Assessing readiness for change

January 06, 2015

By Diane Owen

Diane Owen is congregational development specialist for the Minnesota Conference.

As we enter into a new year, many of us take time to reflect on goals for 2015. Not only do we begin reflecting as individuals, but also as organizations—including our own local churches. Pastors and church leaders alike may use this time to do some organizational soul searching. What often results is the recognition that things need to change.

The need for change is usually no surprise. A beginning of a new year simply reinforces a review of the issues around what must be different as we “start again.” Churches selected to participate in the transformational processes offered by the Minnesota Conference—the Healthy Church Initiative, Missional Journey, and the Missional Church Consultation Initiative—are all grappling with the need and desire for change. But it’s good for all churches, whether or not they are engaged in such processes, to ask themselves some hard questions in order to determine their readiness for change. That’s the first step toward implementing change and trying new things in order to become healthy, growing, and relevant to new people.

Change doesn’t happen without preparation. How can a church best determine its readiness for change? As you prepare for a new year—and set goals that require you to do some things differently—first consider the following questions as a way to determine your readiness for change:

Leadership capacity. Does the pastor have a good relationship with the congregation? Does the church have leaders who, in collaboration with the pastor, can develop and implement a plan? Can the pastor and lay leaders cast a vision that inspires the rest of the congregation and encourages the belief in a different future? Are leaders willing to take risks and do the hard work regardless of what they may lose (in terms of their own preferences) in the process?

Engaged laity. Does the church have laity who possess energy and credibility to work with the pastor and other leaders to try new things? To remain positive even when experiments fail? To welcome new people and move over to make room for new leaders? Are lay people generally positive and excited about the mission and vision of their church?

Conflict management. Does the church have significant conflict that creates obstacles in moving forward with new ideas? Does the church have difficulty working through the conflict? Is there an individual or core group that is a roadblock to anything new or different? Is the church so tired and depressed that engaging people in change is too challenging?

Financial stability. Does the church have difficultly paying the bills, including payroll and apportionments, much less investing in anything new? Is the church scared that with the next major crisis, reserves will be depleted?

Useable facility. Is the current facility functional and well maintained? Or does the current church property have the potential to drain financial resources as major repairs become necessary? Can the current facility be a place that welcomes new people and is open for community use without major liabilities or congregational opposition?

Answering the questions in each of these areas can guide a church in discerning its readiness for change. Affirmation in most of the areas is essential to move forward with new goals that will bring about change in 2015. If a church finds that it is not able to positively answer the majority of the questions in each area, it is unlikely that a focus on change will be successful. In that case, a careful review of the vision and core systems of the church is needed to better position the church for future change.

Is your church ready?

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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