Hope Network Newsletter: Change Without Chaos – Part 2 (June 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

Part 2

by Lynn Anderson
June, 1993

NOTE: The first part of this article appeared in Wineskins, Vol. II, No. 1, and described “Some Basic Assumptions for Change Agents.” The first five are:
1) Change will not come until a group sees the need to change.
2) Change will not come without resistance.
3) Change won’t come without trust.
4) Change won’t come without ownership in the change process.
5) Change won’t come without disequilibrium.

This installment continues with the following observations:

166) Change generates less resistance and disequilibrium if options are maintained.
I know a number of urban churches which abruptly cancelled their Sunday night services – boom – and substituted small groups in homes. Seemed perfectly logical. Sunday night services fit rural, nineteenth-century culture, but their purpose seemed unclear in the late twentieth-century urban setting.

True, But, some church people will feel guilty if they don’t come to the church building on Sunday nights and may view the cancellation as a step away from God. Some congregations employed a more effective strategy. When they switched to Sunday evening small groups in homes, they also maintained a “non-group” small group at the church building. Options!

Another example: Years back at the Highland church, we began singing occasionally during the communion reflection. Some loved it. Others smelled heresy! So we devised options. One Sunday we would say, “In this church Christians love to help each other worship. Some of us prefer silent reflection during the communion. So today the rest of us are going to love those people and reflect silently with them. But next Sunday, we will sing during communion, and those who prefer silence will love those who like singing. Options!

Unfortunately, sometimes the folks that have been around a congregation the longest have the most control and tend to force their way on what is often the larger group of more recent members. But, love does not force one group of people to move to another group’s comfort zones. Maintaining options along with changes diminishes friction.

7) Change won’t come immediately!
Back in the early days of our 19 years at Highland, some of the elders and I prayed and worked towards changes that didn’t happen till 15 years later! Be patient.

Besides, pushing for immediate changes can backfire. Suppose that, on a scale of 10, I want to change a church from a 2 to a 9. Being a Type A person, I may consider myself a patient change agent if I only shoot for an 8 the first time. However, trying to go that far in one fell swoop may actually drive the congregation backwards to a hardened minus 14! A more effective strategy might be to shoot for a 5 on the first attempt. And then celebrate progress if the group only makes it to a 3 on that round.

Some of my “aged peers” and I have tried to be change agents for over 30 years. Significant progress has been made, but not yet all we’d hoped for. Some younger than us are God’s change agents, too. Still others will come after we are gone. God did not appoint any one generation to single-handedly do the changes for all of history. No rush. Let God choose the timing. Celebrate the progress instead of lamenting the frustration. Besides, if you ever get things the way you want them, some “Young Turks” will come along and change it all anyway.

Perhaps the Serenity Prayer belongs here as well as in 12-step groups: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

8) Change won’t come permanently without maintenance!
People forget. New Year’s resolutions seldom make it till March. We must regularly re-explain why changes are made. People need to be reminded of the reasons the new way is better. The biblical rationale for change must be repeated at regular intervals. We forget.

Good maintenance clearly spells out the parameters of change and frequently reviews them: “We will do this, but not do that. We will go this far and no farther. We will experiment this long, then reevaluate.” This reduces fear of change.

Maintenance is also needed because of turnover. Once a few years back, a trio of girls sang a communion reflection on Sunday morning, which we had often done previously but not for some months. You would have thought the bad place had busted loose! A wave of new members had “joined” since we had last used this singing format. They had not heard our rationale. What was old hat to most of us shocked the newcomers. A bit of maintenance might have brought the new folks up to speed and spared us all the trauma.

I am painfully aware of my own personal need for maintenance. You too, right? I clean up my act, then before long, I drift. Thank God for his patience! If individuals need maintenance, surely groups do too.

9) Again, principle #9 overlaps #8: Change will not come completely!
That’s human nature. Although I’ve been a Christian since high school, I am still wondering if I’ll ever realize some changes in my life that I have been working on for years. I really do want to change, and I am changing, gradually, but never completely. If individuals never change completely, why expect it of groups? The church is, after all, only a collection of blemished individuals.

Most urban churches experience constant turnover. For some months now, new families have joined with our congregation nearly every Sunday. People leave as well. Consequently, change will never completely keep pace with turnovers.

Finally, change will not come completely as long as the culture keeps changing. If we stay in touch with the culture, new church formats and approaches will have only a very short shelf life.

10) Change may not be ethical in some situations.
Some of us may be forced to hard choices. You may be driven by passion to reach totally unchurched seekers. But these people are not likely to be reached through traditional church models. So you may have tried your best to get your congregation to re-tool so that it can connect with the unchurched. But others, maybe even the founders who have invested their life’s blood in your congregation, may be driven by a different vision for your church. In that case, to force your changes may not be ethical.

Churches don’t have to all be the same. Some churches can change a little. Some a lot. I expect to see a lot more changes in the future because we are learning better change skills and strategies. We are also sifting what really needs to change from the merely cosmetic changes. But some churches won’t be able to change – not at all! Attempts to force 180-degree changes on such churches simply is not ethical. If you are a member of such a church, but you feel driven by a vision that doesn’t fit, you may need to say, “Brothers, would you help me plant a new church over yonder? I must do this in order to follow God’s calling.” Whether the people in your home congregation choose to help you or not, you have no God-given choice but to keep on loving and respecting them.

Enthusiasm for new church plantings is on the rise. For example, each year larger percentages of students in my graduate courses want to be church planters. However, the only legitimate reason for planting new churches is a God-given vision that cannot be accomplished where you are now. This is no reflection on your home church. It may simply mean that your vision does not fit your church’s life-cycle. The first generation of a new church is usually highly evangelistic and clearly focused. But, as a church gathers additional “constituencies,” it may become less militant and single-minded, but better at nurturing or at sending. Rather than being critical of such churches, let’s celebrate their strengths.

All this talk of change is not a criticism of our past. It simply means we feel a passion to (1) connect with unchurched people, (2) worship authentically in the heart-language of the culture, and (3) effectively change lives. Yet, we must move cautiously lest in our push to connect we surrender something precious.

Look at the stars. Taurus, Pegasus, Orion, and the others move each hour of the night rotating around the North Star, but the North Star never moves. For centuries sailors have steered safely to harbor, guided by that one fixed star. Everything is changing, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. As my friend David Lusk says, “Let changes come. They must come. But let the North Star remain fixed, and all is well!”


For Additional Reading and Study:

Allen, Jere and George Bullard. Shaping a Future for the Church in the Changing Community. Atlanta: Home Mission Board, 1981.
Anderson, Lynn. “Music That Makes Sense.” Wineskins. Vol. 1, No. 9, Jan/Feb 1993.
__________. “To Dream Again.” Wineskins. Vol. 1, No. 1, May 1992.
__________. “You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks.” Wineskins. Vol. 1, No. 4, August 1992.
Barker, Joel Arthur. Future Edge. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1992.
Barna, George. User Friendly Church. Venture, CA: Regal Books, 1991.
__________. Marketing the Church. Colorado Springs, CO. NavPress, 1991.
Beam, Joe. 171 Kestwick Drive East, Martinez, Georgia 30907, (404) 860-2278.
David, Stanley M. Future Perfect. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1987.
Drucker, Peter. The New Realities. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988.
Garrett, Carey. 3321 Lovers Lane, Dallas, Texas 75206, (214) 692-5739.
1 George Barna, Marketing the Church, (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), 21.
2 Leith Anderson, Dying for Change, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1990), 11.
3 Robert Tucker, Managing the Future.
Wineskins Magazine

Lynn AndersonFor the twenty-five years Lynn has served as an adjunct professor at Abilene Christian University, teaching missions, ministry, and leadership courses. And through those years he has been called on increasingly by scores of minister and numerous churches—as they sought encouragement, resources, and counsel in the midst of the challenges of church leadership. Lynn Anderson is an author, well-known speaker, and founder of the San Antonio-based Hope Network Ministries, a ministry dedicated to coaching, mentoring and equipping church leaders. [http://www.mentornetwork.org/]

 

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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