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Excerpts from

Leading Congregational Change

by James H. Furr, Mike Bonem, Jim Herrington

( San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000)

Skip down to the Stages of Congregational Transformation


"We thank Rick Warren... for the opportunity to reach and refine our understanding of congregational transformation as part of Saddleback Valley Church's Purpose-Driven Church Conference. We are also grateful to Bob Buford, Carol Childress.... and others at Leadership Network for the many ways in which they have stimulated and facilitated our word.

"We were deeply influenced by Bill Hybles and Rick Warren and the successes of their congregations. We also saw many applications in Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline (1990) and in John Kotter's Leading Change (1996).

Laying the Groundwork for Change


"...he had an opportunity to attend a seminar at Saddleback Community Church in California. Seeing and experiencing the model of a dynamic congregation that was truly reaching uncharted people had a deep impact on Russ, and he returned to Glenwood a changed person. He had no experience in change leadership and no road map for how to lead congregational transformation.... [he] began to lead his church to embrace a new model based on what he had learned." P-28

Discerning and Communicating the Vision


"A related and helpful approach is Covey's concept of 'beginning with the end in mind' (1989). We expand this by encouraging congregational leaders to 'start at the endpoint and work back.'" Page 56 Vision and mission


"Our definition of communicating the vision is a comprehensive, intentional, and ongoing set of activities that are undertaken throughout the transformation process to make the vision clear to the congregation. ...

"Rick Warren reinforces this theme when he says, 'Vision and purpose must be restated every twenty-six days to keep the church moving in the right direction" (1995), p. 111)."  Page 62


"Change leaders who do not have a talent for crafting clever language can research what others have done as n ask for permission to use their work. One of the masters in this area is Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church, who gives liberal permission to other church leaders to borrow and adapt the many different descriptions that he and his church have developed over the years." Page 66


Achieving & Maintaining Widespread Impact


"Vision is the a description of God's preferred future of the congregation in three to five years.... One of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, according to Steven Covey, is 'putting first things first.' This is the practice of allowing our long-term objective (vision) to guide our short-term actions (implementation). It also involves the discipline of staying on course by avoiding unimportant diversions." P-81

In many "transforming" churches, such "unimportant diversions" would include warning Christians parents that public schools are likely to threaten the faith and loyalty of their children. Such discussions are too controversial and offensive.

"Treat  Each New Initiative as an Experiment. The concept of an experiment or pilot project is extremely powerful at this stage. People are less resistant to a short-term experiment than they are to a 'permanent' change. ... An experiment signals that the leader so not claim to have all the answer. Experiments give people more room to innovate, learn and improve with less risk of repercussion."82


"Measure, measure, measure. Before beginning an experiment, a scientist defines the desired result and establishes procedures to measure the outcome. Measurement implementation requires clarity about the goal and process for evaluating progress....82


Change leaders need to help their congregations define and measure the things that relate most closely to the vision. Several different measures are usually needed, corresponding to different goals of the vision-path. Once the measure ids define, it takes time to begin gathering information. In many cases, it will be necessary to refine the collection of information or the measurement itself over time.

     A church that refuses to measure progress will not have a clear picture of how it is doing and will have difficulty knowing when its action plans need to change. Without this feedback, it is nearly impossible to lead change. Furthermore, the discussion of how to measure progress toward the vision can actual by a vision-clarifying experience.83


Align gifts with needs. ... change leaders need to take the time to match responsibilities with the spiritual gifs, interests, skills and experience of members. This may be relatively easy to do with in the vision community, since members will be aware of each other's gifts. ...


Support the individuals who are responsible for new initiatives. ... Change leaders need to feel supported.... 83 These individuals are likely to encounter resistance, uncertainty and cynicism." 84


Stage 8: Reinforcing Momentum Through Alignment. Alignment is evident when the majority of the people, ministries, and structures of the church are functioning out of a clear understanding and commitment to the vision. As alignment occurs, the change process spreads beyond a few high-leverage action plans.

    "In fact, the final stage of the change process is really not the end. As long as God calls us to transformation and our world changes rapidly, congregations will have to change continually as well. Sot he eight stage is not a conclusion to the change process but an ongoing effort tot adjust to the call of God's vision and to the change in the world around us.

    "The need for continuous change goes against the grain of the organizational culture...

    "Barna observes that "our culture completely reinvents itself every three to five years, and he concludes that our churches must be prepared to engage change at the same pace." 85


"The physics term is conservation of momentum. The final stage of the change process is about creating lasting momentum for ongoing transformation." 86

    "One factor that contributes to fatigue is the failure to publicly celebrate the successes of the journey. The deep commitment of change leaders and the congregation's progress toward the vision need to be recognized....

    "Another momentum killer is when resistance surfaces or resurfaced. In the early stages, it may be possible to avoid some congregations. To create long-lasting momentum and continue the transformation, the remaining obstacles will have to be addressed...  It must become a congregation-wide effort.

    "All of these factors point to the ultimate objective of Stage 8: the alignment of the congregation with the vision.86


"Alignment means that worship, small groups activities, ministries and programs, budgets, decision making, organization and attitudes of indifual members all reflect the vision." 87 


Suggested Actions to Foster Change. Momentum for ongoing transformation is a function of two factors: the organization's ability to continually assess current reality, and its ability to create internal alignment around the vision. 88


[1]  Recast the vision. The vision should never be allowed to grow stale or be forgotten. ... A church's vision and vsionpath should be treated as a living document....

   "Recasting the vision is best done through periodic assessments with the vision community. They should address whether the vision needs to be revised in order to be consistent with their understanding God's calling.


[2]  Take time to celebrate Wins. Public recognition should be an international part of the transformation process. Celebrations should be directly linked to the objectives that were set as part of the vision and visonpath. ...89


[3]  Identifgy and Implement New High-Leverage Plans.... The ongoing transformation process should include periodic reviews to establish new priorities and implementation plans...


[4]  Align Existing Ministries with the Vision. Up to this point, many ministries in the congregation may have gone about 'business as usual.'" 89

    "Bible study leaders may decide to teach a spiritual maturity series to better equip their members."90


[5]  Establish Internal Monitoring Posts. "to assess the degree of understanding, commitment, and alignment that has occurred. The vision community should... make their own assessments of the congregation's momentum." 90


[6]  Address Specific Pockets of Resistance. Resistance is the 'opposite reaction' to change. .. [It] can come in many different forms--confrontational or passive-aggressive, from known troublemakers or loyal supporters, as a result of a specific change or of an incorrect perception." 90-91


Some loss of members is likely throughout the change process.  Even at this late stage, some people will decide that they are not on board with the vision and that they need to leave. When this happens, leaders must be willing to allow people to find a different place to worship.... The worst mistake it to compromise the vision to try to retain a few members.

     "Change leaders must also be prepared to deal with members who choose to 'stay and fight.' When the resistance is overt and destructive, failure to act on the problem is far worse than the cure. The Bible gives clear principles in Matthew 18 for how to handle these conflicts."91


[7]Create an Eye on the Community. ...create ways to gather new information from outside the congregation. In a state of rapid and continuous change, this is the only way for the church to be a relevant, shaping force in it s community.

    "Specific activities might include periodic interview with key external constituencies (such  school principals and elected officials) and with new and departing members.... Neighborhood surveys... can provide more quantitative demographic information. .. The question to be answered is 'What trends are emerging in our target community that we need to be prepared to address?" 91


[8]  Define the Ongoing Role of the Vision Community.91

     "The vision community's (the champion of the vision)... primary role is to discern and communicate the vision and to monitor progress toward the vision. When they believe that the congregation is straying from the vision or is  not making sufficient progress, it is the vision community's responsibility to raise this concern....should lead to increased alignment between existing ministries and the vision.92

     "A more active role is that of change agent. ... It involves initiating new programs, ministries, procedures, and other changes that may fall outside the existing organization. For example, a church with a traditional Sunday school organization may not have a mechanism to create nontraditional small group opportunities. ... The vision community may need to take responsibility for launching and overseeing the initiative. 92-93

      "As the change agent, the vision community does not stop with asking, 'are we maiing prorress?' Instead they ask, "Waht is the next initiative that needs to be launched?'"


[9]  Never Stop. The change process never truly ends. ... The art of leadership is knowing when to paus and when to press forward. ...  making sure that the process does restart after the pauses are high-leverage leadership challenges.


The Benefits of Reinforcing Momentum Through Alignment.  ..  failure to establish momentum and alignment will stop the process short of true, deep transformation. It is easy to be lulled into a premature feeling of victory after the first round of implementation. Established momentum and alignment will--

There is no 'next stage,' but the change process is never-ending. The eight stages of the change process need to be revisited often. This cycle becomes a part of the congregation's culture and way of life.

The Disciplines of Transformational Leadership


"The nature of leadership... required to initiate and guide transformation represent a major shift.... As the Congregational Transformation Model continued to evolve, identifying and teaching these skills became a priority.

   "Some leaders are very capable of strengthening the spiritual and relational vitality of a congregation. ....

   "The current setting for ministry demands continuous learning. Entire congregations must develop the capacity to adjust their way of life by learning new competencies."95


"Most clergy actually receive little or no formal training in leadership... The demand for change and continues learning is stressful for leaders.... Change leaders will increasingly need to embrace personal challenges, revolutionary paradigm, team learning and complexities. These correspond tot the four learning disciplines of the Congregational Transformation Model." 96


Transactional and Transformational Leadership. 96


    "Transactional leadership is based on transactions or exchanges between leaders and their followers. The followers express a variety of basic self-interests like physical and emotional security. Leaders shape situations in which the followers accomplish the actions desired by the leaders in exchange for rewards that meet the followers needs....


"Transformational leadership (used here). Transformational leader helps followers embrace a vision of a preferred future. Leaders inspire and empower followers to achieve new levels of personal and corporate performance. ... Followers gladly commit to a future they help to create.


When congregational leaders do not exhibit transformational traits, initiating and guiding transformation is very difficult." 96


An important part of UBA's mission has been to support transformational attitudes and disciplines through the Young Leaders program....96


Order and Chaos. Church transformation requires that all three dimensions of the model flourish--vitality, process and disciplines. This requires dealing ... with both order and chaos. ...

    Congregational leaders can become more effective by mastering the learning disciplines of transformational leadership--creative tension, mental models, team learning and systems thinking."99




Discipline 1: Generating & Sustaining Creative Tension


"The beginning place is the disciplined capacity of leaders and organizations to generate and sustain creative tension.  Creative tension occurs when a compelling vision of the future and a clear picture of current reality are held in continuous juxtaposing. Personal mastery  is the shorthand term that Senge uses for this discipline. 100


Our definition has two distinct parts--generating and sustaining creative tension. Tension is generated when the gap between reality and vision is made clear. Personal Mastery is the shorthand term that Senge uses for this discipline.

    "What drives change? ... Change is driven when a significant gap exists between a vision of the future that people sincerely desire to achieve and a clear sense that they are not achieving that vision. As this recognition grows, so does their willingness to change.... and to try new approaches. This is the point at which they are experiencing creative tension. The discipline to generate and sustain this driving force is indispensable for change leaders.

     "Tension is generated when the gap between reality and vision is made clear." 100


"Tension... must be sustained. The human spirit moves to reduce the tension caused by a gap between the ideal and the real. Change leaders must keep the tension alive as a force for change. Long term transformation cannot be accomplished unless the tension is sustained. ...

     "If tension is generated over insignificant issues, the leader's credibility is diminished. Creative tension focuses on the critical issues and is strong enough to motivate change, but not so intense that it becomes destructive." 101 (Example of Jesus is a misrepresentation.)


Discerning and Describing a Shared Vision. ... We are crated to dream, to aspire, to become part of something greater than ourselves....101


"Change leaders should be clear about the relationship of personal vision to shared vision. Where personal visions and congregational vision are not alighted, individuals will not be fully committed. It behooves leaders to pay attention of the personal vision of individual members as they seek to build shared vision." P-102

"Continually monitor the Commitment Level. Healthy congregations have good feedback systems. As change occurs, commitment levels will vary. For some people any change calls for a "withdrawal from the emotional bank account: (Covey). When the account is overdrawn, people become unwilling to make further changes. As withdrawals are made, change leaders should intentionally replenish the account through acts of kindness, good communication, love and concern." P-10


Establishing Performance Challenges. Team learning is more likely to flourish when the group has established clear perfoance standards for the change process.... Just a creative tension fosters generative learning, setting performance standards promotes team learning." P-138


Processes that Sustain Creative Tenssion.  ...It is also through this [creative] tension that generative learning-- defined as learning that increases the organization's capacity to achieve the desired results--occurs.107


Develop Conflict Management Skills. ...In  Discover your conflict mannagment syst., Speed Leas idenifity sic styles for managing creative tension:

Discipline 2: Harnessing the Power of Mental Models


Mental Models  are the images, assumptions, and stories we use to interpret our world and guide our actions. (same as paradigms).  Both terms refer to the information and assumptions that shape how we understand and respond to the world around us.113


The Power of Mental Models. ... help us take very complex dynamics and simplify them in order to deal with them on a routine basis....  A leap of abstraction occurs when our brain recognizes [113] a pattern.... we quickly draw a conclusion....114


Mental Models of the Church. In the old paradigm, change occurred incrementally. The church shared the values held by the predominant culture. ...115

      "In the mission field paradigm, change is rapid and discontinuous. the gap between the value held by the church and those held by the community is clear.115


Page 116- chart: Two Mental Models of the church


Recognizing and Acting on Mental Models. Chang leaders must also enable their congregations to recognize, embrace, a nd act on new mental models. ... effective change leaders understand the  implications of the new mental models and help and organization make the necessary transition. A cluster o skills should be engaged at the personal and organizational level....


MAKE Chart

[1]  Self-Disclosure. the single most powerful personal skill in mastering mental models is the capacity of self-disclosure. ... know the impact that life experience has on your worldview is a powerful tool.

     "This kind of self-understanding is essential because our assumptions are based on thoughts and of personal life experiences. And.. our perceptions and actions... are based on the mental models we have developed.... Self-awareness that can be disclosed to others is a key skill in dealing with mental models.

     "The gospel of Christ calls us to this kind of authentic transparency. Jesus modeled this self-awareness. He knew who he was .... his purpose in life. He knew how his culture influenced him.

     "Small groups of many kinds provide a safe setting for individuals to think out loud about themselves. ....

    Individuals who want to master the discipline of mental models begin by committing to a growing sense of self-awareness. This allows them to identify their mental models and test them  against reality.118


[2] Empathetic Listening. ... our perspective is often incomplete. We take our experience with one part of the system and generalize it to the whole. In systems thinking (chpt 10), we learn that dealing with one part of the system gives an inadequate picture of the whole.

        "The dilemma in overcoming our limited view is that we are often unwilling to learn from others who interact with other parts of the system. Instead, we try to persuade them to adopt our position. Steven Covey discusses the impact that empathic listening can have in problem solving. "Empathic listening is so power ful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interoperation, you're dealing with the reality inside another person's head and heart. You're listening to understand. ... When change leaders learn to listen empathically, they learn to see the world diffently.119


"Self-awareness lead to an increased capacity for self-disclosure. A third key personal skill, the skill of dialogue, build on thee first two. Dialogue is also essential for team learning and is discussed in depth in the next chapter.120


Living with creative tension --- the gap between current reality and God's ideal-- should lead us to ask whether the mental models on which we have based our decisions are accurate. Establishing performance standards (chap 9) motivates us to examine our models. Other organizational capabilities that contribute to the mastery of mental models are critical thinking and transformational planning.120


[3] Critical Thinking. Using critical thinking intentionally to challenge the mental models of an organization is a key skill. Critical thinking is the process of taking a fresh look at a problem by stripping away the assumptions and constraints that may have been imposed in the past. It requires probing deeper than most groups are comfortable doing."120-121


[4] Transformational Planning. ... embraces the assumptions of systems thinking and calls the congregation to ongoing, continuous alignment of all the congregational systems in order to achieve the visions.123

Discipline 3: Enabling Team Learning


Katzenbach and Smith define a team as a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.'" 128


Paul declares that though we are many parts , we are one body. ... 128


"Individuals who... are part of the same vision community should bring a rich diversity of skills, spiritual gifts, life experiences, and worldviews. .. Yet, that very diversity, which offers the potential for incredible power, often becomes a disadvantage. Many congregations have chosen not to embrace the challenge of diversity.... 

     "... forming teams and teaching them to learn is a key leadership discipline. This discipline is called team learning." 129


A Definition for Learning. In the context of change leadership, learning is not ultimately about acquiring new knowledge. ... For transformational leaders, learning expands a group's capacity to achieve its desires results. New information may help to increase the team's capacity to meet its goals, but this information is a means to a larger end. It is at this point that team learning relates distinctly to the discipline of creative tension. One skill of generating and sustaining creative tension is clarifying vision." 129


Learning in Teams.  " turn individual learning into team learning, our intention must be clear. Team learning is 'the process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire." (Senge, 136) It is the process of changing the group's purpose from communicating and coordinating to learning.

     It is about taking individuals -- with all of their gifts, experiences and knowledge -- and molding them into a living unit that is capable of producing far more than the sum of its respective parts. It is about creating a high degree of alignment, so that the team's collective energy is focused in a single direction." 130


Teams Versus Working Groups.  "In a team... a common goal is set. These goals con only be achieved through the mutual, cooperative efforts of the members. ... A second distinction... is accountability. ... In a team, each individual is responsible to the rest of the team."131


"Our covenant was that I would not make any unilateral directional decisions--these would only be made by consensus.  This was a much slower, less efficient process. But it resulted in a deep level of shared commitment and understanding within the team and the entire association."

      "Dependence carries negative connotations.... 132


The needs of our society are equally staggering . Our thesis is that congregations must be transformed if they are going to have a significant impact on the world. We must accept the learning challenge--not the challenge of merely acquiring more information--to discern how to achieve this impact for Christ. This is the task that demands that we master the discipline of team learning."132


Two Keys for Team Learning. What must happen to change a group's purpose to learning?


1. Commitment to Teams.  "Change leaders should expect resistance to team learning. ... The most difficult and crucial step in team learning is for the potential team members to recognize the deep, subtle resistance that each one brings to working in team. Recognizing and making this resistance explicit to other team members tends to lessen its grip. It takes time for a group to emerge as a team, and all the concerns and resistance related to teams will resurface during this period."


"for teams to form and team learning to emerge in a congregation, each team member needs to look closely in the mirror. We all bring contributions to the team. We also bring baggage that can stand in the way of team learning. Clearly identifying these issues will enhance the group's ability to become a high-performance team." 133



2. Commitment to Learning.  "Change leaders should assess the skills of each member and try to create targeted learning experiences at every stage of the change process.

    "Learning experiences must focus on more than transferring information. Team members should have opportunities to discuss new insights with each other. They should be challenged to draw implications from the learning experiences that are unique and helpful to them and their congregation. Critical skills will need to be revisited over and over....  Follow-up presentation and discussion is usually needed. Actual practice in applying the skill, constructive feedback, ... are essential for skill development." 134


The Skills of Team Learning.  "Team learning makes active use of the skills associated with mental models. Beyond these, team learning requires

We refer to these three essential team learning skills as team building, establishing performance challenges, and dialogue.134


Team Building.  "In an effective team, differences create synergy. Rather than staying a safe distance apart, the close working relationships within a team turn diversity into a source of strength. ... Team building is the place to begin to embrace the differences that the team members bring."135


Establish Values to Guide Team Interactions.  "Before a team is launched, ground rules need to be established. Team members bring many unexpressed assumptions about what is and is not acceptable in group interaction. ...l Openness, consensus, mutual respect, creativity, and diversity are some of the typical values of effective teams."

    "... the importance of declaring a value and enforcing it repeatedly. Mastering team learning will be difficult if values are not made explicit.

    "Another value to establish is the team's boundary conditions. These define the outer limits of acceptability for new ideas.... In some congregations, an underlying value is that only denominational programs and priorities can be considered. This and other similar boundaries should be exposed and discussed by the group. Doing so will help establish the team's values..."135


Appreciate Differences in Gifts and Styles. Shared experiences should be created to help the team learn to value the different abilities that each member brings. This is done informally as the team spends time together.... The format should allow time to reinforce the team concept, study the Scriptures, play, rest and just be together. ...

    "A team's understanding and appreciation of differences can be enhance through the use of formal tools like the DISC Personality Profile..... These learning-style assessment instruments, especially when used during a retreat or other extended time together, allow the team to develop new insights about each member's contributions. They provide an excellent avenue for affirming each person  and for helping all see that they need the strengths of the others to do their best workd.137


Identify and Address Defensive Routings. Senge draws form Chris Argyri when he describes defensive routines as "habitual ways of interacting that protect us and other from threat or embarrassment, but which also prevent us from learning....  The teams need a high level of trust and a commitment to a shared vision.... 

     "Defensive routines keep the team from fully and openly exploring an issue. ...  Four of the most common ones are  the logical put-down, passionate discourse, peace-keeping , hurt feelings...


Effective change leaders work with the team to identify defensive routines. They seek to change counterproductive behavior before the team's initial progress and enthusiasm are destroyed. They model the desired behavior and keep the dialogue alive when other try to curtail it.

    As people work together, the learn to recognize the defensive routines of others. It is more difficult to see our own defensive routines...."137


As relationships and trust grow, team members should ask for feedback on their communications skills. 138


Establishing Performance Challenges. Team learning is more likely to flourish when the group has established clear performance standards for the change process. ... Just a creative tension foster generative learning, setting performance standards promotes team learning. 138


Congregations that identify a shared vision and then establish corresponding standards create a dynamic for learning that is potent. Establishing these standard requires guidance from the change leader and active collaboration by the entire team. 139


Dialogue.  "The purpose of dialogue is to go beyond any one individual's understanding" (Senge) In dialogue, each individual's understanding is made available to the entire group so that all learn....

    "In discussion, an individual' perspective ... is presented with the objective of persuading the rest of the group.... In dialogue, an individual offers his or her perspective or assumptions for examination  by the group. The object of dialogue is to allow others to see what you see and why you see it, not to convince them. Dialogue can create a rich understanding if information is shared openly and if all participants listen deeply.

    The can only be done in a safe environment--the type that is established by team learning. If members of the group expect their views to be disregarded or used against them, dialogue will not occur. Defenses will go up or information will not be fully shared. 140

    Senge identifies three key practices for teams engaging in the practice of dialogue:


1. Participants Agree to Describe their Assumptions. True dialogue allow team members to examine on another's assumptions. As this unfolds, participants often develop new insights into the personal assumptions that they bring to the process.140


2. Participants Agree to Treat One Another as Colleagues. Senge observes that 'dialogue can occur only when a group of people see each other as colleagues in mutual quest for deeper insight and clarity." ... This practice serves teams most powerfully when individuals hold differing points of view....141


3. A Facilitator Holds Group Members to their Commitment to Dialogue.  Most groups overuse (discussion).... Changing this tendency ... requires commitment, practice and assistance. A facilitator can strengthen the group member's ability to use dialogue by helping them establish ground rules and calling them back to the rules when they slide from dialogue into discussion....

   Mastering the skill of dialogue is a painstaking process.... Dialogue is risky because it requires a high level of transparency and vulnerability from all  participants, especially the team leader. ... dialogue significantly increases a team's ability to achieve the results that God desires.142


Conclusion.  "In an environment of trusting relationships, team collaboration to set performance standards generates creative tension for the group.... The most challenging and potentially most important skill for teams is dialogue. These three skills--teambuilding, performance challenges, and dialogue--will accelerate the entire learning process for a team.

    Making the commitment to teams, providing opportunities for skill development and monitoring the team's progress are crucial roles for change leaders. If congregations are to experience radical transformation, their leadership teams must exhibit sharply increased levels of learning....142




Chapter outline for the accompanying Workbook:

Spiritual and Relational Vitality: The Driving Force of Transformational Change (Four Disciplines)

The Eight-Stage Change Process

These manipulative steps (leading to systemic, social and spiritual transformation) will be defined later.

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