5 Stages All Organizations Experience

By | Change, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | One Comment

Every organization goes through life cycles. In fact, there are five stages all organizations experience.

(These are not my terms. I learned them years ago in a management class and can’t find where to attribute them. The explanation of terms and application is mine.)

I realize these are secular terms, and the church is not subject to the “rules” of a secular organization. At the same time, I have observed they are also true for most churches.

Leaders who recognize them and adapt to them can continue to experience health and growth in the organization. Two things to understand. First, each stage has overlap. Also, individual areas within the organization may also have similar life cycles.

5 life cycles of any organization:

Birth

This founding period usually involves a few people with a big vision. This is the initial stage where learning takes place and the organization begins to develop leaders – sometimes by trial and error. Everyone on the team at this point has the potential to become a leader.

Having planted a couple churches, we launched one with one staff member (me), my wife, and twenty or so people. The other was with three staff members, our wives, and eleven couples. Each member of both teams were forced to lead areas outside their comfort level. We gained some of our best leaders that way and several people found a passion they did not know they had. In both church plants, which grew quickly, this stage lasted less than one year.

Childhood 

A deepening and maturity process begins at this stage. The organization still has few policies and procedures in place and everything is still “fun”, with the excitement of still being a young vision. New leadership develops and responsibilities spread to new people within the organization. Mistakes are common as the organization figures out its identity. The DNA of the organization begins to form. In this stage, the organization begins to recognize its need for more structure.

This was a fun stage and time for both church plants. The normal for this stage appears to end in three to five years. For larger organizations, this could be a longer time frame.

Adolescence

Greater levels of responsibility are handed out to more people and the weight of responsibility spreads within the organization. The organization has had some success at this point and so it begins to take new risks and dream new and bigger dreams. This is a continued growth time and usually full of renewed energy.

If the organization is not careful some of the initial leaders of the organization can begin to experience burnout; and often a loss of power as new leaders emerge.

More developed structure becomes necessary at this point and the organization must begin to think about maintaining growth. Organizations are forced to “grow up” during this stage. It usually happens in the first ten years, but again, this may depend on the size of the organization.

Maturity

At this stage, the organization has many experiences of success and some failure. The organization must begin to think through continued growth and health as an organization. The organization needs constant renewal and regeneration to remain current and viable. Leadership has been developed, but the organization begins to plan out succession of leaders.

The structure of the organization is usually well established by this point, but must remain flexible enough to adapt to changes outside the organization. At some point all organizations enter this phase. The goal at this point needs to shift into breathing new life into the organization.

(A lot of churches reach this stage and cease to change and grow, often steeped in their own traditions, and this is where plateau begins.)

Renewal

It is sad, but this stage almost always has to be forced on an organization. Either by leadership or for survival purposes, something new must occur or the organization will eventually die or cease to be viable. This can be scary for people, but it does not mean the organization must leave its vision, traditions, or culture, but it must consider new ways of realizing its potential.

Some will say renewal comes at each stage of the organization’s life cycle. That may be true, but I contend there is a definite stage in a healthy life cycle where an organization improves and almost reinvents itself to continue to experience health and growth.

Another thing to remember is that the speed of an organization’s growth can cause life cycles to complete much quicker. Consider the child who has to face adult decisions early in life and is forced to “grow up fast”. A similar thing happens to organizations.

Check out our new podcast where we unpack leadership issues in a applicable and practical way.

7 Suggestions to Successfully Lead Change

By | Change, Church, Leadership | No Comments

Every organization — whether a church, business or nonprofit– needs change in order to continue to grow and remain healthy. But if you have been in leadership long you know there are some necessary steps to successfully lead change. 

The fact is change is hard. Very hard.

In my experience, the most common reaction to change — at least initially– is some form of rejection or rebellion. We simply don’t like change.

And that’s what makes change difficult to lead.

Learning to successfully lead change may be the single most important challenge of any leader.

I’m not an expert. But I’ve led some change. Some successfully. Some not.

Along the way I’ve learned a few things.

Here are 7 suggestions that can help you better lead change:

Establish trust. 

You can successfully lead change best from a pre-established trust in your leadership. New leaders should be careful not to implement a lot of major change early unless that change is vital to the organization. Major change will be easier if the leader has established some credibility.

Introduce change as early as possible. 

People need time to warm up to the change that is coming. The less you surprise people the greater your chance for success can be. Change always comes with an emotion attached and giving ample notice allows people a chance to acclimate those emotions. (Granted, this one is not always possible, but exceptions should be rare and have an obvious reason attached to them – such as a pandemic.) 

Communicate. Communicate.

Inform people along the way by keeping them updated with the progress during a period of change. Include the good news and the bad news in these updates. Hold nothing back. I’m not sure you can over-communicate. And use different means of communication to make sure you catch everyone and every style of listener. Finally, use a caring approach, recognizing their sense of loss they are feeling as a result of the change. 

Widen the distribution.

Get buy-in from as many people as possible. Sometimes leaders have to lead alone. People can’t understand where you’re taking them that they need to go, but may not even know yet or want to go. But those times of loneliness should be rare. Wherever possible, include others in decisions concerning change.

Follow through on commitments made.

The quickest way to lose trust is to say one thing and do another. Likewise, do not make commitments you cannot keep. Be true to your word. This is even more important when people are experiencing change.

Be consistent.

You will keep people’s trust through the change if it is easier to figure out where you are as a leader, what you are thinking, and why you are making the decisions you make. And the “why” — it’s critically important. People need to continue to trust your leadership, and the more they understand the why the more accepting they will be of change.

Keep changing. 

Do not make change a rare occurrence in the organization. I’m not suggesting change just to be changing, but the more you have a culture that anticipates healthy change the more it will be accepted when it comes. That takes time. And experience. You need some wins so people learn to trust you when you are trying to lead change.

There are a few things I’ve learned about leading change. What have you learned?

Check out our new podcast where we unpack leadership issues in a applicable and practical way.

7 Traits Needed to Effectively Lead Change

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Innovation, Leadership | No Comments

If you want to be in leadership get comfortable with change. The best leaders have the traits to effectively lead change.

Every leader deals with change, but in my experience, some handle it better than others. There are change agent leaders who seem to have an innate gifting at leading through change.

I’ve observed some common traits needed to effectively lead change.

7 traits for effectively lead change:

Flexibility

It doesn’t have to be your design. You simply want progress towards the overall vision. You are never stubborn on matters that seem to have no vision-altering value. Instead, you navigate towards a solution, letting others have “their” way. Everyone walks away feeling as though they have won.

Courage

Effectively leading change means you are willing to receive criticism and still move forward. You know how to filter through what is valid criticism – worth hearing – and what’s simply a venting of personal interest. Because of this you unwaveringly push through the junk which clouds progress.

Relational

You value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain their trust. Knowing that ultimate change can’t happen without human capital, you are constantly investing in relationships. Networking is one of a change agents greatest tools.

Strategic

You realize there are steps to take and carefully choose the timing of when to take them. It is like you have a keen sense of discernment when it comes to knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to pull the plug completely.

Creative

You are able to see paths to success others can’t yet see. Change often happens because someone chose to be creative – even when it might not mesh with current structures. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. This takes creativity.

Intentional

You make change for a specific purpose and never waste a change. Since you know that every change has the potential to make or break a team, you work diligently to bring the best results.

Thorough

You follow through on commitments made and sees the change to fruition. You don’t give up until the post evaluation is complete and the lessons of change have been learned.

Think about your experience. Who are some of the best leaders who could effectively lead change?

Check out our new podcast where we unpack many of these issues – and add real stories to illustrate them.

Fighting Tension – Stay in a Supporting Leadership Role – or Jump into the Lead Role

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There is a fighting tension among many young leadership. The tension is whether to stay in a supporting leadership role – or jump into the lead role.

Young leaders I work with ask this question a lot – are they ready to be in a lead position?

I want to be helpful. Most of these people are leaders now – usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the senior leadership position. But they believe they want to be someday.

I wish I knew the magical answer of when to make the transition, but I don’t. You can jump too soon. And you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn – and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team – and the one who stays.

It’s a fine line – or a quadrant of the circle – as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership is pretty simple.

When you’ve lived in the fighting tension too long – it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it. It is probably why you would read a post like this, but let me give some symptoms.

7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And it frustrates you nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership – all senior leadership – good or bad leadership – because you think you could do it better. (This is always a good sign.)

When you think more about what could be if you were in the leading position than what could be if you stay in the learning position. (Be sure to take notes during this season.)

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level. (It needs to be a calling.)

When those who know you best think you’re ready. (Don’t be afraid to ask.)

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked.

Please understand, these are just my thoughts. Also, when you are in the season of sensing you are ready, never be arrogant, flippant or act like you know it all, because you don’t. You will have to trust me with this one. I will write more about what to do in this season in my next post.

We should always learn all we can, but the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But preparing for the big jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college – it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

This is why it’s a fine line – hence the fighting tension. Check out my leadership podcast where we discuss issues like this regularly.

5 Hidden Objections to Change

By | Change, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

I’ve learned there are some common – often hidden – objections to change. These are secret objections.

No one admits to these, but they are real. In fact, they may be the biggest obstacles you’ll have to face in implementing change.

Show me an objection to change and you’re almost guaranteed to find one of these hidden in the crowd somewhere. And you’ll probably find multiples of them.

These are often hard to admit, but they are true. Understanding them can help you better lead change.

5 hidden objections to change:

Selfishness

Let’s face it – we want what we want. What’s comfortable requires less sacrifice on our part.

Pride

We like our ideas and don’t believe we can enjoy the ideas of others, as much as our own. The way I want to do things is best, isn’t it?

Fear

We are afraid of what could happen if we change. Change might launch a whole series of change. That’s scary.

Power

We want to make the decisions for our life and resist when others are making them for us. The reality is most of us have a very real and sometimes hidden desire for control.

Satisfaction

We are satisfied with current status. Things are being done the way they’ve always been done. This is the way things are supposed to be. And we like it this way.

To be clear, I don’t believe we can continue to grow most of the time without change. Change is all around us. Therefore, failing to embrace change only leads to more severe problems later. But that doesn’t mean change is easy.

Sometimes understanding the hidden reasons behind the objection helps the leader better address the situation.

What hidden objections to change have you seen?

Check out my new leadership podcast on the Lifeway Podcast Network or wherever you listen to podcasts. In an upcoming episode, we will address these hidden objections and ways to address them.

7 Often Overlooked Needs in Church Revitalization

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | No Comments

I have written and spoken at conferences extensively about church revitalization. I have served as pastor in two church plants and two church revitalizations. I’m currently helping in a church revitalization at my home church. I love church planting and still hope to be a part of it in the future, but I also believe God would want us to restore health to churches whenever possible. And I know that established churches can grow.

The work is hard. I know first hand that it’s harder to rebuild something than it is to start something from scratch, but it is rewarding work.

One reason some in revitalization haven’t been as successful is that there were things they didn’t know or didn’t do. What can be surprising is that there are often areas you weren’t expecting to have to address. It took some hard lessons for me to learn some of these.

Here are 7 often overlooked needs in church revitalization: 

Laypeople willing to stand up to other laypeople. This is huge. Established churches can become very passive aggressive in addressing conflict. Many times the pastor is the last to know there is a controversy stirring. People may be upset about change, and they talk to everyone else, but the pastor doesn’t find out until the problem has brewed out of proportion.

There needs to be people willing to do as Barney Fife would say, “Nip it in the bud.” They are willing to ask, “Have you said this to the pastor? If not, I’m not sure we should be talking about it.” And people willing to steer conversations in a positive direction and publicly and privately support needed changes.

A pastor willing to stay through the process. I wrote about this previously, but this may be the most important decision a pastor leading revitalization has to make.

In my experience, the longer the church has been in decline the longer it takes to be healthy again. It always takes longer than we hope it will. But until a pastor decides they are in it until the turn comes (or God makes it clear they are released) they will fail to put their best energies into the work. 

Willingness to address the sacred cows. These may be programs, the placement of a table donated by a previous church member (who isn’t alive or doesn’t even attend the church anymore) or paint colors. Sacred cows often have stories behind them and they are seldom “Biblical” issues.

They aren’t easy to change, and not all of them need to be, but if you can’t redirect or remove some them it will be difficult to see the church healthy again. And that should be done carefully and strategically. 

Finding an energizing path forward. You must find something that will build momentum and get people excited again. People need to feel an enthusiasm for church again; enough that they will want to bring people with them.

This can often be in an area the church has excelled in before. If, in their best days for example, the church had a strong missions program, this could be a place where the church can be motivated again.

Discovering and celebrating the “good” past of the church. Let’s be honest. Not all the past of the church is good or there wouldn’t be a need for revitalization. If there’s nothing to find, it might be best to take your energy somewhere else. Life is short and the Kingdom need is too great to waste time on a toxic church that has no interest in recovery – or isn’t wiling to make the changes necessary.

But there will likely be things from the past that, while you don’t have to repeat them, you can celebrate them. (The principle I use here is to repeat principles not practices.) You want do things the same way, but the idea or motive behind them are often “historically significant” moments that the church will rally behind. 

Repentance. It could be there has been a series of bad leadership decisions, which injured innocent people. It could be conflicts or broken relationships that were left unresolved. God may not be able to honor the church with growth again until repentance has occurred.

This doesn’t have to be church-wide unless the offenses were. I like to speak a lot on forgiveness during these times, but reconciliation needs to occur. Unity in the body is paramount to a healthy church.

Disciplined and balanced use of time. You can only do so much. The people in the church can only do so much. The Scripture encourages us to make wise use of our time because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:16) This means you may not be able to do everything previous pastor did. You may need to delegate hospital visits, for example. It might mean that some programs have to go so you can do other programs better.

For another example, as pastor, the time you put into Sunday messages is incredibly important. This is your best time in front of the church. You may need more time in front of key leaders, staff or volunteers. Again, you can only do so much. You must do the things which will most effectively move things forward. 

I love helping churches think through the process of revitalization. I have limited time for consulting in this area. If I can help your church, please contact me and let’s discuss some options. 

When Silence Can Be an Indicator Of a Healthy Team

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | No Comments

I’ve often said good leaders never assume silence means everyone is in agreement. In fact, there’s a whole chapter on that principle and some good questions you can ask to assess the team’s health in my book The Mythical Leader.

Especially during seasons of change the leader can’t assume everyone is on board because they aren’t hearing complaints. On one extreme people may feel there will be retribution for stating their opinion. The reality is leaders can be intimidating just by position – whether they intend to be or not.

On the other extreme people may not say say what’s on their mind simply believing it would be something the leader already knows. All of us only know what we know. We don’t know anymore.

The leader doesn’t always hear what they need to hear, which is why good leaders ask good questions.

There is one caveat to this principle, however.

  • When a team is healthy – really healthy – so that the leader is approachable and team members know they are encouraged to participate in discussion.
  • When there is no unresolved conflict or underlying drama.
  • And, when people are on the team not just for a paycheck, but because they believe in the mission and love the team.

When the team is healthy,

Silence can be interpreted as agreement.

That’s because:

  • Freedom to challenge is present
  • Fear of retribution is absent
  • Power of unity is prominent
  • Spirit of cooperation is elevated
  • Synergy of differences is celebrated
  • Collaboration of ideas has been utilized
  • Sharing of thoughts is welcomed (And good questions are being asked)

When you are on a healthy team people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they aren’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.

I’ll be candid, I’m not sure I have been to this point more than a few times in my leadership career. New staff members joining changes this. Seasons of rapid change alter this. But I like to remind our team of this principle and the ramifications of it and always be working towards it.

A good personal evaluation for the leader is to ask yourself this question:

What does silence on my team indicate?

If people aren’t pushing back against change what does that really mean?

And, for your sake, I hope it means you’re really serving with a healthy team.

7 Potholes That Can Destroy Your Leadership

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 8 Comments

We all know the stories of a once successful pastor or leader who flamed out too soon. It could be a moral failure or burnout, but somewhere they got off track and had a hard time regaining traction. So sad.

In years of studying leadership, both in the business world and in ministry, I’ve seen some consistent traps which get in the way of a leader’s long-term success. I’m referring to them as potholes.

These potholes can become deep, and when they do, and you hit them, you can literally lose your leadership influence.

Often, also in my experience, if we know the potential dangers we have a better chance of addressing them – and, hopefully even avoiding them.

Here are 7 potholes that can destroy your leadership:

Pride

When a leader ever feels he or she has all the answers – watch out! Pride comes before the fall. And I’m convinced it’s the most unattractive leadership trait we can have.

Great leaders remain humble, knowing they didn’t get where they are on their own nor will they stay there without the help of others.

Passiveness

Leadership is hard some days – okay, it’s hard most days. Good leadership isn’t a popularity contest. The leader afraid to challenge will create an environment where mediocrity, chaos, and unhealthy team environment prevails – and eventually it will bite them.

Leaders should be willing to address known concerns, not be afraid of healthy conflict, and challenge status quo even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.

Isolation

A leader who removes his or herself too much from the people doing the actual work, who isn’t visible to their team, or who doesn’t bond well with them never gains significant influence. Even worse, they are more vulnerable to failing personally, as well. As much as the enemy loves busyness, he works also in isolation. Sin festers in an absence of accountability.

At every level of leadership and regardless of the size organization, the more a leader can do “hands on” work, even if only occasionally, the more “in touch” the leader will be. And the more respected he or she will be by the people trying to follow.

Loneliness

Leadership can be lonely. Every leader I know has struggled with it at some level. They feel they are alone to make the vast number of decisions before them. It may seem no one understands the weight responsibility they have.

If a leader doesn’t address this, and ask for help when needed, especially during extremely high stress periods, the leader could be heading towards crash and burn territory.

Leaders should seek out other leaders, take risks on trusting a few people, and be willing to ask for help before it’s too late.

Boredom

I have often said boredom is one of the leading causes of marital failure. It’s true in leadership also. Leadership is about going somewhere. When things get routine for too long, the best leaders will get bored – and boredom can be dangerous.

Leaders who last for the long haul are always seeking new opportunities for growth and development.

Success

Just as failure can hurt a leader, so can success. If not kept in check, success can lead to complacency. A leader can begin to think it will always be this way and eventually start taking success for granted. Disaster! These leaders are soon fighting for the success “fix” again – and often make tremendous errors in the process.

Great leaders are always cognizant the success today isn’t guaranteed tomorrow – so they keep working on developing themselves, their team, and the organization.

Elitism

When a leader becomes “too good” for the people trying to follow – they stop serving a team and start managing people chasing a paycheck. They quit finding willing followers and are only surrounded by employees. Leaders, especially today, have to be authentic, real, and believable.

There are always people on a team who believe they could do a better job than the leader – and the reason they feel this way is because it’s probably true in some situations where they have more expertise. Teams are developed by mutual respect and appreciation.

Great leaders never see themselves better than the people they are trying to lead. In fact, the best leaders I know purposefully surround themselves with smarter people.

What other “potholes” have you seen in leadership?