Buy In: Forming That Necessary Agreement For Adaptive Congregational Change

No, not everyone has to be on board before a congregation initiates adaptive change. One-hundred percent buy-in is unrealistic. On the other hand, to engage and sustain adaptive change for any length of time, a working agreement around change must be in place. We can make small, incremental changes, like were helpful back in the Modern Era (before 2000 or so) without widespread agreement. Yet, to shepherd our congregations through the transition zone to this Postmodern world in which we live…that takes some doing.

So what does it take for a congregation to do its work, to become a 21st century church who is moving ahead, partnering with God’s world transformation initiative? What are the necessary conditions which equip congregations to engage this adaptive work? There are many (find them in Farming Church: Cultivating Adaptive Change In Congregations), yet one key cultivation is necessary to fully engage the other key cultivations – a change-focused covenant.

Yes, savvy readers are aware there is much cultivation work to do before congregations are even ready to consider forming a covenant for change. These readers are certainly on target. One very helpful way to cultivate readiness for change is to do the Readiness Inventory. Currently we are using the online version of the RI only with congregations in our Farming Church development process, but it will be available to others soon. The RI gives a congregation their Readiness Quotient, helping them recognize their readiness for adaptive change.

Now let’s consider deeper buy-in which can support and empower our change efforts. Covenant is not a new word for we Christ-followers, since it’s been part of our spiritual tradition from the beginning. God and people in the scriptures periodically form covenants to capture the essence and meaning of high and holy events, while also forming agreements for living into the future. Currently, congregations who are ready for engaging adaptive change are forming covenants to create the support, structure and accountability needed to sustain change.

Recently we used one such covenant with a denomination who is launching the Farming Church Congregational Development Process with select congregations from its tribe. The covenant itself is a simple piece of paper with an introduction followed by signature lines for everyone involved. The forming of this covenant turned very meaningful, including congregational agreement, a litany in worship, prayers, and collective commitment - all meaningful ways to enact this working agreement for adaptive change. Now these congregations are in an agreement with God, their denominational leaders, each other, and Pinnacle Leadership for a season of adaptive change.

Technical language from the adaptive change lexicon for this covenant is “holding environment.” For individuals and organizations to engage significant change, they need strength, structure, support and accountability integrated into their collective life to contain the tension and motivation generated in adaptive work. This is what an effective holding environment does; holds the organization and its people through a season of adaptive change.

So how’s the buy-in for change in your congregation? How far are we toward readiness for change? Those congregations who navigate these waters will discover new life on the other side. May we use all the resources of insight and wisdom God has provided for us as we become the churches of the near future.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA