Leading Change in the Church - Lesson 8

Change Theory

In this lesson, you'll learn about leadership in the context of chaos and the importance of adapting to constant change. You'll explore Kurt Lewin's Change Theory, which outlines the process of unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. The lesson discusses the challenges of overcoming resistance during change and highlights the rational change process model from the 20th century. The nine-step process and the role of the change manager are examined, as well as the 21st century challenges leaders face, including limited time, incomplete information, complex issues, and competing stakeholders.

Rick Sessoms
Leading Change in the Church
Lesson 8
Watching Now
Change Theory

Lesson: Change Theory

I. Understanding the Changing Context

A. From local to global

B. Constant rebuilding and adapting

II. Change Strategies

A. Kurt Lewin's Change Theory

1. Unfreezing

2. Change

3. Refreezing

B. Overcoming Resistance

III. Rational Change Process Model

A. 20th Century Approach

1. Nine step process

2. Role of the change manager

B. 21st Century Challenges

1. Limited time and information

2. Complexity of issues

3. Competing stakeholders

  • In this lesson, Dr. Sessoms discusses the importance of leading change in the church, emphasizing the importance of understanding God's role in change, the effects on people, and the distinctions between leadership and management.
  • Learn about the shift from management to strategic leadership and the necessity of change for growth, and the unique challenges churches face in adapting change ethically, contrasting secular and Christ-centered leadership models.
  • Gain insight into how change affects individuals emotionally, the importance of leadership sensitivity during change, and the stages of the change cycle from comfort to renewal.
  • Gain insight into the emotional stages of change and practical strategies for coping, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging emotions, communicating feelings, maintaining engagement, adjusting responsibilities, and seeking support during times of change.
  • In this lesson, you analyze a fictional case study of Johnson's Shoes, learning about leadership changes during mergers, Patrick Johnson's emotional journey, and the importance of respectful, inclusive leadership processes during organizational change.
  • Learn how to manage reactions to change in a church setting, understanding the role of the grapevine in communication, and effectively implementing strategies to help others cope, such as consistent messaging, providing details, and supporting healthy behaviors.
  • Gain insights into challenges faced by churches coping with change, including the movement of American culture towards post-Christianity and lack of common values, and explore questions to consider to help churches face 21st-century challenges.
  • This lesson teaches you about the challenges of leading in a chaotic context, the process of change according to Kurt Lewin's theory, and the importance of overcoming resistance. Understand the limitations of the 20th-century rational change process model and the unique challenges faced by leaders in the 21st century.
  • Learn about essential leadership qualities, the need for repentance and forgiveness, organizational development, faith integration, and John Kotter's eight steps for leading effective change in the church, highlighting the importance of authenticity, collective intelligence, and genuine dissatisfaction with the status quo.
  • Gain insights on discerning God's purpose in weathering change, learning to ask critical questions to determine if the change is appropriate, and understanding the characteristics of a change that glorifies God, ultimately leading to a stronger church community.
  • Explore force field analysis to understand and navigate organizational resistance to change, focusing on mechanisms of inertia, types of power within the church, and the necessity of a strong bias toward change, conducted discreetly within a leadership group.
  • Gain insight into life cycles and resistance to change within organizations, including the church, and how changing leaders can help an organization change the spiral towards decline or irrelevancy by speaking to people's emotions, not just thought.
  • Learn the essential steps of unfreezing for church change, focusing on urgency, forming a guiding coalition, collaborative visioning, realistic strategy development, and inclusive, redundant communication to manage and embrace change effectively.
  • Learn to empower broad-based action, involve many in problem-solving, generate short-term wins, consolidate gains, promote vision implementers, reinvigorate processes, anchor new approaches in culture, and recognize rare calls for change against odds to honor God.

The dynamics, effects, and strategies for change in the church.

Dr. Rick Sessoms
Leading Change in the Church
Change Theory
Lesson Transcript

So, we're leading in a context of chaos. The hurricane is upon us. At times we may feel rested, but we're just in the eye of it, folks. We've moved from local to regional to international to multinational, to global, and it reminds me of this Dragonair flight that I once saw, and in this environment, leadership is daunting, and there are no magic bullets, in fact. Due to the rate of change today, leading change reminds me of taking off in a 747 and rebuilding it before you land, is kind of what we're dealing with. We're building it as we fly; in our little organization, that's what we're up against, and we're having to rebuild it as we fly it on a regular basis. So, with that in mind, what we want to do is we want to go into change strategies, and here's where we're going to spend the rest of our time in this course, is to talk about change strategies. 

What I want to introduce to you -- some of you may have seen this before, but most change strategies in the 20th century were introduced to us by a change theorist by the name of Kurt Lewin. How many of you have heard the name Kurt Lewin? You heard his name? He is probably the grandfather of change theory from the West, and he would explain change simply this way. It starts with the old state, whatever that former state happens to be; it is the process by which people become aware of the need for change. If people are satisfied with the state of affairs, but change is deemed necessary, then it's all about helping people understand the importance of the proposed change in such a way that now they're dissatisfied with the status quo, and they want to change.

And then this old state, when people come to a point of being aware of the need for change, Kurt Lewin talks about unfreezing, the unfrozen state. This is where if you think of something that is frozen, it becomes unfrozen, then it becomes malleable, it becomes moldable, it becomes able to change shapes. Now, the problem is that all living systems, as we talked about, resist change, so there's a bias for what we call stability or homeostasis; there's a bias not to move into that unfrozen state; there's a bias to stay in the frozen state, okay, do you follow that? That's the theory. But change is about introducing the elements, the factors, that whether they're intentionally done or unintentionally done, the phenomenon of change requires the state to become unfrozen. Does that make sense? That's the change theory behind this. That's phase 1, called unfreezing. And then there comes a phase 2, which is the change that's while the state is unfrozen, while it's in that unfrozen state. There's a movement from the old state to the new state, the old way to the new way. And then finally, the third step in the process is the refreezing, and that's phase 3, where there's an assurance of the permanent change; the change has happened. The system goes back not to the old way, but a new way, but the refreezing takes place. So, in effect, the change happens in the unfrozen state. 

Now, remember, there's a bias toward frozen, not unfrozen, and so you only have a certain amount of time to bring about the change because the system will refreeze. That's important in this model. And by the way, this model is pretty much accepted by organizational theorists worldwide as it's pretty accepted theory of how living systems change. So you could really look at it, and then it moves to the new state as it refreezes. But the refreezing is a natural part of the process; it will happen. The question is what will happen during that unfrozen state? And so if you think of it simply as a block of ice, if you had a block of ice and it's unfrozen, during the unfrozen time, it changes shape, and then it refreezes, and so that's a very easy way to remember the process of change. Questions about that? 

STUDENT: Have you ever seen the television show on the Food Channel called “Restaurant Impossible?” 

No, I haven't. 

STUDENT: There's another one on a different channel called “Hotel Impossible.” An expert comes into a rundown restaurant or a rundown hotel, as the case may be, and recreates it into something that can flourish, but in order for that to happen, they have to overcome the resistance of the owners because they've been running it into the ground for years. The reason I bring that up is the approach in that is always to kind of shock, bludgeon, and in-your-face confront these people who are locked in their destructive patterns, but they can't get out of it, and the person comes out really strong and just shocks them and says, you are destroying this place! I have a supervisor who was involved in some major change in our organization. His approach is to very gently, incrementally help people make change rather than give them kind of a shock to unfreeze them. What are your thoughts about which approach is most effective? 

Well, the classic answer is it depends. You know, if we're in battle, if we're being shot at in war, then maybe the first approach is appropriate, but in most cases, it would make sense to unfreeze the block of ice before I start hammering away at it, because when I hammer away at a block of ice before it's unfrozen, what happens? You got splinters everywhere, it just goes crazy, it just shatters, and there’s a lot of unnecessary loss in that process. So that would be a simple answer, that the unfreezing, and we'll talk about the strategies for unfreezing -- that's critical -- but that unfreezing part, that moving people away from that bias toward equilibrium, because we all have it, that bias for stability, the art of unfreezing is critical for effective change to take place in any living organism. 

STUDENT: That was a great answer with this model, about melting it instead of shattering it.

STUDENT: … or dropping it in a pot of boiling water [laughter], you get the steam! But I can understand that sort of method if you, like, are trying to help someone break their addiction to cocaine or something, you know, you kind of have to control the system, but just the regular organizational change... 

And we'll get into what does motivate people. We will get into force field analysis, we'll get into SWOT analysis, we'll get into some of these things that do what we call create a sense of urgency in a positive sense; what does create a sense of urgency, what tends to militate against it, and so forth, but all of those are about unfreezing that are critical, and because, again, if we move too quickly to the change without respecting the unfreezing stage of change, then we can do a lot of unnecessary damage. Questions? Other questions? Thoughts? 

STUDENT: I think it takes a lot of wisdom to know when to hit the frozen lock with a hammer versus to unfreeze it like this, because for the drug addict, for instance, that may be what he needs is to -- the things that have broken off and scattered may very well be the things that need to be. 

Well, that's a great point. My sense in working with church leaders is oftentimes, we tend to overestimate. Let me see how I could say this -- and this may need to be edited -- but let me just try to get it out. We tend sometimes to think there's crisis when there really isn't crisis, and we sometimes feel mad; things aren't going to change, this thing's going down; and so we want to hurry change, and so we take out the hammer rather than allowing the unfreezing to take place, and I find that that's more of a tendency in the church than the others, among church leaders. and so there is a tendency to move more quickly than we need to because the perceived crisis that really is not as much of a crisis, at least in God's mind, as we tend to think that it is sometimes. Is that fair? 

STUDENT: I think that's because of the passion that some church leaders have. I don't think it's self-centered. 

No, it's not. Sometimes it is, but oftentimes it's not. You're right. 

STUDENT: Or it's that epiphany or having spent so much time behind the scenes or in conversations, thinking about things, and it becomes clear to a church leader or whole leadership group, you know, so they're out of the gate very fast, and then the blowtorch on the ice.

STUDENT: I think that happens in reverse to the people, or for a congregation, they can react to the crisis being, well, this is huge. This is a big, big deal that, you know, there's a little something going on; I mean, it's just that's not the way we did it the past hundred years. But then sometimes just little things can happen and nobody ever notices. It just depends on the reaction. 

Let me take one more step and then we'll close for the night. When we look at the 20th century, the 20th century was dominated by what we called a rational change process model, and this looks complicated, but it's really not. It included a nine-step process. You begin by monitoring the environment. If you go to any change class that was taught during the 20th century, this is what you would get. You define the problem. You specify objectives. You diagnose the problem. You develop alternative solutions. You evaluate the alternatives. Choose the best alternative. Implement the plan. Measure, evaluate, and control the change. It was all generated by the manager of change, the change manager, and so this change manager was the key to it all of making these nine steps happen. 

The problem that we face in the 21st century because of the rate of change is this: Change managers -- or leaders, whatever you want to call them -- they have limited time, they have imperfect or incomplete information; all of us, all of us, have a complexity of issues simultaneously that we're dealing with. We have finite information processing capacity, and we have competing stakeholders, and that's all going on in the church all the time. So what's happening is -- remember, we call that the rational change process model -- we have in the 21st century what Simon called bounded rationality, which means limited ability to rationalize ourselves through a change process. Does that make sense so far? 

So, we've got a problem. As church leaders, we have a real problem because this rational change process isn't working. What do we do? Well, the result is chaos, and so there are those in the last few years that have begun to study how do we lead change in a context of chaos, because that's really what the church is facing today, is chaos, and a lady by the name of Margaret Wheatley has talked about change amidst chaos. She talks about chaos theory. And this, I believe, has meaning for us in the church, and this is my little diagram, the best I know how to draw it, so bear with me. If you think from the outside of the church, we have the environment that is putting pressure on the church for change at a constant rate; all the time this change pressure is happening, as Roger was alluding to a while ago, in our post-Christian culture. Internally from internal stakeholders -- you know what I mean by stakeholders? your staff, the people in your church -- and these people are competing. You've got youth that have different desires and needs than the older folks, and you got the choir people who are in competition over funds, call it what you want, but they're in competition over funds with the women's ministry, and we've got this stuff going on, and all these are volunteers, by the way; they're not people you can tell what to do because you pay them. They're volunteers, and so we've got these volunteer competing stakeholders, and so this pressure is being put from internal and from external. Guess what? We got chaos, right? What in the world does a leader do in that kind of context? Well, the leader provides meaning.

Now this goes back to culture. I was reading again the other night, which goes back to our first course about the role of a leader, in today's society, primary role is to create and maintain culture, which is what we're talking about, about meaning. It's not necessarily to control this rational process; it's not necessarily to micromanage that process, but the role of leadership above and beyond anything else, and Edgar Schein would even say it's the only role, is to provide meaning, and that meaning is interpreted as values, beliefs and a preferred future. That's critical. When we get that in place, then we have hope of leading the church into a healthy tomorrow. But if we try to control this through this nine-step process that dominated the 20th century thinking, there are too many forces that are working against us, and so we begin to reframe our thinking; what is the primary and critical role for leadership? And it's really to provide meaning in the context. And even though Margaret Wheatley, I don't think claims to be a Christian, in my opinion, that is a very Christian understanding of our role as leaders in the church today.


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