Do This to Effect Real Change in Your Church

Image by Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)Image by Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)Real change involves adaptive change, not mere technical change.  For a church, therefore, the key to becoming a more missional church means discovering your adaptive challenge and then taking steps to address it.

Here’s how that looked in my church.


Get Beyond Mere Technical Issues

After my church took the Pastor/Leader 360 and Church 360 surveys, our elders and a few other key leaders got together to identify our adaptive challenge.  But this was no easy task.

Adaptive challenges are hard to identify.  You have to be able to look at your situation from a wider perspective.  Heifetz and Linsky, in their book Leadership on the Line, refer to this as “getting on the balcony.”   It means taking a mental step back in order to see the big picture of what’s going on in the group and in the organization.

This is hard, but it’s so critical for discerning an adaptive challenge because it helps leaders see beyond the technical issues that seem to provide immediate solutions.

We had a really tough time, at first, determining what our adaptive challenge was.  For a while, members of our leadership team pointed to various technical issues.  For example, some said communication was a problem.  We need better internal communication.  We need better e-mail communication with the congregation.  We need a better website.

Soon, however, we realized this was a technical issue, not an adaptive challenge.

After a few moments of silence, one person spoke up and said something that changed the direction of the conversation and, ultimately, the direction of our church.  This is what she said:

“I’ve realized in the past year that ministry has to start in my living room.”


State the Adaptive Challenge

This was it!  This was the key to our adaptive challenge.  From this point on, the conversation no longer focused on technical concerns like communication (or worship style or facility improvement).  Instead, the conversation now targeted the core issue that each church member is responsible for doing ministry in their own lives.

After a little more conversation, we settled on this statement as our adaptive challenge:

How do we help people move from a mindset that says, “Ministry starts at the church,” to one that says, “Ministry starts in my living room?”

In other words, we were beginning to discover that the issue at the heart of our church’s future had to do with how we help people discover that ministry begins in the midst of their own lives and relationships, not with church programs.

Getting past the technical problems is not easy.  In order to effect deep change in your church, you must uncover your church’s adaptive challenge.  What is it that deep down will bring about the kind of change your church needs?

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