The title of this blog sounds rather apocalyptic. It is not meant to be. Rather, it expresses a common challenge church boards face — seeking to be change agents, but acting too aggressively, too quickly, or too ambitiously. The resultant stress on the congregational “system” becomes too great. The pushback shows itself in strong pockets of resistance, staff resignation, key volunteer leaders quietly departing, financial resources diminishing, etc.
Church boards constantly have to find the best ways to lead in and through change. Every board meeting requires the board members to make choices, i.e. decisions, that produce change. Some changes are immense and others quite minor, but board work is all about change. In this midst of these choices for transformation one variable that the board can control is the pace of change.
Leadership groups often get so excited and passionate about proposed changes that they get way ahead of the supporting constituency. As this distance grows the constituency becomes suspicious, agitated, and distrustful. Conversely the leadership group becomes frustrated, impatient, and harsh. Only the leadership group can deal with this problem. Sometimes the best solution is to call a time-out. Stop the process, pause, reflect, pray, communicate, and regroup. If the leadership group presses ahead regardless of the disquieting signals, then inevitably some portion of the constituency will vote with their feet.
The greater the change anticipated, the more the leadership group, i.e. the church board, has to communicate with the congregation. So when you are considering collectively a choice that requires significant change, make sure you spend time figuring out the communication process in advance. Incorporate time for the congregation to get up to speed so that they can enjoy the change and get excited about the prospects. You will get valuable input as you seek their advice and pray.
When the proposed change represents a significant decision, then its implementation will require more time. For example, if a church board decides to adopt a new model of governance, it will probably take one to two years for this process to achieve its goal. And beyond this orientation to the new model will continue as the board members figure out how the new model works in different situations. Along the way some will question the wisdom of the decision, others will love it and wonder why other board members are “dragging their feet,” and some will be confused for a time. People need time to process, adjust and learn and along the way they experience various emotions — fear, anger, excitement, etc.
Sometimes proposed changes will be the catalyst for personnel changes. Current staff may not agree with the new direction and decide to seek employment elsewhere. Or the changes may require a considerable shift in responsibilities and you will discover the some current leaders do not have the competencies required. Eventually some board members may reach the conclusion that the new direction does not reflect their passion and finish their term. These adjustments in personnel will take time to surface, implement well, and then remedy.
Taking time to process and implement significant change also allows the board to adapt the plan to new circumstances, new data, and new insight. No board anticipates perfectly and completely the implications of projected changes. Humility in leading change is an important element. Sometimes it is helpful to try some small experiments in the direction of the proposed changes to discern whether it is doable and achieves the intended purposes. This reduces risk, builds confidence, provides opportunity for skill development, and generates wisdom.
Church boards as leadership groups are collective change agents. One of their competencies then has to be the capacity to lead change well so that the agency they represent is strengthened, not fatally harmed.