What Is the formula for united change?

I recently spoke with a church member who was frustrated with his local church. He confided he was considering attending elsewhere. He expressed doubt in the leadership’s ability to make wise choices. He always felt out of the loop. Announcements made about changes in the way things were going to be done with kids, small groups or upcoming event schedules always came unexpectedly and last minute. There was never any room for discussion. They were announced and it was assumed that everyone would line up and follow the new marching orders.

His solution to the problem was to quietly slip out the back door. When I suggested he talk to the pastor he made a very interesting comment. He said, “I wouldn’t know what to say to him. He’s in charge, I’m not. Plus, it’s not like he’s done anything grossly wrong.” When I pressed him further, I discovered he actually had tried to talk with the pastor about the issue earlier in the year, as best he could. The problem was that he didn’t really know exactly what the issue was – just that he felt discontent, disconnected and powerless to make a difference. Nothing changed.

There are two very important elements that every church leadership team should include whenever introducing change. Most don’t. Both elements slow things down. They gum up the works and make things more complicated. However, without them there will almost always be dissension and dissatisfaction. Something the apostle Paul warned us to stay away from.

In my years of ministry I have come to the conclusion that the below formula is super important when introducing change to your congregation. It doesn’t matter if the change is something huge like a building campaign or something relatively minor like switching youth group night. Following this formula will ensure the highest involvement, participation and commitment to your cause from your attendees. 

Here is the all-important formula:

Communication + Time = United Change

Let’s unpack the formula a little bit.


The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. George Bernard Shaw  People need to get the skinny if you want them to buy-in. Even better, give them a chance to pipe in with their thoughts and input. All you have to commit to is explain and listen. Most complainers wouldn’t be so difficult if they were just heard. Of course, who wants to do all that work? Better to just make the decisions and roll them out, right? That could work, but it won’t lead to committed people. The people that usually follow that kind of leader are those who are either loyal to them no matter what or those who really don’t care either way. No. Share the vision with them and give them time to process and be part of the discussion, first. “When people see their own ideas and fingerprints on the work, they have a sense of ownership that feels true and genuine.” Barry Demp


If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? John Wooden  Communication must be combined with time. That is, people need time to think through your vision. To process. To ask questions. To check their schedule and life and see if it will fit. When you don’t give people time, you are showing a lack of respect for them – the very thing you’re trying hard not to do. So give people time to process change, especially change that will impact them. If your changing worship team rehearsal night from Tuesday to Wednesday, there are only a few people who need to know, but give them time. Communicate + Time will more likely lead to wholehearted commitment to the changes, even when it requires a sacrifice on their part.

United Change

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10  The Word of God has a lot to say about the topic of unity. We are called to work hard at obtaining unity and maintaining it. How ironic that many times we are the reason we lack it, simply because we don’t go the extra mile to communicate clearly and give people time to get on board!

How do you introduce change to your congregation?

Blind Spots for the Local Church

I visited a church a while back that had a BIG blind spot. At least, it seemed like a blind spot to me. I could see the problem, but none of the leaders seemed to realize it was there. The problem was that they really believed they were a friendly church, but in reality they weren’t . . . unless you were an insider. I was greeted at the door, which was nice; but from that point forward I became invisible. People actually seemed to work hard at avoiding eye contact with me! This ‘Blind Spot’ is really hurting them – mostly because they are blind to the problem, while it’s painfully obvious to every guest who darkens their door.

Last week I wrote a post entitled, ‘Blind Spots for the Christian Leader‘. This simple matrix does a great job of defining the various areas of self awareness each of us possess. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you jump back & check it out.

Today, I’d like to explore how the Johari Window applies to the local church (rather than just the pastor or a leader within the church). Here’s a review of how the Johari Window works. 


In the above image you’ll note the four quadrants.  Each section represents knowledge or lack of knowledge regarding various character traits, weaknesses, etc. for the individual, or for today’s discussion, the local church. Because we are dealing with a group of people instead of just one person, each quadrant gets a little more complicated. With the exception of the ‘Unknown’ section, there end up being different groups of people for each area. So far as I can tell, here are the different groups of people we should keep in mind:

  • Leaders: This includes the pastor, key staff, elders and any other leaders who are on the front lines in ministry at the church.
  • Members/Attendees: This includes everyone else who attends regularly and are the recipients of most of the ministry at the church.
  • Guests: This includes anyone who attends a service, activity, or event for the first time as well as those who come back to visit two or more times. A ‘guest’ is anyone who considers themselves a visitor at the church, regardless of how long they have been attending.
  • Community: This includes anyone in your community who has never attended your church. 

Let’s take a look at each quadrant in relation to the local church:

Open Self – Known To Everyone

For the local church, this is the smallest quadrant of all. There is very little about a local church that everyone knows about, especially when you add in the community – some of whom may not even know the church exists. Depending on the community, the ‘Arena’ quadrant may include things like the church name, location and/or pastor.

Hidden Self – Known Only To Us

Leaders are aware of things that members, guests, and the community are unaware of. Examples might include sensitive information like giving records, individual’s unique circumstances, people problems, etc. It may also include a clearer understanding of the bigger picture for the church. For instance, leaders are most likely to know where the church has been and where it’s going.

On the down-side, leaders are often guilty of unintentionally holding their cards too closely to the chest. As a result, sometimes other leaders, volunteers, and/or members can be stuck serving without fully comprehending what they are doing, how they should do it, or why it’s important.

Members are usually ‘in the know’ in some areas, at least in comparison to guests and the community. Where church life can get messy is when members are aware of sensitive information that doesn’t include the whole story or bigger picture. This is a feeding frenzy for satan to reek havoc in the church. Lack of communication or miscommunication will often lead to false conclusions, wrong expectations, and misguided assumptions.

To make matters even more complex, many times members are privy to situations and needs in the church that leaders are unaware of and don’t take the ownership to communicate what’s going on with them. Again, this disables whatever care those leaders may be able to exert in the situation.

Finally, leaders often fail to realize that many members are exactly what they need to solve certain problems, lead certain ministries, or fund new initiatives. God has placed the right people in ‘the house’ for the ministry He wants to initiate. This means many members have the skills, experience or funds to fulfill those purposes, if leaders would just invite them to participate.

Blind Self – Known to Others, Unknown to Us

Leaders are often the ones in the dark in this quadrant. There’s an old saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” It may be true for the church leader & pastor. Many would rather not know what they don’t know, but ultimately it isn’t healthy or helpful to the success of the church.

Blind Spots for leaders will include what people really think about the services, events, and activities in the church. For instance, the pastor may believe the weekly bible study is important, relevant and impacting to those who attend while the attendees may simply come because they believe they are supposed to, not because it is helpful to them. Other leadership Blind Spots might include genuine needs that members, guests and the community has, but which have never been communicated to them.

(Remember, we are focusing on the organization, not the individual – there are more blind spots that the pastor or a leader may have personally which I’ve discussed in the post ‘Johari Window for the Christian Leader‘.)

Members often have blind spots in their overall effectiveness or involvement in ministry in the church. Additionally, they may not reflect the values and culture the leadership is expecting or hoping for. This is usually due to a lack of communication, mentoring and regular leadership development.

Guests are blind to nearly everything going on around them. Often, their perceptions do not fully reflect reality. They may perceive the church as a warm, friendly place at the start but discover later on that it’s very difficult to connect with people. Conversely, their first impression may be that the church is unfriendly and irrelevant when in reality the opposite is true, were they to stick around. They may be blind to conflict or organizational dysfunction until they’ve been around for a few months or even years. Research says that 96% of people who have a bad experience never complain. This means your guests may know things about your church that you are completely clueless about; in particular, their first impressions and experiences.

The Community is usually completely clueless. If they are even aware your church exists, what they do think about the church and those in the church rarely reflects reality. Unfortunately, this may also contribute to their unwillingness to visit. That said the community may also have important information about your church that you are unaware of. In particular, they know what they think about the church, even if it’s not true. For example, perhaps they ‘heard’ about a guest’s bad experience or a member was rude or insensitive to someone they know. Maybe that community event the church hosted ten years ago that didn’t go very well is still resident in many people’s minds. Individuals in the community will almost never share these thoughts with church leaders, unless they somehow find their way into the life of the church first and reflect back on their original perceptions.

UNKNOWN – Known to No One but God

There are things about your church that nobody knows, but God. Some of those things don’t really matter, like where the cool Christmas lights went that were bought two years ago. However, sometimes there are important aspects of ministry that, if revealed, would stimulate personal and numerical growth over time. This is why it is so critical that church leaders remain humble, are voracious learners and readers, and are willing to allow others outside their church (and often inside their church) provide ongoing coaching to them both personally and organizationally.

As a ministry coach, I might be able to play a role in helping you unveil some of the ‘Unknown’ in your ministry. If you’re interested, please contact me and we’ll start a conversation about it.


Why Churches Struggle Finding A New Pastor

My son loves to fish. A couple summers ago he caught a great fish (see picture) in a pretty small pond. He and his friends even landed a huge snapping turtle! The thing is, Ben has a somewhat unique fishing method. His primary fishing hole is at a pond near our home that has a bridge spanning the middle. He and his friends simply “pick their fish” while looking down over the bridge, and then focus on that catch. They’ve been pretty successful too!

I was talking with a leader the other day about succession planning for the local church. I told him there’s a big difference between Succession Planning and Replacement Planning. It’s a crude illustration, but I found myself sharing about my son’s fishing strategy.

I likened Succession Planning to what my son does at that bridge on the pond. Pick your fish, then focus on that fish until you’ve successfully hooked and brought it in.

Replacement Planning is going to be a lot more like the traditional fishing methods most of us use. Bait, cast, catch a bunch of green stuff. Try again, set the hook, pull in something small and ineffective, try again and again and again, until we catch something close to what we’re looking or hoping for. 

Every pastor wants to find the right person to replace him when it’s time to pass the baton. The problem is, most don’t think to look for that person until it’s too late. Sometimes I’ll receive a call from a pastor who is ready to resign or move on. They ask me, “Can you help me develop a succession plan?” After a few questions I have occasionally answered with, “No. But I’ll help you work on a replacement plan.” 

Succession is about finding one or more candidates for pastoral leadership and then mentoring them until one has shown him or herself ready for leadership. By then, it’s usually obvious to the senior leadership of the church, if not the congregation as well, that the new pastor is in the house. The transition usually goes a lot smoother for everyone.

Replacement is about finding one or more candidates who hopefully fit the bill, and putting them in the saddle, with a prayer that they were the right one. Too often, it turns out they aren’t. By the time you find that out, it’s too late and the church is often sidetracked for months or even years dealing with the repercussions.

Here are a few more differences between succession and replacement planning.



  • Is a process.
  • Is an event.
  • Begins 2-3 years before the transition.
  • Begins 3-6 months before the transition.
  • Is proactive.
  • Is reactive.
  • Prepares the congregation for change.
  • Surprises the congregation with change.
  • Yields expected results.
  • Yields mixed results.
  • Values are embedded into the new leader before succession happens.
  • Values are discovered in the new leader after replacement happens.
  • The new leader holds a high degree of trust by the congregation.
  • The new leader holds a mixed degree of trust by the congregation.

You get the idea. It’s wise to begin developing a succession plan for your church sooner than later. You can begin this process at any time and build it into your overall leadership strategy. It doesn’t matter if the Lead Pastor is 35 years old or 65 years old, it’s worth starting now.

Which plan will your church implement when it’s time to find a new leader?

The Sacred Cow

This article was originally posted on Transforming Leader in March, 2011. Enjoy!

medium_2937658955When I was 15 years old my dad bought a newborn calf. He and I drove to the local farm and I sat in the back of the truck holding the calf to my chest to keep him safe until we got home. (Side Note: I was pretty much a city boy – this was my first time being so close to a farm animal.) When we got home I was tasked with the job of feeding and caring for her (bottle feeding a calf is quite the experience). I did so for many months. I fed her, cared for her, cleaned her pen (not fun) and when I was bored or lonely I’d hang out with her. She was my pet (mistake). She was always glad to see me and ran over to me as I entered her pen. She even let me sit on her back once. I suppose there was a decent amount of trust between us.

Then one day my dad called me outside. He was holding a rifle. He announced, “Today, we are going to butcher the cow.” I was in shock. I was completely unprepared. It never really crossed my mind that this was the intended end in mind all those months ago. We walked over to the cow and dad tried to call her over to the fence. She wasn’t interested. He asked me to call her over. I did so and she immediately obeyed. It felt like I was betraying a friend. The final straw was when he told me to gently lift her head so that he could get a clean shot. Then it was over.

Suffice it to say, I’ll never forget that day. We killed the cow. I know some of you are chuckling right now, a few of you may feel sorry for me. I’ve survived just fine. If I ever get in that situation again I can guarantee you I won’t be giving my heart to a cow again!

The Sacred Cow
Maybe you and your church can relate. You have raised and cared for a cow for many, many years. Many in your congregation (perhaps even you) have grown to love her. You’ve cared for her, cleaned out her pen, and hung out with her so long that nobody really ever questions her existence anymore. She belongs.

Here’s the problem. There is no room for a sacred cow in your church. At some point in time, what was originally an idea that would help people grow in God became a calf in the back of the truck. Some few people decided it was important to keep around and it has been ever since.

The mission of your church is to {enter your mission statement here}. I didn’t hear anything about cows there. But if you have a sacred cow then it seems to me that you have two choices:

  • Build your ministry around the cow (easy).
  • Kill the cow (hard).
FYI: I don’t recommend my dad’s method for killing cows either.
Check out my other two posts in this series: The Smelly Cow & Finding Your Sacred Cow.

photo credit: stevoarnold via photopin cc

Facelift, Overhaul, Funeral.

painting wall with a roll in greenYears ago I heard a friend of mine coin the phrase, “Facelift, Overhaul, Funeral”. The idea was that sometimes we are forced to admit an area of ministry needs an upgrade.

Ideally, the upgrade will just require a simple facelift. A few tweaks and all is well. The other day I drove by Joy Community Church in Rochester, NY and they were painting the exterior of the building.


Then there are times when something needs an overhaul. Usually, we aren’t looking forward to this because there is going to be a considerable investment in time or money involved. An overhaul is when we make considerable changes, not only to the exterior/appearance of the ministry, but to the internal structures, systems & strategies. Last year I took on the project of overhauling the Elim Fellowship website. We moved the whole site to a different web platform, web host and web programmer. I can say with confidence that it’s definitely an improvement over the old one.


And of course, sometimes a funeral is the order of the day. Really, who enjoys a funeral? But sometimes we have to admit that the season of success for that area of ministry is over. Hopefully, we have the wisdom to end things with grace. Years ago as a youth pastor I started a coffee house for teens. It was very successful for about 4 years. Then the time came for us to admit that we had a good run but it was time to focus on other things.


Meet with your team this week and set aside one hour. In that hour, ask the question, “Which systems, strategies & ministries need a Facelift? Overhaul? Funeral?”

Image from khorzhevska at istockphoto.com.

What’s the real price tag for change?

bio-pic-joshua-finleyPastor Joshua Finley is the Lead Pastor at Elim Gospel Church in Lima, NY. – a thriving church of about 800 located in the middle of (almost) nowhere.  I had the great privilege of serving with him at the church for several years before making my move to Elim Fellowship in 2011. Josh is an outstanding communicator & leader, and certainly understands a thing or two about change!

“When you are through changing you are through!” –Bruce Barton

Preparing for a vision talk on change with my church family I came across some really helpful reminders and insights on change I picked up from Tony Morgan at tonymorganlive.com:
  • changeIt’s a lot easier to embrace change when you’re the one initiating it.
  • Change without vision is chaos.
  • Change is a lot easier to understand when it’s shared through stories.
  • Many times the successful changes also produce the most criticism.
  • It’s almost impossible to change a change that previously worked.
  • Test-driving or experimenting with a change is a lot easier than fully committing to the unknown.
  • Change is more likely to take hold when it’s followed by an immediate win.
  • When you think you’ve communicated enough about change, you need to communicate more
  • Slow change is rarely positive change.
  • Organizations that don’t change die.
  • If everyone recognizes the need for change, you’re obviously not the leader.

Change is a healthy necessity in every area of our lives. Marriages, friendships, businesses, churches, governments, even TV sitcoms, all require a steady diet of change in order to remain or become healthy.

Though few people would disagree with that statement, ALL of us resist change on some level. There is a reason for this. Meaningful change comes with a very real price tag.

How much does change cost?
  • There is no growth without change.
  • There is no change without loss.
  • There is no loss without grief.
  • There is no grief without pain.
  • Change always involves some kind of pain.

“The place between where you are and where you want to be is a painful decision you are either willing or unwilling to endure.” –Samuel Chand

“There is no such thing as a great victory at bargain prices.” –Gen. Eisenhower

“Not all hurt is harmful. Much of it is beneficial and necessary.” –Dr. Henry Cloud

My prayer is that you and I will make the painful choices necessary to lead wisely and courageously into the future God has planned for each of us.

Questions to Consider.
  • Where are you currently needing and leading change?
  • What painful decision have you put off in the past 30 days that keeps looping around to face you again

Image from Irochka_T on istockphoto.com.

How People Embrace Change

diffusion-innovationA pastor once told me a long-standing family left his church because of the new colors painted on the walls in the sanctuary. Upon further investigation I discovered a few things about the church. First, change didn’t happen often. Second, when it did happen, it was almost always a surprise. Finally, the pastor was overjoyed by the recent departure of this particular couple. It seems they played a substantial role in the first point above.

As a ministry coach it’s my job to recommend change. Nobody really asks for my input unless they see change in the mix. However, quite often we just aren’t ready for the repercussions. The fact is, properly rolling out change takes a lot of communication & time – as well as a good measure of wisdom.

In his book, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code, Samuel Chand bottled up the ‘Diffusion of Innovations‘ theory into an easy to understand application for the local church. In essence, it summarizes the general distribution of ’embracers’ to change in your congregation. Used wisely, this information can become a valuable asset when rolling out almost any change. Enjoy.

  • Excited Embracers (2% of group)
    They are the dreamers and visionaries who are usually recognized as leaders or policymakers.
  • Early Embracers (18% of group)
    They are respected and influential, and they eagerly get on board when the concept is explained. Leaders treasure these people on their teams.
  • Middlers (60% of group)
    They feel more comfortable with the status quo, and they listen carefully to anyone who resists change. They are willing to get on board only when they are convinced that everybody else will, too.
  • Late Embracers (18% of group)
    They resist change as long as possible, offering objections all along the way. Eventually, they will go along with the majority, but with a large measure of skepticism and without any enthusiasm at all.
  • Never Embracers (2% of group)
    They are steadfastly committed to the past, and they continue to resist change long after the rest of the team is working hard to achieve success.

What does this model suggest to you regarding HOW to roll out change in the church?

Everything is an Experiment

experimentI just finished reading Jim Collins’ book entitled, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”. My heart and passion is that the local church would truly emulate that title and be visionary organizations that reach the world for Christ with longevity and strength.  I was particularly interested to read this about visionary organizations from the book:

“Visionary companies make some of their best moves by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and – quite literally – accident. What looks in retrospect like brilliant foresight and preplanning was often the result of ‘Let’s just try a lot of stuff and keep what works.'”p.9

If you attended the Elim Fellowship May Leadership Conference a few weeks ago, you’ll remember our keynote speaker, Mark Batterson, encouraged us to try new things at our churches & ministries, and call them ‘an experiment’.

Where do you need to break the mold (or kill the cow) and try something new this summer or fall?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are ‘affiliate links.’ This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255: ‘Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

The Drive for Progress

drive-for-changeAre you a visionary person? Is your church a visionary church?

According to author, Jim Collins in his widely acclaimed book, ‘Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies‘, if you don’t have a drive to constantly improve, you are probably not a visionary leader. 

Harsh, but very possibly true. In this day and age, if we aren’t willing and able to self evaluate on a regular basis, we’ll be left behind. Here’s what Jim says on page 84:

In a visionary company, the drive to go further, to do better, to create new possibilities needs no external justification. Through the drive for progress, a highly visionary company displays a powerful mix of self-confidence combined with self-criticism. Self-confidence allows a visionary company to set audacious goals and make bold and daring moves, sometimes flying in the face of industry conventional wisdom or strategic prudence; it simply never occurs to a highly visionary company that it can’d beat the odds, achieve great things, and becomes something truly extraordinary. Self-criticism, on the other hand, pushes for self-induced change and improvements before the outside world imposes the need for change and improvement; a visionary company thereby becomes its own harshest critic. As such, the drive for progress pushes from within for continual change and forward movement in everything that is not part of the core ideology.

When is the last time you gave a good solid look at your Sunday morning experience, the worship, perhaps even your Sunday message? (Check out my services page if you’d like some help on that!I dare/challenge you, this week, to write down just ONE area that you know needs to be evaluated, discussed and challenged to improve in your church. Please, please, pick something critical and important. The top four recommendations I would pick for you would be (1)worship, (2)message, (3)preschool ministry, (4)guest experience.

photo credit: marsmet546 via photopin cc

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Opinion Leadership in the Church

Seth Godin - Famous Opinion Leader

Seth Godin – Famous Opinion Leader

This past year I noticed something fascinating about my personal influence with others. I have a reputation among my friends & colleagues for being very efficient and productive. When I stumbled across a new tool for managing tasks, projects & people I naturally shared my find with those around me. I sent a few emails, wrote a couple of posts and engaged in some personal conversations about it.

None of that is fascinating. 

What is interesting to me has been people’s response. A lot of people have already incorporated this tool into their own lives, and have also become evangelists for it.

Today I was doing some research and stumbled across a term called “Opinion Leadership“. An opinion leader has a much stronger chance to influence those around him than others, because people hold his opinion in high regard for some reason, in this case because of my expertise in productivity.

It begs the question, “Who are the opinion leaders at your church?”

Understand, an opinion leader is not the same thing as a leader. It’s possible they have influence because of a competence, but it’s just as possible their influence is related to their outstanding character, history in the church, position in the community and more. In fact, it may be that a positional leader in the church has little true influence with the congregation compared to an opinion leader.

The opinion leader is most certainly someone to invest time getting to know. He or she will play a big role in encouraging or discouraging whatever new initiative you are attempting to roll out to the congregation. One of the most strategic activities you can do is to identify your opinion leaders and include them in your new initiative, in some way, early on. The more likely that they grab hold of your vision, the more likely others will adopt it as well.

What are you doing to strengthen your relationship with the opinion leaders at your church?

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

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