.). Get them working with others who they’ve been at odds with in the past to move the idea forward.  Do not becomes the champion of the new idea or you will be perceived as taking sides. Taking sides on methodology (not theology) is one of the most dangerous positions a new pastor can find her or himself in.

RULE #3:  And this brings us to the third point: don’t get in between people with different opinions – but rather get them working together to solve their differences. As you remember in my book Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It(Abingdon Press) that when a new leader comes into a position (even if they been a leader in the church for many years) there will arise a new activity of politicking to get the new leader to support their side. You must remember … don’t get in the middle. Research shows the best thing is to get them working out their differences between each other without you in the middle (again download this chapter for the research footnotes: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 8 Go Slow.) So don’t, repeat don’t, let them put you in the middle as a go-between between them. Do not be a mediator or negotiator. Force them to meet with one another and to come up between them with a third option. The secret is not for you to be the negotiator, but for them to conduct negotiations face-to-face. That way there is no communication filter or opportunity for them to blame you for miscommunicating their position. So don’t be a go-between – be someone that gets people to talk out their differences with each other (and without you there 🙂  Of course they must still bring it back to you for affirmation. But don’t affirm a compromise, until they work it out themselves.

VISION & The Abuse of Vision: What Did Bonhoeffer Mean?

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 6/18/15.

A student once brought up a very interesting quote by Bonhoeffer. I thought the quote and a brief look at the hyper-visionary culture amid which Bonhoeffer wrote (Nazi Germany) could throw some light on the power and potential for degradation of vision.

The student wrote: “I just was reading through Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and he talks about visionaries. He says, “God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges that brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself” (2009 ed., p. 27).

The student continued. “At first, this seemed a bit shocking to me and goes against what I believe to be true about dreaming, creativity, innovation, and being on the cutting edge. Bonhoeffer is one of the most brilliant Christian minds of the last century so I had to take that into account as well. I read a few articles and Northwest Church had this to say about it: “When we add fluff, entertainment, programs, and all kinds of things to ‘enhance’ Christian community we are often just providing superfluous distractions from what God intended. When somebody steps forward with some grand new vision of what the church should look like and be like they are often either watering down the community God intended or adding something unnecessary and perhaps even harmful.” (http://nwbible.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/1-thessalonians-2-god-hates-visionary-dreaming/)

The student concluded, “So I can get on board with that to a certain extent but then I had to take into account everything I just read in Growth by Accident. I think the first thing we need to start with is admitting that “We don’t know.” Socrates said that that admission was true wisdom. Several times throughout the chapter, Dr. Whitesel makes the point that we cannot compromise theologically. That’s incredibly important. And, also, we need to be culturally relevant or we won’t have any sort of impact on anyone. But there is a line between being “superfluous” and watering down the message of the gospel and being innovative to reach the un/dechurched. Christian pastor and author, Chip Ingram says in his blog, “So often we mistakenly believe that the power is in the messenger. But the Bible says the power is in the message and not in the messenger.” (http://livingontheedge.org/read-blog/blog/2012/12/24/why-we-don-t-share-our-faith-with-others).  Being creative, innovative, and dreaming big dreams have to come out of a place of true humility and prayer. We were created with great minds and the ability to be amazingly creative and I think it is true what Dr. Whitesel says in Growth by Accident, “Creativity is a reflection of a Creator who glories in the originality of his handiwork.” (Kindle Edition) But when it becomes about “us” and what we can do, that’s when it’s necessary to take a step back and make sure that the goal is still honoring and bringing glory to God.

Here is how I replied.

Hello ___student_name___.  You certainly are right about Bonhoeffer. If you read his writings it becomes evident that he is speaking to a church that was bought into a vision that was opposite that of Christ. When I attended the German Church Days (Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag) in 1982 there were many posters that were plastered around the conference. The posters depicted a photo of a Lutheran Church with a large swastika that had replaced the cross above the altar. The caption said “We are headed this way again!”

The point that the Germans were reminding the conference attendees was that entertainment, attraction and drama do not replace what Rudolph Otto called the “experience of the numinous” (1950, p. 3-5). This means encountering God is why we come to church, not to encounter a movement or anything human derived … be it preaching, music or something else

Vision is important for helping people see what God is calling the church to be. But the way vision was used in Nazi Germany to direct churchgoing people to support a human movement shows vision can be corrupted. Thus popularity is not a good indicator of anointing. So when a vision is corrupt you will see it through pride, status and autocratic behavior … exactly the things Bonhoeffer warned about. This is I think the important lesson we take today from Bonhoeffer.

Now ask yourself, what do you think about this tension between vision and Christ-like authenticity?  And how do you think you can tell if someone is acting with vain, egocentric vision like Bonhoeffer described?  Maybe write down one or two revealing characteristics that might indicate a leader is casting a vision for personal rationale and not a missional one.

Reference:
Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans John W. Harvey, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), p. 27.

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