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Common Reactions When Growth in an Organization Slows

By January 24, 2019Change, Church, Leadership

A young pastor was battling the leadership of the church to make changes. He felt part of his call to the church was to make changes, but every change he suggested the leadership of the church resisted. All his efforts to help the church grow again were meet with opposition. When I talked with him he was questioning if he should give into them, push forward with more changes, or whether it was not even going to be a fit for him to stay long-term. He knew the current state of affairs was causing lots of stress for him and his family.

(And this story could be the story of many churches and pastors.)

This particular church was once a vibrant, growing church. People of all ages were being discipled and the church was engaging the community. Things were good. That was a number of years ago.

The pastor and I talked through the fact that the way change is introduced is incredibly important, but after years of decline, I agreed change would certainly be needed if they expect to see any new growth. As the saying goes, “More of the same will not produce change.”

The reminder for me, however, was of some common characteristics I have observed in organizations, whether the church, nonprofit or business, when growth begins to slow or future progress appears to be in question. In uncertain times, probably because all organizations involve people – people subject to emotional reactions – each has a tendency to react similarly.

During times of difficulty, organizations:

Resist taking risks – of any kind.

Avoid change – at all cost.

Cling to tradition – as if it were gold.

Think inward – rather than outward.

Control everything – and limit extending power to others.

Become selfish – in protection of who they’ve been in the past.

I should admit I’ve been in both sides of the equation. I’ve been in the times of fast growth and times of steady (even rapid) decline. I’m certain I have even contributed to each of these reactions at one time or another.

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any of these reactions work. They feel needed at the time. Our emotions may even tell us they are more comfortable at the time, but they fail to produce that for which they were intended. They stall growth rather than spur growth.

In my experience, these are the exact opposite reactions that spur progress.

Here is why I’m writing this post:

If you are in a time of decline, perhaps it’s time to think differently than your natural, even understandable emotions would lead you to act.

Perhaps you need to:

Take new risks – start with small ones first.

Embrace change – even when it hurts or is scary.

Hold tradition loosely – celebrate it, but don’t be afraid of new traditions.

Think outward – more than inward.

Empower others – more than you control.

Be generous – with resources you do have and towards new ideas.

To the church leader, I would say this: You must walk by faith. And keep walking by faith. I understand it is natural to react in fear and hold on to what you can easily understand when circumstances become difficult. I’ve been there many times.

Something tells me though in the history of the church, to get you where you are today, there were seasons of tremendous risks of faith.

If you want to grow again, however, you’ll have to walk by faith – again.

Have you seen an organization react this way in times of decline?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Christoph says:

    Great insight. Good you not only listed church but Christian agencies as well. In the case of that Youth pastorI suspect they “asked for his resignation”! Take people through the PROCESS of changes!

  • Daniel Burke says:

    I love how you dealt with the issue not in a condescending way but rather in my interpretation: "here is where we screw this up" and "here are some ways to handle this better"

  • Josh Hanson says:

    I stepped into a church that was a prime candidate to check off your entire "times of difficulty" list. It had been in decline for over a decade and without a pastor for over a year. The denomination had pretty much given up hope for the church.

    But here's the good news. I'm finishing up my first year this weekend and things are so much better than when I first arrived. It takes hard work. A lot of relationship building (my wife and I invited every person in the church to our house for dinner). Tons of reminding everyone why we exist. More patience than you'll think is possible. And a desire to love all of the people that God has placed in your care.

  • Jen says:

    This the time when better communication is needed. Not stop with what you know is right or reality, or give up, but connect more. The people need to feel listened to. They have fears and doubts, but they need to air them. I’ve found at times like this if you just push forward, you break things.

    This isn’t just at work or in meetings, but on marriage, too. You try to just push through, it ends up breaking the connection.

    You have to enter their world to get on the same page. It’s like turning into a slide, when your car is sliding on an icy road.

    You can feel like you get lost in their emotions, but people need to feel heard.

    If he hasn’t done it before. It’s probably a good idea to get a coach or mentor that can walk him through it, so he doesn’t break it.

  • @EricDingler says:

    Of course. But in this regard…it's camp, people expect us to be creative, unique and fun as long as we do everything the same way they experienced when they came to camp last time. Oh wait…same problem.

  • @EricDingler says:

    The last church we were at suffered from this. They were more focused on keeping people than reaching people. The church wasn't built for Christians but BY Christians for the world. But it's easy for me to say, I run a church camp..very different than a church.