This is part three of a series inspired by The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. You can read part one by clicking here and part two by clicking here.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to change in any organization is people. The easiest thing to do when looking at a church from the outside is to strategize all the things you’d do if you were in charge. All the staffing changes you’d make, all the people who would just need to get over it when you started making necessary changes to worship and committee structures. Never mind that those folks were there before you were, and in many cases, will be there long after you’re gone. People don’t go along with change because they hate you or because they don’t recognize that’s what’s needed. They don’t go along with change because they have many different deeply held values and loyalties that are threatened change, even needed change.
Pulling the pews out of the sanctuary may be the right move to make, but those were the pews that Mrs. Smith sat with her children in every Sunday morning for decades. The church secretary you want to fire is the only source of income for her family. Getting Mr. Jones off of trustees means he no longer holds a position of responsibility at the church he helped build with his bare hands. Not so easy now, is it?
Then there’s the professional staff and ordained clergy, the stakeholders who are an integral part of the machine, that benefit greatly from machine. These are the folks who put roofs over their heads and feed their families by making sure the church is stable and growing. A missional pivot that might lead you to downsize staff or have bi-vocational clergy means real consequences for real people. Changing models and methods of ministry from ones that at one time made the machine successful, but are what people are comfortable with. Change creates high levels of fear, anxiety, and a scarcity mindset among stakeholders, all for understandable reasons.
How then do we go about bringing people along with us in the difficult work of adaptive change?
The authors of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership suggest that:
To mobilize stakeholders to engage with your change initiative, you have to identify their strongest values and think about how supporting your program would enable your stakeholders to serve those values. (Chapter 6)
To go deeper with this, let’s consider one group of stakeholders we too often overlook – the people who live and work in the surrounding community, who are not a part of our church. This might be people who will potentially become a part of our church, but also include those who will never become members or active participants (because they matter to God and therefore should matter to us, too). We too often act without care for, or with inaccurate assumptions, of the community’s needs and wants. When we’re under pressure to make the machine produce we don’t see people in the community as we’re called to see them. We see them as potential butts in seats and as giving units, instead as neighbors to be in loving relationship and community with.
What do you know about the people in your community? How do the people in your community perceive you? What are the positive and/or negative impacts you are having on your neighbors? Are you in relationship with them as neighbors and community partners? Or do you simply see them as potential widgets to be produced by the machine? If we see them as potential widgets, then we just become salespeople for the machine.
So if we’re going to move ourselves, staff, and church leaders, from being in the sales business to the business of being better neighbors, we need to change the way we view and interact with stakeholders in the community.
A good illustration of this comes from a recent article for pastors titled “The Wrong Way and the Right Way to Network at Your Local Coffee Shop (or Wherever).” In the article the author lays out the “wrong” and then what he believes to be more effective ways of
hustling people for Jesus meeting potential new people at a coffee shop, who may then attend your church. The suggestions are mainly geared towards being better “bait” by not looking too distracted with work, but not looking too much like you’re trolling for converts, either. This includes not having a large and obvious bible out on the table, but placing a thinner book that’s about the bible, out instead. You know, so people will ask you about it and then you can reel them in.
These are the kinds of methods and tactics that are driven by the machine, which lead to a deep mistrust from community stakeholders (and seriously ruin the coffee shop experience for everyone). When we’re leading an adaptive organization that is responsive to the community coffee shop interactions still happen, but happen very differently. Instead of putting ourselves out there for the “bait and switch” we’re driven by the desire to meet our neighbors and learning how to be a good and loving neighbor. Out of this desire to know and listen to our neighbors, relationships and partnerships form that help meet the needs of both our congregations and the communities of which we are a part of. That’s not going to involve looking the right amount of busy or putting the proper book on the table. It’s going to involve being regularly present at the coffee shop (or wherever), being yourself, and building real relationships. This can lead to real transformation for individuals, your church, and the community. Shockingly, it’s even possible that your church might grow as a result of being a better neighbor in your community. It’s a difficult paradigm shift, however, when people’s livelihoods and comfort have been built on something like the bait and switch.
At the end of the day what really needs to happen is that all stakeholders and decision makers need be talking to one another so that we can understand what fears, anxieties, and loyalties are holding people back. And this isn’t just the occasional check-ins and surface level conversations, but real, open, honest, and raw, conversation that gets everything out on the table. Only then will real change occur. That’s the topic we’ll cover in the fourth and final part of this series.