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The Most Critical Questions for Leading Change

When I walked into Maranatha Worship Center in Wichita, Kansas seventeen years ago, there were many challenges, but I was fortunate to find a group of people ready to face those challenges. Soon I realized that while I was the 13th pastor in that church’s nearly nine decades of ministry life to that point, I was given a gift that perhaps none of my predecessors had received. People were ready, and even desperate, for change.

To achieve significant change in an organization, four questions must be answered the right way:

1. Do we know we need to change? John Kotter’s book Leading Change tells us that step one toward change is a sense of urgency. Frankly, if there’s not a strong reason to change, the people won’t have the stomach for the journey. But urgency comes in two sizes–survival and mission. Survival urgency is the realization that if something doesn’t change, our church won’t be around for another decade. The threat of the doors closing will make most groups at least consider change. But mission urgency is even better. Mission urgency sees someone were not reaching or some critical need in our community, and charges toward change because we have to make a difference. In Wichita, survival urgency was on the table, and it brought a clear answer to question #1–YES!

2. Are we willing to change? Unfortunately, many churches who need to change lack the willingness to do so. Sure attendance is declining and ministries are shutting down ’cause the folks who once ran them now attend the church down the street. But, as long as the decision makers remain content with what they’re “getting” at church, we don’t need to make any changes. Tragic decision-making. To know change is needed and still be unwilling usually means the church has turned so inward that they will not risk their comfort for the mission Jesus gave. Thankfully, in Wichita, the people said strongly, “Show us what to do and we’ll do it.” Question #2–YES!

3. Do we know how to change? Now this is a bigger challenge and we’ll likely need a couple of blog entries to fully unpack it, but knowing what to do is critical because you won’t get many chances to fail with change. Change that’s effective breeds more opportunity for change, but change that fails makes change the enemy. For now, let me just say that change has to fit a pastor’s passion and ability to lead and also must connect with the people’s capacity to fulfill. If you can’t lead it and the people can’t do it, you aren’t going to succeed at change. I’ll discuss this more in detail next week. In Wichita, we didn’t succeed with every change initiative, but we were fortunate with enough of them to see strong momentum begin to grow. Question #3–YES!

4. Are we willing to do that? This is the commitment question. Once we have decided how we should change, we must be willing to pull the trigger. Many opportunities for a better future have been missed because we didn’t do what we knew we needed to do. How tragic to be so close to the right step only to back away because of fear. It takes resolve to pursue change. Not everyone will like it! In fact, there will almost always be a loss when change occurs. You can’t reach for a new day without lessening your grip on the old day. In Wichita, Question #4 got a YES! too.

There’s nothing easy about a change journey and you’ll volley back and forth on your scale of hoped for success. So, how strongly you and your people can say “YES!” to these four questions will be critical to the energy and willingness with which they tackle the change journey.

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