New Year Church Change Pain Management


changeWhen your horse dies…stop riding it is a great adage to challenge congregations that attempt again and again to reach an ever-changing culture with never changing practices.  It doesn’t, however, offer much comfort for the pain and grief experienced in the loss of the beloved horse.

A change in structure and practice is often a priority as a church begins a new calendar year.  But changes in structure and practice can also negatively impact potential success in the future unless the emotions of those longing for the past are also considered.

A healthier transition could begin once a congregation acknowledges that the pain associated with change is real.  Considering the emotions linked to change is essential to the transitional development that will ultimately lead to transformation.  The key is to develop and implement a healthier change process to assist with pain management.  Consider the following suggestions:


Select the Appropriate Score

Score:  A tool used by a composer, conductor, or analyst that shows all the parts of an ensemble, enabling the experienced reader to “hear” what the composition will sound like.

Selecting the appropriate score for change requires preparation, prayer, discernment, study, observation, and buy-in before actually initiating a change.  Andy Stanley challenges leaders with the understanding that, “Designing and implementing a strategy for change is a waste of time until you have discovered and embraced the current reality.  If you don’t know where you really are, it is impossible to get to where you need to be.  What you don’t know can kill you.”[1]

The score is the focus, outline, containment, and limitations of the considered change.  Even though a score has framework limitations it is still open to the interpretation of the conductor and players.


Rehearse Before You Perform

Rehearsal:  The practice of something to be performed, usually to test or improve the interaction between participating people, or to allow technical adjustments.

Rehearsing a change is actively soliciting buy-in from congregants with unique gifts, perspectives, and abilities.  The pain of transition is amplified when leaders discount congregational members as uninformed, as incapable of grasping the theological implications of change, or by assuming that they are so rooted in their old identity and behavior that they are unwilling to think in new ways.

Rehearsing change creates an environment where individuals realize their wisdom is an essential part of what is being created.  Shared vision allows a congregation to consider the various perspectives and molds them within the framework of the score.  It then creates a unified ensemble ready for the final presentation.  Peter Senge describes this shared vision as, “creating a relational child, a unique future that will only emerge with shared dialogue and cooperative implementation.”[2]

Tempo:  Tempo is the relative speed at which a composition is to be played.  Rehearsal gives a congregation time to set the proper tempo for change.  What might appear to a leader to be the quickest and most direct route may seem reckless to those members of the congregation who have the same goals but are more comfortable taking safer routes. Ignoring signals of caution can create conflict, sabotage trust, leave those we lead in our wake, and cause us to re-trace our steps. What was intended to accelerate the pace may in fact lengthen it.  The tempo established during rehearsal will kill it or encourage its success.


Modulation Is Essential in Key Changes

Modulation:  The process of moving from one key to another.

The essential word in the previous definition is process.  Change is a process, not a one-time event.[3]  Modulation offers a congregation a less painful transition by allowing time for them to come to terms with their identity change.  Jumping from one key to another without the process of modulation is abrupt and jarring, leaving the listener stunned and frustrated.

Ironically, one of the key components of a successful modulation is dissonance.  Dissonance will occur in the change process and cannot be ignored or it will surface again.  Resolving dissonance in the modulation process releases the tension of moving from the previous to the new.  Transformation takes time and the process is just as important as the end result.


Perform – Initiate the Change

Performance:  The act of presenting; of doing something successfully; using knowledge as distinguished from merely possessing it.

In his book, The Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley highlights the story of how in the early days of the Civil War; northern generals were so focused on avoiding casualties and embarrassing losses that they would miss strategic opportunities.  They spent more time exercising the troops than they did engaging the enemy.  Stanley wrote, “Simply recognizing the need for change does not define leadership.  The leader is the one who has the courage to act on what he sees.”[4]

Leadership is not about making change decisions on your own but it is about owning those decisions once they are made.  Stanley also said, “While the average man or woman fears stepping out into a new opportunity, the leader fears missing out on a new opportunity.”[5]

In an effort to initiate change, leaders often push to do anything different than what is not working now.  This lack of planning, absent of serious reflection often causes unnecessary transitional pain.  Those faithful leaders and congregants who have successfully opened themselves to new concepts with healthy pain management have accomplished this by accenting what they do best, reclaiming lost focus and resolve, and involving greater participation of the congregants in the entire process.

“The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything…or nothing.”                                                                             

                   Nancy Astor

[1] Stanley, Andy, The Next Generation Leader (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003), 75.

[2] Senge, Peter in Brad Berglund, Reinventing Sunday: Breakthrough Ideas for Transforming Worship (Valley Forge: Judson, 2001), 11.

[3] Heath, Switch, 290.

[4] Stanley, The Next Generation Leader, 50.

[5] Ibid., 51.



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