Almost no one I know likes stop signs. The number one way I know I'm not driving like I'm supposed to is when there is a police car near a stop sign that's on my usual route. My car comes to a complete stop at the line and I realize, "Wow, this feels unfamiliar. I always coast through this stop sign."
Why do we like coasting through stop signs? Because we intuitively know it takes more energy and gas for our car to start again from a dead stop then it does if we had never stopped rolling in the first place. I've always got my eye on that "miles per gallon" meter on my dashboard. The more stop signs I have to stop at, the lower that MPG number goes.
With that in mind, when is the best time to introduce significant change into a church or organization? Is it when things are going well or when things are beginning to slip?
Local churches, like every organization, have lifecycles. They are born, they have periods of growth, decline, and ultimately, death. The classic diagram of a church lifecycle is below.
The top of the lifecycle is, of course, where we'd like to stay for the longest amount of time. Things are clicking along with little conflict, few bumps in the road, and, dear goodness, no stop signs.
But sustained health rarely lasts for long on its own. Culture and society changes. People come and go, staff and employees move, retire, or fail. And then suddenly a church finds that it has left health and gone into maintenance. Literally we start asking ourselves, "How can we maintain what we have?" And as soon as you ask that question, you're not far from, "How can we just preserve what we have?!"
Our natural instinct is to avoid change until it appears absolutely necessary. As I've heard Brandon Morrow say, no one actually hates change. We would be miserable without it. However, we just want change on our own terms, usually when it's so late the change is much harder than it ever had to be.
What does that mean for an organization then? It means that the best time to introduce change is when things are going well. This is the counter-intuitive call of change leadership. If we wait to introduce change until 51% of people realize we need it, we'll be deeply on the wrong side of the growth curve. Nor is waiting until the majority agrees with us true leadership. We can't be like the leader who says, "I will lead you if you only tell me where to go."
Introducing change while things are going well, while we're still ascending the left-side of the growth curve, means that the majority should actually find the change unnecessary, uncalled for, and probably irresponsible. However, just like cars at stop signs, leaders will save a church and an organization tons of energy, resources, and time if change happens while the church is still on the ascend, not on the descend.
In Part II we'll talk about what introducing change looks like, the pain of Sigmoid Curves, and the fountain of perpetual youth.