Change? Yes AND No

We were at the coffee shop discussing several topics, his church’s progress being one of them. Pastor
Scott described two clear, nearly simultaneous experiences which perfectly capture the congregation’s posture toward change. Scott leads a church with a huge sanctuary, built back when large numbers worshipped there each Sunday. Now they are smaller, with these summer months bringing even fewer to worship. In an effort to fill in the gaps in the sanctuary and create a sense of community, Scott roped off the back rows in each section while also closing the balcony. After the next Sunday, the congregational blow-back from a small loud group was strong. Statements like, “If those ropes don’t go away, we are going to another church, and taking our offering with us,” travelled along the congregational grapevine. This was the first of two simultaneous experiences. The second came the following Sunday in worship when the ushers who took up the offering were all female due to a special emphasis that day. The prayer before the offering in this congregation is led by an usher. Before praying, this particular usher praised this congregation for being open to doing things differently. She expressed great affirmation for a church who is willing to step out of its comfort zone, trying something new.

As Pastor Scott and I talked, we reflected on these two opposite experiences in the same congregation at the same time. We decided these two polar opposites describe the posture of we human beings toward change. We want to grow and change, yet we simultaneously resist change. We want our security and safety, yet we want risk and adventure. It’s like we are inviting growth opportunities while also turning our backs on them. Mostly, we are ambivalent when engaging change. We are attracted and repelled at the same time.

This is the congregational context in which we are called to cultivate adaptive change. Congregational leaders must discern the fitting combination of pushes and pulls, of moving ahead and leaning back, which lead to adaptive change. Recognizing our ambivalence toward change, wise leaders constantly push ahead and hold back. When we lead effectively, we cultivate the growing environment so that readiness for change can emerge. This raises the readiness quotient, positioning the congregation for engaging adaptive change.

May we lead congregations forward, using all the gifts and assets available to us, helping congregations live out their faith in robust, compelling ways.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA