Executing change without being executed.


September 17, 2012 by cbbeard

Hirsch and Catchim (2012) wrote a simple, yet profound statement in their book The Permanent Revolution.  They wrote, “We are perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving” (Chapter 1, “Perfectly Designed,” para. 1).   In other words, the results your organization is achieving right now are greatly determined by the design and structure of that organization.  Therefore when the organization is no longer achieving success, it means that is no longer designed to achieve success, and it is time for a change.

Of course Hirsch and Catchim weren’t just talking about any organization; they were talking about the church.  The church (including and not limited to local congregations) is perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving.  For the Western church, our recent and steep statistical decline is evidence of that (check out my earlier post for more on this HERE).  Therefore, if we are to be the church God intended, not only making better disciples, but also making new and more disciples, then we must realize it is time for a change.

This post is not about what that change should be.  There are some general and universal characteristics that we find in Scripture that all congregations should cling to and return to; but it is up the leadership of individual bodies of believers to determine what unique change God might be calling them to in their unique context.  So instead, this post is about how to implement change.

There are two resources that I think are invaluable for implementing change in a church.  The first is a book by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber called Our Iceberg is Melting.  This book uses a clever parable about penguins to communicate how change should be actualized.  The other resource is Will Mancini (willmancini.com) and the Auxano network (auxano.com) who specializes in vision development and bringing change to a church within its unique context.  These resources are very complimentary and will help any leader be prepared for change and redesign for the church.

Kotter and Rathgeber’s Eight Step Process of Successful Change includes:

  1. Create a sense of urgency. – This is what Mancini (2009) would call “wake- up call.”  A wake-up call creates the sense of urgency and incites the group to action.  This often starts with an individual or small group of an organization.  For the church, it is important that key leaders have common sense of urgency so that change can be set in motion.
  2. Pull together the guiding team. – A guiding team is a group of leaders within the organization that are a key to bringing about change.  For the church this will most likely include staff, official leadership (such as elders), and lay leaders who can help innovate and catalyze change.
  3. Develop the change vision and strategy. – This will almost certainly require “double-loop learning” (Agyris, 1976) in which the change and solution may exist outside of the current operating framework.  This is especially difficult in the church because churches often have difficulty discerning between flexible methodology and non-negotiable principles found in Scripture. One failure of organizations and churches specifically is to attempt to solve issues using only “single-loop learning” by attempting to improve upon the design rather than changing the design itself.
  4. Communicating for understanding and buy in.– This is the stage in which vision is casted.  Schein (2010) would call this stage “unfreezing” (p. 300) in which the organizational members must be shaken from their previously held assumptions about the organization so that change can take place.  For the church, Mancini (2009) includes the following aspects of casting vision (“Articulating Vision Proper”):
    • Wake-Up Call – Do I create urgency and induce action?
    • Mind Stretch – Do I enlarge faith and challenge the imagination with audacious, Godsized goals?
    • God Smile – Do I clarify my biblical basis and show how God’s heart is pleased?
    • Common Denominator – Do I build an emotional connection based on shared history?
    • Burning Platform – Do I frame the larger need and speak to the fear of loss?
    • Golden Tomorrow – Do I promise a better world in which people will want to live?

    Notice that for unfreezing the church, there are several elements that would be necessary.  We must create a sense of urgency that includes a picture of what will happen if we don’t act (burning platform).  We must include God and his will through Scripture in the vision, and we must create a positive vision of the future as well (golden tomorrow).

  5. Empower others to act.  –  Leaders must create the type of environment in which the new vision can be brought to fruition by organizational members.  This means removing barriers as well as creating conditions favorable for change.
  6. Produce short-term wins.  – This is key in that it creates momentum through morale and perception of the change.  If organizational members see success, even on a small scale, buy-in will be more “contagious.”  Once a certain amount of organizational members buy in to the new vision and change, a “tipping point” (Sinek, 2009) occurs and the change is more likely to be successful.
  7. Don’t let up. – A time of change can often be an exhilarating time for leaders in which they are excited and energized.  However, there will be a time when inevitable tension arises due to the change, and the natural reaction is to “hit the brakes” and slow down rather than speed ahead.  This can bring about disastrous results and repercussions not only for the desired change, but for future change as well.  Kotter  and Rathgeber (2006) suggests that when successes are seen, the organization should move “full steam ahead” toward the goal.
  8. Create a new culture. – This is what Schein (2010) would identify as the “refreezing” stage (p. 310) in which the changes achieved are then absorbed and identified with the culture of the organization and the organizational members.  For a church, this would mean that the new paradigm becomes part of the culture of the church.  I would suggest, however, that refreezing should not be too solid, especially in a church, as change might be necessary again in the future.

When a church finds that it is no longer designed for success, then through much prayer and consideration, it should be determined what changes might be necessary.  But equally important to the change itself is the process of change.  The church is not a bureaucratic organization in which leaders can make a declaration of change and make it so; the church is a body of believers, brothers and sisters in Christ who must be led to better things as God has intended.  Change is not easy, but it is often necessary; and change in the church requires careful, thoughtful and prayerful execution.  Change requires leading, not lording.

What are the biggest barriers to change in your life?  What are the biggest barriers to change in the church?

Argyris, C. (1976). Single-Loop and Double-Loop Models in Research on Decision Making. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21(3), 363-375.
Hirsch, A., and Catchim, T. (2012). The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and  Practice for the 21st Century Church (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kotter, J., & Rathgeber, H. (2006). Our iceberg is melting: Changing and succeeding under any conditions. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Mancini, W. (2009). Articulating Vision Proper. Retrieved from http://auxano.com/vision-clarity/church-unique/
Schein, E.H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Sinek, S.  (2009).  Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action.  New York, NY: Penguin Group.
See Also:
Mancini, W., & Leadership Network. (2008). Church unique: How missional leaders cast vision, capture culture, and create movement (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

2 thoughts on “Executing change without being executed.

  1. Good post Chris. I’m a fan of Kotter as well. Of his 8 step process, I think creating a new culture is perhaps the most crucial. Your last sentence “change requires leading not lording” is also true for creating a new culture. Whether the leadership of a church is the initiating source of the change doesn’t matter as much as the influence they have on making it happen. In particular , the senior pastor/lead teacher has to be the biggest cheer-leader for change. As the Lyle Schaller once said, “Only two things are constant: Christ and change.” The Church should always be in a mode of transition, changing with the culture but not losing Christ. Thanks for sharing!

    • cbbeard says:

      Right on Joshua! If you don’t replace the old with something new, it will leave quite a vacuum that could affect the group for years. I also agree regarding the leading vs. lording aspect of the new culture, I think Mancini is extremely helpful in the process of showing people the validity of the new culture.

      I think creating the new culture is probably the second-most difficult phase of change; “unfreezing” people from the old assumption and value is quite a challenge. That is why I mentioned you don’t want to “refreeze” too solidly. A wise man I know once said (regarding sacred cows in the church) “keep everything in steaks so you can easily grind it to hamburger.” Wise advice indeed!

      Thanks a lot for your thoughts!

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