Think back to a physics class you probably took in high school:
“A body in motion tends to remain in motion in a straight line unless disturbed by an outside force”
If your head isn’t spinning too much (or if you aren’t having unpleasant flashbacks to your high school physics class) let’s reframe that for church leadership:
Success tends to breed resistance to change.
When your church is on a roll – lives are being transformed, volunteers are engaged, attendance is strong, the community is being positively impacted, finances are healthy, families are being strengthened – it’s easy to believe that the best course is simply to do more of the same.
A church with momentum can lose sight of the need for change. Success can breed complacency.
The writer John Kotter says this: “Too much past success, a lack of visible crises, low performance standards, insufficient feedback from external constituencies, and more all add up to ‘Yes, we have our problems but they aren’t that terrible and I’m doing my job just fine,’ or ‘Sure, we have big problems, and they are all over there.’ Without a sense of urgency, people won’t give that extra effort that is often essential”.
Again and again we have seen that when churches are at their peak of success they are also at the peak of resistance to change. After all, church is hard work – if a church has momentum it has taken blood, sweat, tears, and prayer to get there. It’s absolutely understandable that leaders – especially volunteers who are taxed in their own professional lives – would want to take a deep breath and relish the moment.
But every church must go through continual transformation if it is to survive.
Not just continue to thrive…but actually survive. That is how high the stakes are.
The writer Charles Handy was famed for outlining the four basic transitions in the life cycle of organizations – and, whatever else it is, a church is very much an organization.
They are: development, growth, maturity, and decline.
A church that is experiencing success is more than likely in the maturity cycle. You’ve got experience under your belt, a track record of effectiveness, and more than likely adequate resources. This is the best time, the optimum time, to initiate transformational change.
Unfortunately, this is also the phase in the life cycle when the resistance to change will be the highest.
And this is where the work of leadership comes into sharp focus. The leader’s task now is not only to consolidate gains and build upon successes but to do the hard work of initiating change, even when the leadership and congregation may not be particularly interested in change.
Do this work and the church can go from strength to strength, blazing new ministry ground and hitting levels of effectiveness not previously dreamed of, even in ‘good times’.
Fail to do this work and soon enough today’s successes will be seen to be the seeds of tomorrow’s stagnation.
Where is your church in the life cycle?
If you are enjoying success, are you prepared to accept the responsibility to lead ongoing transformation?
What is the new ground God wants your church to take, the new people God wants you to reach and serve, the new parts of your community God wants to see you engage?
A leadership coach acting as a trusted advisor can be an invaluable asset to you as you initiate and lead change. We’d love to talk with you about how we can serve you as a spiritual leader and your church as a whole. Please read more here – and you are one click away from speaking with a coach!