Leading Change in the Church - Lesson 13

Unfreeze and Change

In this lesson, we learn about the unfreezing stage of change and how to create a guiding coalition to lead the change. A guiding coalition refers to a group of people who have enough influence, both positional and personal, to lead the change. They are not necessarily the formal leaders of the church, but rather the opinion shapers who carry the clout within the church. It is important to assemble a coalition of people who understand the urgency of the situation and who can envision the preferred future state. Developing the coalition into a team involves understanding team skills, defining purpose, roles, and process, and establishing effective leadership and communication.

Rick Sessoms
Leading Change in the Church
Lesson 13
Watching Now
Unfreeze and Change

Unfreeze and Change

I. Unfreezing Stage

A. Creating a Guiding Coalition

B. Definition of Guiding Coalition

C. Importance of Opinion Shapers

D. Preferred Future State

E. Developing a Group into a Team

1. Team Skills

2. Purpose, Roles, and Process

3. Leadership and Communication

  • 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
Unfreeze and Change
Lesson Transcript

So, we've talked about establishing a sense of urgency within the church. The second part of unfreezing -- remember, we're in the unfreezing phase of the process now -- is to create a guiding coalition. What we mean by that is to assemble a group of people who have enough influence, positional, personal, historical, spiritual, to lead the change. Now it's important to keep in mind that these people, this guiding coalition, are not necessarily just the formal leaders of the church. Sometimes we assume that if the deacons are on board with this, and they're good with it, then we've got it made, but the reality is, we could call these people the opinion shapers, the ones that carry the clout, within the church. It doesn't have to be a large group of people, but it needs to be a coalition of people who really understand the urgency, and they also begin to understand the preferred future state. Does that make sense? And then develop the group of people into a team. 

We talked about team, we talked about purpose, we talked about roles, we talked about process, we talked about leadership, and we talked about communication, and so those team skills, those team factors, come into play at this point. You may by now be feeling that this could take some time, depending upon the significance of the change, and if you're feeling that, you're absolutely right. Oftentimes we rush into change. 

Let me just back up and say that the way I was taught to do change in the church, and I admit I didn't take any course or even a class on leading change, but somewhere along the line I got the idea that my job in leading change in the church was to go into my study and pray or maybe go on a retreat by myself, and to seek the Lord, read a few books, read my Bible, pray, seek a vision from God for the church. In fact, whenever I would go to a church, a new church, or talk to any group of Christians, one of the questions is what is your vision for this church? So we play it all the time. But it was to come up with a vision and then before anything else, go and announce that vision the next Sunday morning. Now, that may be a little extreme, but you know what I mean? That is kind of the way that we have done it in the church; we have expected our pastors, our leaders, to announce the vision to us. And then, of course, it's the old trick of keeping all the frogs in the wheelbarrow after that, it's how in the world are we going to convince people to follow along? I often found that once I announced this, there may be a couple people even that are cheering me, go ahead, do this, do this, and I turn around and look, and there's nobody behind me. So that's the challenge. 

The reason I'm saying this at this point is if we don't get anything else from this unfreeze, change, refreeze process, notice that announcing the preferred future state does not come first; it is further down in the process. It's important to establish a sense of urgency and to create a guiding coalition before going public with the preferred state sort of statement. That's a very, very important principle in this process of change initiatives. Yes, Tammy?

STUDENT:  I know you said that this group, this positional, personal and spiritual, would you say that ideally, in a perfect world, though, that would be sort of the position of the elders? 

Ideally, but I haven't found a church yet where that's the case. Now yours, I'm sure that's the case, Roger? [laughter] Yeah. Even if those are true about the elders, in most churches, that group extends beyond that concentric circle, so that's why it's important to identify who those people are and pull them into a guiding coalition. Then once you have done that, then it's all about identifying the future state and developing strategy. 

The desired future state should be identified in collaboration with the guiding coalition, after step one, as mine the collective intelligence of the organization. So, at this point, we're still in that stage of working with this small group of people. We've established a sense of urgency, and we've communicated that sense of urgency. We've communicated positively that things can be different, and at this point, identifying a future state is really about -- we talk about vision. You'll notice that I have tended to avoid the word vision because that word in the church is loaded. I tend to want to talk about a desired future state because that way, hopefully, it can become more of a group process rather than one person identifying this for the whole. But a vision is a compelling, tangible image of the preferred future, a very important concept. It's compelling it because it moves people. It's back to that not change or die, but it's moving people toward a positive future, and it's tangible; it’s something you can see with your mind's eye. It's important to develop language and develop ideas that are going to describe the gap between now and then to create a picture that is easily accessible in the mind's eye to help direct that change effort. 

Sometimes it's easier, then, to change from one building to another because people can draw a picture of a building and, you know, create that. It's sometimes harder to do something that's more intangible. It's important to create that compelling, tangible image of the preferred future. Make sense? 

So how can a leader accurately and effectively identify a future state of the church? Let's talk. How can that happen? 

STUDENT:  I think it's, well, it's something that once you've done that work of identifying the pain that’s driving you towards change, then as a group, you're looking at what does it look like to address this sort of area that's causing us urgency, and then you start talking about those alternate futures of where this problem has been fixed, and so what does that look like? 

Alternate futures, keyword, good. 

STUDENT:  Another thing you said several times, you said ‘we’ as opposed to ‘I’ or the individual.

So important.

STUDENT:  You have gotten that group of leaders together, the coalition. 

STUDENT:  I think if it's the church, it's very much tied into our calling as a people, and I'm thinking of a master of this, I guess, would be the “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King. He was sharing a passion for this better world that he had, and he clearly stated, you know, my kids would play with different kids, and something you could see as a vision.

Martin Luther King was also helping people say what they wanted to say, and so there was a sense -- you're right -- but he was giving them a picture of what pictures of hope were in their minds, so it wasn't something foreign to them; it was something that they could grasp hold of because it was deep in their psyche and their soul as well, and so part of this identifying is to help people say what they want to say, to feel what they want to feel, to see what they want to see. You know, we all know that good preaching, we don't tell people what they want to hear, but it is helpful to tell people what they want to say because it helps to identify that God-thing that's going on within us, and the key phrase ‘we’ is critical. 

STUDENT:  As you say, people are going to just want to keep stable, and they're going to be comfortable in their uncomfortableness, and so we have to allow them to see how uncomfortable they are or bring it to their attention, something they haven't noticed before, and I think that's the first step. You know, you think you're comfortable, but I'm going to help you to feel uncomfortable; I'll show you how urgent this is. Boy, that team is so important because through that, you can network throughout the others. If it's just the one man or the one woman, that might happen once, but they're going to give up real fast if that individual wants to bring about change too frequently. 

Well, this tangible, compelling image of a preferred future, the more specific, the better, is so critical. I just couldn't help but get serious and talk about Alice in Wonderland: 

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?” (She asked Cheshire). “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” Alice: “I don't much care where.” “Then it doesn't matter which way you walk,” said the cat. “…so long as I get somewhere,” Alice said as an explanation. “Oh, you're sure to do that,” said the cat, “if only you walk long enough.” 

So, this tangible image, compelling, tangible image of a preferred future is so important for a collective to identify that and then to develop a strategy for that future. The strategy, of course, supports the future state, and strategies have got to be realistic; they've got to be manageable. We won't spend a whole lot of time on strategy simply because most of us are already familiar with strategic planning. Remember, I said before that as you think about strategies, remember that resources are flexible, processes tend to resist flexibility, and so it's going to be more important to focus on processes and what needs to happen in terms of changing those processes within any system within the church. 

So, here's just a strategy process: Define your objectives, categorize, articulate, set goals, prioritize, and so forth. That's a strategy process that many of us are familiar with. But identifying that future state and developing a strategy is important before we go public. 

So, we've talked about three major steps in the unfreezing process. We've talked about establishing a sense of urgency through SWOT analysis, through force field analysis, through looking at life cycle, and through focusing on positive change through inspiration. We've talked about creating a guiding coalition, which is a group of people that have the clout, that have the capacity to influence others, that can move this organization through the change, and then to identify the future state in the collective, together, focus on ‘we,’ and develop that strategy. This all goes on before we go public, to say it just bluntly. 

Then the fourth stage, when we actually get to the change step is to communicate the desired change. Now, again, this is what I wish I had known when I started out in ministry, because I thought communicating the desired change was the first step, not the fourth, and we save ourselves enormous pain if we follow this process and do the homework that we're supposed to do before the change gets announced publicly. Questions? Thoughts? Remember, the road is full of landmines. This is not perfect, but it is very helpful to think this way as we're thinking about initiating and processing change. 

STUDENT:  This has got to be hard to do because if an individual or a leader wants to see the change, I would think that it’s just bubbling within him or her to say this and then to try to get people on board. 

STUDENT:  I was thinking about, for me, what you just sort of talked about, he was giving is like a sales training class, and that's what I hear as I did a lot of sales in my former life, but the big thing of that is you can't rush to the end, can't, like, ask someone to marry you on the first date; there's all these steps you have to go, so you can't just go and say, ‘I’m going to change this’ right at the beginning, or they haven't gone with you on all these different steps along the way, and you have to kind of come to the conclusion of what you want to change together, or they're not going to be on board, and so, you know, you can't make all these decisions before they've had any time to think about it. 

Yeah. So, when we're talking about this, communicate the desired change, understand that the first step, again, was establishing a sense of urgency, and we talked about communicating these strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats, and so you're providing hints along the way. But as we actually go to identifying this compelling, tangible image of the preferred future state, this is step four, not step one. That's a point. 

So, what do we mean by communicating the desired future state? Communicate by every means possible. In other words, there's the whole idea of, you've probably heard the word ‘creative redundancy’; be creatively redundant. The larger the group, the more creatively redundant we need to be in our communication. Redundancy can irritate people unless it's creative, but unless we're redundant, it's likely that people aren't going to hear. ‘Well, I told them once, what's the problem?’ It needs to be redundant. 

Secondly, acknowledge people's needs, acknowledge their pain, go back to recognize what people are going through when they experience change. Acknowledge the pain, the death and dying, even; acknowledge the steps in that that people are likely to experience. 

Thirdly, use language everybody can understand. This sometimes requires the advancer on your team to help interpret the vision, the preferred future state. Sometimes cleric types can use all kinds of language that sounds great to theologians, but it doesn't work for people that are so affected by the change, so use the language everybody understands. 

Emphasize the positive. In other words, again, go back to the sense that the positive is what moves people toward desired goals. Be creatively redundant, as we've said. Shift from “I” to “we.” Again, we need to use “this is about us,” not about any single individual.

And then, so important, the guiding coalition needs to model the future from the beginning; it's so important for the leaders to lead by example. People watch their leaders very closely, particularly in times of change and crisis; remember that. Inconsistent behavior by leadership, by the guiding coalition, fuels cynicism and frustration within the collective, so this is something that needs to be communicated pretty clearly. 

The reasons for the change need to be articulated on a consistent basis. What problems are we trying to solve? What needs are we trying to meet? How this change will glorify God and reveal the Gospel. How the change will help people reach their highest kingdom potential, including the people that you're talking to. How the process is going to work. That's why the strategy needs to be pretty well developed before you come out of the blocks with it. How and when and where people's voices are going to be heard in the process. There need to be points along the way, signposts, say, ‘okay, next week we want to have an open forum. We want to answer your questions. We want to hear from you.’ That needs to be on a consistent basis throughout a change initiative, and then to emphasize that preserving and strengthening relationships will always be a priority within the church, that we want all the sheep to survive this, and we want to be fulfilled and reaching our potential when it's all said and done. 

One of the things to keep in mind, too, is to relate to a variety of learning styles. Sometimes I can get very conceptual in my discussions. I can talk about organizational theory and I can talk about, you know, disequilibrium, and I can talk about disruption and all this stuff and forget the fact that there are left brain and right brain people. Some people are very comfortable with concepts. Others are comfortable with pictures. There are some people who learn audibly. My son is an auditory learner; he can listen to a comedian and almost verbatim repeat what that comedian has said. It's just amazing to me. I can't hear two sentences and feed them back to you; I'm a visual learner. If I see a name on a piece of paper, I'm likely to remember it, but if you tell me your name, it takes enormous concentration for me to remember it. There are others that learn through hands-on. So, remembering as you communicate the future state that there are all kinds of learning styles within the group of people that you're communicating with, and appeal to those learning styles so that people can really catch what you're talking about.


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