Our Common Life…

Last month, I discussed the importance, in congregational leadership, of managing change and transition. This month, I would like to continue my discussion of the effect of change upon the health of a congregation.

In the life of any institution change is a constant. Stasis is a fragile condition and change, whether we like it or not, is inevitable. Some changes are relatively inconsequential. Some can be life-altering. It’s one thing to change the paraments with the changing of the liturgical seasons. It’s quite another to lose half the congregation over a doctrinal dispute. While each of these changes involves transition and each places a demand on the transition-management skills of a congregation’s leadership team, the consequences of dropping the ball in the latter situation are orders of magnitude more dangerous to the health of the congregation than in the former.

One of the most challenging management tasks in dealing with life-altering change events is that not all of them are quite as dramatic or sudden as a half-congregation walk out. They occur over time. They don’t announce themselves. They are, in short, like Carl Sandburg’s fog—they come in “on little cat feet”.

There are a number of ways to look at the effect such subtle life-altering changes can have on a congregation. One way that I have found helpful is to think in terms of life-cycle stages. An excellent discussion of life-cycle analysis is found in the book I discussed last month, MANAGING TRANSITIONS (3rd ed., 2009), by Dr. William Bridges. He describes seven “ages” in the life of any institution.

The change from one stage to the next is not a sudden one. A congregation doesn’t go to bed one night buy cialis in singapore “Launching the Venture” and wake up the next morning “Getting Organized”. These changes usually occur incrementally, over time. One challenge for congregational leadership at any stage in a congregation’s life is to recognize when stage change has begun and plan for managing the transition from one stage to the next. This challenge becomes greater and more important to the continued success of the congregation as it matures.

There is nothing inevitable about the change from Stage 5 (Becoming an Institution) to Stage 6 (Closing In) or from Stage 6 to Stage 7 (Dying). The task of a Stage 5 or even a Stage 6 congregation is to recognize the approach of stage change, break the stage-change progression and begin a process of renewal. As Dr. Bridges states it:

What [a mature organization] needs is not fixing but renewal. Renewal comes about not by changing specific practices or cultural values but by taking the organization back to the start of its life cycle. Renewal—or the recovery of the youthful vigor that the organization had earlier in its life cycle—is in fact wired right into the organizational life cycle. What you have to do is choose, not Closing In, but the Path of Renewal… Managing Transitions, pp. 87-88.

That choice—to renew not fix—is one of the keys to long-term congregational vitality. It is not an easy choice to make, and an even harder one to implement successfully, but it is absolutely critical to the life of the congregation. Deciding what to let go of, what to embrace and how to make it all happen is a
major part of what congregational leadership is all about.

Tony Stoik, Associate Conference Minister

One comment on “Our Common Life…

  1. Nadine Aydt on said:

    Getting the book. In talks with UMC about using Healthy, Small Church Initiatives program with has some similarity to Progressive Renewal and Wisconsin program for change. I entered the Progressive Renewal program last year but no coach was secured since the one I was assigned to moved and changed jobs.

    Question plaguing me and my congregation: Is there a church within driving distance that does want to partner with us – or an agency related to the UCC that might be able to employ me part or full time so that UCMC might see money less valuable than their faith growth through a deeper relationship with God.

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