What needs to change in your church?
I can think of three significant changes that I want to make as a church next year. I want to become a more diverse church, believing that opportunities exist to become a community marked by more than one culture, class or ethnic group. I want us to be more intentional in disciple-making. And I want to see our church’s income increase by 20 percent.
There has been plenty written about the difficulties faced whenever an organization sets out to act differently. I won’t take the time to rehash those here. What I want to do is to walk you through a process that minimizes resistance to change and reduces the possibility of creating the wrong solution to a problem that the people in your church don’t recognize.
Put this in motion and you’ll get where you wanna go. And if you read to the end, I have another solution for you if want to take this one step further.
Don’t try to change everybody. Start with somebody.
You don’t need everyone in your church to change right now. Start your change process with the people who are ready to change right now.
Who is in that group largely depends on what you want to change. For us, we might focus on small group leaders who already have diverse groups. It makes sense to start developing a disciple making system with men and women who have been investing in other people. And the place to start as we increase our giving would appear to be our largest investors.
The principle is to look for the handful of people who are most likely to champion and support the changes that you’re looking to make. If this group makes the change you’re looking for, will others follow them?
Don’t assume. Involve your focus group in understanding the problem.
Leaders commonly and consistently assume that they know what’s holding their church back. And sometimes they get it right. But far too many times, leaders create solutions to problems that are not at the heart of the issue.
When I work with a focus group, I like to set the scene by describing where we want to go. Cast vision, craft the narrative. Focus on why it’s important to get where you want to go.
Then I ask what they believe is keeping us from getting to that place. Becoming a more diverse church. Intentionally making disciples. Growing our income. Or whatever it is that you want to work on.
Listen. Ask why they see things that way. Encourage stories. Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Keep your questions short (10 words or less). Use a voice recorder or have someone there who can take notes.
There are a lot of ways to solve a problem. What matters most right now is your point of view.
Take all that you have discovered in your conversations individually or as a group and whittle it down to a specific challenge. Now that you know more about how people think and behave, you’re ready to define the problem and set the course for developing a solution based on what you have learned from your focus group.
As we work on our funding plan to increase income by 20 percent, I want our team to frame the issue in a way that captures the hearts and minds of the people we believe are most likely to give. It’s not etched in stone because we’ll learn as we put our plan in motion. But starting with a clear problem statement helps us not spin our wheels heading off in a million different directions.
So write down what you’ve learned on post-it notes. Begin grouping what you’ve discovered into related parts. Discuss each of those groups and write down what you learn. I like to do this with one to two leaders in the particular ministry area where we want to effect change.
Your obvious solution may be the wrong solution. What you need may be hiding under a rock.
Now that you’ve clearly defined your problem, you want to generate as many ideas as possible. With a handful of people (I find that my best problem-definers are not usually my best problem-solvers), start by asking ‘how might we solve this problem?’
Facilitate a 15- to 30-minute brainstorming session. Pick a few ideas that your team finds exciting, intriguing or laughably amazing because you can’t imagine being able to pull it off. Now is not the time to toss aside ideas because they’re not feasible.
Get out of the clouds. Start digging in the dirt.
Now that you have a few good ideas, you need to get them out of your head and bring them to life. You’re going to build prototypes to test whether your idea works.
Let’s say that you’re trying to design an assimilation process for guests at your church. You want them to join a small group as their next step into the life of the church beyond Sunday. During your exploration process, you walked out with three ideas that all seem like they can work. How do you know which one is the best solution for your church?
In most churches, someone in leadership chooses one solution and develops it until it’s been perfected and ready to be rolled out with pomp and circumstance. So you create an event where people sign up to get more information and sign up for a six-week start-up group. I know some churches who do this. I’m just wondering how you know that it will work for you and the effect it will have on the church if you fail.
Let’s get this out of the way. You are going to fail. Not every good idea is the right idea. But failing fast is better than failing far—the difference being that you’re better off by testing some different solutions using rough prototypes than investing a lot of time and money in a single solution up front.
Take what you learned from testing your prototype. And make your best ideas even better.
Prototypes are the best learning tool that your church has to determine the best way to help the people you serve. They help solve disagreements that may exist between team members about the best way forward. Prototypes give you real data that leads you to the best solution for the problem you are facing.
Because you have tested your solution using a prototype, you can refine your solution and make it better. Refinement might involve minor tweaks or going back to the drawing board. You’ll learn more about the people that you’re trying to serve. You may even learn that you’re solving the wrong problem.
Decide how long you will test your prototype. Find a way to capture the information needed to determine the success of the prototype. Create space for you and a few others to process feedback.
Do the Next Right Thing
If you want to change—improve, revise, reimagine—some aspect of your church, grab at least one other person and walk through the steps above.
Take your time but keep moving. Struggle, strain, flail and fail. But keep learning. And whatever you do, don’t try to create solutions on your own!
And as I mentioned up top, I have another solution that will accelerate your results as you make changes in your church.
If you’d like to jump on the phone for an hour, I’ll walk through this process with you and help you build out a detailed action plan. This is a service valued at $200 but I’m offering it to you for $100.