How does change happen?

How do organizations and institutions change? How do churches change?

The world has changed dramatically—and churches have noticed! There’s no getting around it. The way we’ve done ministry in the past—strategic planning leading to lots of felt-needs-based programming—doesn’t seem to cut it anymore.

Something has to change. Exactly what needs to change is hard to pin down, partly because the specifics of what needs to change varies from church to church.  (Maybe I’ll write some reflections about the what sometime soon). 

What I want to look at in this post is how change begins to happen.


The Source and Soul of Change

One of the best books I’ve read about organizational change is a book titled, Surfing the edge of Chaos. Here’s what the authors say about institutional change:  “…conversation is the single most important business process when the goal is to shift what people believe and how they think.” While the church isn’t a “business,” per se, the principle holds: conversation allows people to be part of the change process. To put it even more dramatically, “conversation is the source and soul of change.”

Because churches are made up of people, and each person has their own thoughts and ideas, it almost never works in the long run to make top-down decisions without involving the congregation. They might go along with the decision, but that doesn’t mean they believe in it or have truly bought in.

[bctt tweet=”Because churches are made up of people, and each person has their own thoughts and ideas, it almost never works in the long run to make top-down decisions without involving the congregation. ” username=”markuswatson”]


Congregations have to have a voice in the process. They have to have the space to reflect on why change is necessary. What options are available? How they might be personally affected by a particular development, and other implications of a change? Only with room to reflect does lasting change have a chance.


Asking Good Questions

​So how do you help people process and reflect? You get them around a table and start asking questions. Asking thoughtful and incisive questions is a key component in the change process. In regard to the learning and discovery process, Michael Marquardt writes, “Questions will always be more powerful than statements….” This is because asking questions first helps a group to better understand the challenge it is facing. And second, questions draw the group’s attention toward possible solutions.

According to Peter Block, the power of asking questions lies in their ability to “create the space for something new to emerge.” They open the group up to new possibilities and allow them “to recognize and reorganize their knowledge.” By recognizing their assumptions and reorganizing what they know, church members can position themselves to be more open to the new way God may call them to be the church in the world—and it may look very different than it did in the past.

​Questions are absolutely necessary for deep learning to take place. Marquardt puts it this way: “Deep and significant learning occurs only as a result of reflection and reflection is not possible without a question.”

Where in your context is God calling you to invite people into rich conversation? How might you get people around a table and start asking great questions?

Markus Watson
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