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Dramatic Changes Can Transform Congregations

People–even people in churches–are talking about change these days.

Congregations change every time a sermon is preached and a lesson is taught, but the changes discussed today run much deeper. They challenge congregations to change who they are or what they do.

These types of changes are the two most dramatic types that organizations can experience. They are so dramatic that we usually call them transformations rather than changes.

Real transformations of “being” and “doing” require many changes. Indeed, transformations of being and doing only occur by making a series of lesser changes. Below, I detail the smaller changes necessary to transform identity (being) and function (doing).

For a congregation to transform itself, it must change its culture. Cultural change is the highest form of identity alteration in a congregation. But for this to take place, the other alterations listed below must occur.

Identity, Culture, Structure, Systems, People

The words listed above form a pattern of changes within an organization. The changes are listed in descending order relative to the time and energy necessary to bring about transformation. If a congregation wants to transform its identity, it must alter its culture, its structure, its systems and its people.

The changes are best approached from left to right rather than right to left. For instance, if a congregation desires an identity transformation, it must discuss and then embrace a new set of cultural core values. Those core values, however, will not become permanent without making changes in structure, systems and people in order to support the cultural changes.

Cultural changes can include alterations in personality, assumptions and theology in addition to changes in core values. Structural changes can include amending the membership and formation of committees and boards, altering the frequency and communication patterns of groups, and adding or deleting positions within the organization.

Systems changes usually include modifying monetary and personnel policies and procedures, but may also include changes in agenda, training routines and evaluation techniques. Some of the more frequent “people changes” deal with recruitment and job descriptions, and, of course, new volunteers and new employees.

Sometimes, congregations desire more minor changes in the hierarchical scale; they do not wish to transform their entire identity. Even if lesser changes are desired, the same rules apply. To change any piece of its identity, a congregation must alter every piece to the right of that item.

For instance, if a congregation is satisfied with its culture, but wishes to alter its structure to reflect more adequately its values, it must alter certain aspects of its systems and people.

The second type of congregational transformation deals with function. Sometimes, congregations feel the need to do different things or just do things differently. The highest form of congregational functioning transformation relates to its vision. Other hierarchical pieces are listed below.

Function, Vision, Objectives, Programs, Events

In order for a faithful congregation to alter its vision, it must also make changes in its objectives, programs and events. Remember, changes in outcomes at the lower levels produce changes at the higher levels.

A new vision will obviously require new objectives in order to achieve that vision. New objectives will require a new set of programs. Finally, no new program can be launched without also creating or altering certain events in the life of the congregation.

Jeff Woods is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Ohio.

Buy Woods’ books from Amazon!

Better Than Success: 8 Principles of Faithful Leadership

We’ve Never Done It Like This Before: 10 Creative Approaches to the Same Old Church Tasks

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