One of the courses we love running at the Centre for Ministry Development (CMD) is Change Management. Although it has been particularly pertinent with constancy of change in this COVID-19 season, this course has always proven helpful because change is both challenging and necessary in ministry contexts.
At the heart of the difficulty of change management is asking people to create a new normal. And this presents challenges because we are naturally resistant to. And whether this change is forced upon us or is something we clearly recognise needs to happen, there is one constant: change is challenging!
As we address training in change management we focus on three main aspects:
- The pain involved in change – we want people to recognise the pain associated with change as they move through the classic grief curve. We then want to explore how to manage that pain as people move through the different phases of change at different speeds.
- We lean heavily on Prof John Kotter’s very sensible architecture for managing change* and explore what it might look like in church ministry.
- We ask participants to bring existing plans they are undertaking or might consider, and we have them consider how they might implement their specific change plan.
The most common error is ‘going it alone’
We find the most common error in change management relates to what Kotter calls ‘creating a guiding coalition’ – a group of people who will help the leader steward the change process. We often refer to this group as a ‘project team’. Too often we find that:
1.Church Leaders go it alone, thinking they know the best solution for their church community. This might be appropriate for small or simple changes, however the more complex the change, the more difficult this usually becomes. To operate without a team indicates that a leader thinks that they possess on their own:
- a complete knowledge of the church community and how the different communities across the church will react or deal with the change.
- a sufficient understanding of the complete context of the situations and how decisions in the past might play into this change.
- all the best possible ideas and solutions to make decisions about what should be done and how best to implement the change.
- a sufficient and complete wisdom (at least within the church community) on how best to communicate to the various people and communities throughout the church and overcome any barriers or problems that might be raised.
2. Church Leaders engage others in a guiding coalition to persuade and enlist them into the solution that the leader has already determined. This contrasts with involving them in the actual change development process. Often, people see this approach for what it is, and when repeated on a regular basis, can be seen as arrogance of the leader. This is particularly because these people will often identify the repeated mistakes of the leader in managing change. Such an approach assumes:
- that the church leader has the best wisdom to develop the right solution to deal with the problem or opportunity that is driving the change.
- that people will completely come on board with what the leaders is proposing because they are right. (In my experience people tend to commit more to solutions that they have been involved in creating rather than those that others came up with).
3. Church leaders manage their change plan with stakeholders who need to buy into the plan, but never bring everyone into the same room to debate or discuss the pros and cons of the plan.
Hopefully you can see the shortcomings of this way of operating, both practically and theologically.
Whilst a leader is expected to lead and to guide, they ought to be mindful of the gifts that the Holy Spirit has apportioned to those within the church fellowship (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:11), all of which serve the church as a complete body. How arrogant it is to think that in a complex situation, one person would be best able to understand the full set of opportunities, solutions, reactions, communication style and numerous other factors involved in change management.
This is what the guiding coalition (or project team ) is for. They are to help the church steward the Gospel resources we have, to debate how to communicate and bring the rest of the church through change, to identify the milestones and small wins and to come up with the best possible solutions to ensure smooth change.
Leading the change team
As a leader, let me encourage you to:
- help people engage in creativity and teamwork and to use their gifts
- watch over the process and keep it on track
- keep them focused on the kingdom goal (that is, helping them to keep the goal anchored in the mission of Christ)
- protect the team from poor theology or pitfalls as they explore the change process (Ephesians 4:15-16)
- keep the team enthusiastic
I would encourage you, as a church leader, to step into the ‘overseer’ role, allowing you to lead, conduct, provoke, challenge, equip, praise, rebuke, and correct in order to get the job done. Learn to trust people to get involved in:
- identifying / defining the problem or opportunity
- brainstorming possible solutions
- assessing options
- developing communication plans and communicating to their relationships
- reviewing and reflecting
Decision making does not need to be democratic. That may or may not be the best way to find a solution. The leader may still be the decision-maker, however, a wise leader seeks to trust people on a team to work together to come up with new ideas and challenge things, so that the best solutions and ideas can be found. When a leader assumes the role of overseer, I have found that it takes the pressure off them having to come up with solutions and sort through the options. This allows them to be the questioner, the reviewer and, ironically, usually means they can make better decisions.
Change management is not easy, but not using the gifted people that God has provided you makes any change management more difficult.
If you want to learn more, come and join one of our half-day workshops on this topic or ask us to run one at your church in your region. Contact us at https://cmd.moore.edu.au/contact/.
Some questions that someone overseeing a change management process might ask of their Guiding Coalition (or project team) might include:
- Who else should be on this team? (What other skills might we need? Who is the expert in this area? Who would understand that part of the church community best?)
- What do you think is the real problem or opportunity we are addressing with this change? (Why are we doing this? Why don’t we all try to rephrase the purpose?)
- Let’s brainstorm what ‘good’ would look like when we have completed this change. Which of the ‘goods’ do you think are best or most important?
- What do you think are the possible things/options we could take to solve our problem / exploit this opportunity?
- What do you think are the pros and cons of that option? Why would that be best?
- What challenges do you think we will face (barriers, obstacles, etc)? What are some of the things we could do to overcome these?
- What can we tell others we have accomplished in this meeting? (This can be a great question to frame thinking at the end of any meeting)
- How might we best communicate this change, this step etc?
- What do you think are the small wins or milestones that we should achieve and celebrate?
- How could we celebrate as a church?
- How might we measure this change?
- Reflection questions:
○ How are we going?
○ What went well?
○ How could we do better?
- The most important of the interrogatives that the overseer could use to gain clarity can be ‘Why’? (or ‘why not’?)
*Prof John Kotter is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School and considered a thought leader in business, leadership and change management. Whilst he writes for a secular leadership community, we find his framework for leading through change very helpful. Source: Kotter JP, Leading Change, Why Transformation Efforts Fail, Harvard Business Review, January 2007