Leading Lasting Changes

June 16, 2010

At Walnut Hill Church we are blessed with a strong tradition and a membership with a high level of satisfaction.  Like most ministries and organizations we have our share of folks who express varying degrees of dissatisfaction – some because we are experiencing growth & change, and others because we have not changed & grown quickly enough.

Change is inevitable but it is also uncomfortable.

For one thing, not all change is good. Degeneration is a change of condition, but it is not something I want to experience in my health or my church.

But even good changes can make some people uncomfortable.  Change marks the passing of something familiar.  It is a constant reminder that nothing remains the same, and we cannot always go back. So when change occurs, even good change, it disturbs our nostalgia.

The key words for the leader concerning change are: effective, positive, and lasting.

Harvard professor John Kotter outlines 8 stages of effective change:

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

  • Examine market and competitive realities
  • Identify and discuss crises, potential crises or major opportunities

2. Developing the Guiding Coalition

  • Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort
  • Encourage the group to work as a team

3. Developing a Vision & Strategy

  • Create a vision to help direct the change effort
  • Develop strategies for achieving that vision

4. Communicating the Change Vision

  • Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
  • Teach new behaviors by the example of the Guiding Coalition

 5. Empowering Broad-based Action

  • Remove obstacles to change
  • Change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision
  • Encourage the risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions

6. Generating Short-term Wins

  • Plan for visible performance improvements
  • Create those improvements
  • Recognize and reward employees involved in the improvements

7. Don’t Let Up: Consolidating Gains & Produce More Change

  • Use increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t fit the vision
  • Hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision
  • Reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents

8. Make Change Stick: Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture

  • Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success
  • Develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession

These steps come from the business world, but church & ministry leaders would be wise to consider and apply these principles to our own situations.

Lutheran leader Steve Goodwin, in a 2005 interview, said:

 “I see so many pastors making the mistakes John Kotter wrote about 20 years ago.”

In an article for Leadership Journal, titled Before You Introduce Change, Bruce Boria observes that most pastors make the mistake of beginning at stage 4.

Boria explains:

I’ve found [Kotter’s] process has substantial implications for guiding change in my church.

In Kotter’s opinion the first three steps are necessary to defrost a hardened status quo. Steps four to seven introduce a number of new practices. And the last step grounds the changes into the organization’s culture.

As pastor of Walnut Hill Church I have intentionally embraced a slow approach to change.  This church was not ailing when I came in, so I wanted to affirm the positives that already existed and pre-dated my arrival.

At the same time, because nothing remains the same, and because there are issues that require strategic attention, change is a necessity. With Kotter’s principles in mind, the questions I am asking are these:

  • How do we cultivate a sense of need and urgency in a congregation widely satisfied with the way things have, for the most part, always been?
  • How do we create a hunger for a better future?

Until we get a handle on these questions no pithy mission or vision statements will produce positive lasting changes.  Instead, I suspect, we will find ourselves reminded of the poetic words of the Bard of Ayrshire: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”

2 Responses to “Leading Lasting Changes”

  1. David Alexander Says:

    How to cultivate change is a good question Dennis, as most peole don’t really change unless there is an urgency promoting the change.

    I think in the Church, and our relationship with Jesus…. change is somthing we should embrace as a matter of norm…

    We all have been changed as those who follow Jesus II Cor 5:17. We should be always ready for Change as Gods Spirit works within the beliver to accomplish his will and Change us to be more and more like Jesus.

    I do not believe the Christian life is a matter of being satisfied with the way things are. Some may disagree and thats Ok. I belive God has called us to a life that does change. That change happens when we grow in our relationship with Jesus, when the Church reaches out to the community, when we participate in the social restoration in our community, and when the people of God get deeply involved in the Gospel.

    I don’t see an alternative. Our Culture is changing at breakneck speeds. We as Christians and Christ followers must understand how to effectively and positively make changes as well to always relate the Gospel in our communities in ways to Glorify Jesus while communicating the story of our Redeemer.

  2. David Alexander Says:

    By the way, A book called “Church Unique” by Will Mancinie (not sure of the spelling) is an absolutly must read on the subject. It’s a newer book and should be out on most Christian outlets.

    Has to do with the history of a Church, It’s DNA , how the leaders are gifted and what it’s done. Somtimes the past is a picture of the future and a way to look for how God can change if we are open to it.

    One of the biggest issues is an honest look and evaluation of where we are and have been. Not many are open to take that look.


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