About a 15 minute read…or skip to the end summary.
I am not a very good person when it comes to change. That’s not that I like things as they are. I like things that change. Being someone who looks at the future and what things might become, I will often rush to see a change happen. This isn’t the best thing when trying to lead a church, because they are the places where change doesn’t happen all that quickly.
In the world of the entrepreneur and the ecclesiological entrepreneur, we don’t have long plans and strategies as to how to get there. We just get to the next point and then see what to do next. When the unexpected happens, we just change.
Change is about long term, entrepreneurs get more scrappy. And before you say that isn’t church, then let me remind you of Pauls journeys. Change management may be or may not be right for your context. See what you think…
What is change management? Change management is about helping your organisation to adapt to the new context it finds itself in to better sell their product. Change is somewhat inevitable, but the church seems quite stuck in its ways and because of our Orthopraxis we tend to like things the way we are. The management side is how well we communicate that change necessity to the rest of the organisation.
In churches change is painful. When all the world is changing faster and faster, it’s good to know that something is predictably the same. Christmas gives people touch points. The old hymns. A service you know. And I particularly feel for the older people in our congregations for whom the world is changing so fast that they feel left behind and alone. They no longer relate to the strange new world. The difference between the generations now is phenomenal and only set for the gap to increase.
The greater the gaps, the harder the change, the greater the call for change management.
So what change management for churches does for us is to ease the process of our crossing those gaps. Communicating the necessity of change, easing the fears of change, and taking as many people along with you as possible so that the gospel will reach a new generation.
But what if we don’t actually need change management…no hear me out.
If we are to change the churches we are in then yes we do need change management to get there. Though see below as to why I think this might be a bad idea.
Here’s the thing: Jesus spoke of new wine in new wine skins. We seem to have the opinion that he was talking just about the change from Jewish law to grace and the New Testament that he was introducing (the promise…not the second half of the bible!)
What if he was actually talking about new wine in new wine skins in each new context…even in each new generation?
When you look at Acts this certainly seems the case. The council at Jerusalem decided that there was no point expecting Gentiles to follow the impotent law…so said that effectively they just abstain from anything that would put a block between God and themselves.
What if we put new wine skins agenda above change management? Jesus didn’t seem to teach anything about change management at all…
Let’s see what may be the advantages and disadvantages…and perhaps where change management does fit in the traditional realm
First, what if don’t change?
Imagine this, first century church. They number in their thousands after Pentecost, but they all are Jews. They still do everything in the Jewish way, and when they meet the Gentiles they expect them to do things the same way. They are creating clones…
If you take a successful business that sells a widget to an audience who needs a widget, then improves that widget over and over then as long as the audience still need the widget then they will buy it. But what if the market changes, and widgets become obsolete? The company will go out of business. What the company needs to do before the widget is no longer needed is to diversify and start making grommets, which is what the market is moving into. It can be related to the original widget, but a completely different product.
In my entrepreneurial approach to church planting, mission and ministry this is the second expansion phase (identify a focus>develop with host community>expansion phase I add bolt ons > simplify > expansion phase II diversify)
Diversification is exploring brand new lines but with the same voice. One last example.
Parable of the hat seller
You make hats. You have discovered the type of hat everyone loves you to make, and you have a style of hat which is unique to you and sells brilliantly. Now you decide to branch out into handbags and shoes. Then later into jewellery. You then set those new branches free and although it’s the same brand it is now under different manufacturers and management. Thats diversification.
The idea is to create lots of new jumping off points. The more jumping off points you have, the more effective you are to reaching a wider audience. There might be 100 people who like hats. So you will only sell to those 100 people. But there may be 100 people who like bags, another 100 who like shoes. Some of those people will like hats and shoes and bags,some like…and so on. You will sell 100 hats if you stick with hats. But you might sell 300 or more products by diversifying. See how it works? By diversifying you are connecting to a wider audience. It’s called reach.
If you don’t diversify you will never meet the wider audience and stagnate. In life there are only two options: grow or die.
So in church, if we don’t diversify then the reach we have stays limited. We will only sell our way of doing church. The hat method.
If we just change there’s a problem. Let’s go back to our hats.
Let’s say that each year a certain lady buys our new hat which hasn’t changed in years. The son of the owner comes in and decides to update the range. He changes the colour and adds a feather. The company counts it as a success because they get a new client.
Suddenly the lady doesn’t want our hat anymore. We might have gained a client, but we have also lost one.
OK, so we communicate with her…we tell her that we are going to change the style. She still doesn’t want it.
Right…so we add the new hat to the range and keep the old hat. Everyone is happy, right? Wrong. Because now it costs twice as much to produce, and we need a new manufacturing process…the company is worse of than before because it is spreading itself too thin. So it creates a new hat again and again, each year, and it gets harder and harder…suddenly no one wants hats apart from the old lady. The company is left with stock it no longer can sell. It keeps its stores open just in case people will want hats again. It tries really hard by bringing out new hats each year in a desperate attempt to reinvigorate the market…but it’s getting thinner and thinner. They keep the shop open just for the old lady.
She is very grateful. She remembers back to the time when everybody wore hats. And she tells everyone about those days.
Then she dies.
You see the church has done this. They have kept everything the same, and just kept selling hats so to speak. They’ve tried different shaped hats. Added more colours. Added little extra bits. Run special promotions. But in the end, no one wants hats anymore. Well apart from special occasions.
Here’s the lesson:
If we don’t diversify, we will die. We need to be selling other things besides hats.
But do keep the branding
What do I mean by keep the branding? We don’t need to change the orthodoxy…what we believe! Jesus is still the same yesterday, today and forever. But we can’t keep doing church the same way.
Nor can we just think that we can change things endlessly. Because we will find that some people will adopt the change, but many many will suffer and will not want change.
What seems to drive us to want to embrace change management in the church rather than move forward and embrace diversity is the notion of keeping it together in the body of Christ. But what I think we are doing is trying to all be feet or all be hands. People shop around for flavours of worship, but then don’t want it to change.
Theologically I think there are two ways we need to look at things. The mustard seed and the incarnation.
The mustard seed was tightly regulated in the Roman world because it was invasive and could take over fields if it got out, sending out runners and popping up all over the place. Once in, you couldn’t dig it out. It was a big plant, stretching out massively, but it was more bush like than tree like. (I’ve looked into this quite in depth). We are stuck in our church mentality with the idea of a great big SINGLE tree, and so we try to grow big sustainable trees which do all sorts of things.
But the mustard seed plant of the Roman Empire was small, adaptable and everywhere.
The incarnation shows us God becoming us. Like us but the way we should be. Jesus was firmly first century Jew. Spoke a couple of languages probably. Had a normal job in the family business. The Christian message even now throughout the world where it has spread has done so because whilst the message is the same, the communication of it uses the common metaphors. My friend is into translating the bible, (he doesn’t do it, but worked for Tyndale), and he was telling me about the amount of work that goes into working out how to communicate the gospel, and how to express things. For instance, how does one express ‘though your sins are scarlet they will be as white as snow’ to a culture which has never seen snow?
And yes, this is the whole thing behind fresh expressions of church!
We can create new ways of expressing Christ. And we have to. The problem is, I think, that we are onto a loser if what we want to do is to change every church to embrace new contexts.
Growth comes only from diversification, not just changing.
Change management is just more. Different more, but still more of the same. It is painful. People get hurt. You will potentially lose as many people as you gain.
You are marketing still to a finite group of people. We need to increase our reach by connecting the brand (Jesus) into a wider group.
I think this really is the new wine skins that Jesus was talking about. He wasn’t looking to change the Jewish world, in fact if you look at Paul I think so long as it still had the freedom that Christ brought, it was fine to be a Jew -he shaved his head to take on a vow quite willingly to show that he wasn’t against being Jewish! He just recognised that it wasn’t the power to save.
New wine is about diversification and keeping the same branding…not putting all your eggs in one basket.
Change management is about just making things bigger, but it will fail if it doesn’t diversify. But you’ll always lose out if you try and get everyone on board. What you need is a portfolio of approaches.
Change management is also slow in a fast changing world. By the time you have had all your church meetings you will NEVER catch up. It will take a while to identify the needs, and then your resources base…but then to get everyone on board will take time and massive investment from the minister or whoever who is leading it trying to help everyone be happy. Because that’s what we do in church, we want everyone to be happy. Living in peace with one another.
But what if we go and seed the DNA of Jesus into new places. Or rather, go and work with what God is already doing (Missio Dei and all that)
What I am suggesting is that rather than trying to change the whole of your church and upsetting so many people in the process, how about using change management in a different way?
First, help them to realise that NOT changing will eventually lead to death. But actually, that is fine. Things die. It natural. We might not like it, but it will happen eventually. Even trees after hundreds of years will die. It’s ok!
But then explain that we need to think of bigger than just keeping the historic church building open. In the church across the UK we are starting to see growth. Why? Because new ways of gathering are starting to grow.
What the change management can do is to help people to realise that they don’t need to change, but they do need to embrace that the way of doing church as a whole needs to change. New wine needs to go into new wine skins.
What the church needs to do is to embrace that change, celebrate it. Encourage it. And if they can, resource it. It’s what ++Rowan Williams called a mixed economy of church.
What we need to do in churches is instead of trying to get them to change is to get them to understand the wider picture,and either have them connect with churches doing new things to support them in prayer, finance etc.. Or if they have the people present in the congregation who want change, to let them go for it. But set up something new. yes, it will be costly to lose them from their existing congregation. Yes that might mean there are less meeting on a Sunday morning. And yes, it might have the feeling of ‘but we should all be one together’ but the truth is,without diversifying we will die.
Summary of how we should approach change management (without the waffle)
1) Change management is about trying to get everyone to agree to a different way of doing things
2) Diversification is the way to growth as it expands reach.
3) Change will always hurt and lose some
4) Change management can be used as a tool to understand the need for diversification, enable incarnational diversification, but celebrate those who want things to remain the same
5) We don’t need to change our churches…what we need is radical diversification.
6) We don’t need change management…we need diversification management
Can I help you further? I get a number of individuals and churches asking after me to help out with mission/vision consultancy. At turning points of churches looking to see where they might be going next I can help guide you through the process of exploration.