Some years ago I had the responsibility to lead a team moving a denominational organization of more than 100 staff persons from a 35,000 square foot building to an 80,000 square foot building less than two miles away. It needed to happen over a weekend.
We developed a list of possible moving companies to handle the transition. We interviewed three. Two presented a traditional plan for moving us, and one an innovative plan. We went with the innovative plan.
The traditional plan involved figuring out how many tractor-trailers they needed to load 35,000 square feet of furniture, files, and equipment, and travel the distance to the new site and unload. A traditional move required 10 to 12 tractor trailers.
The innovative plan was to bring in three trucks about 30 feet in length, and several dozen rolling gondolas with shelves, and a bunch of furniture dollies. The necessary gondolas and dollies would be taken into each office or storage area, loaded and shrink wrapped with plastic, then rolled onto one of the trucks. When the bed of a truck was full, it traveled to the new location, the gondolas and dollies then unloaded into the new office or storage area, and the truck headed back for another load with empty containers.
The truck could load in 45 minutes and unload in 30 minutes. The process kept repeating. It took only 25 percent of the trucks and crews as the traditional approach, and about half the time. Once the move started it was continual throughout the night and day.
Another perspective on change involves a friend who is a really insightful architect who understands the processes of congregations. His practice focuses on drawing the buildings for a certain university, multi-screen movie theaters, and churches.
One of the things he knows about congregations is that the change process once started must be continual. Traditional architects draw a master plan for a congregation that may cost millions of dollars, and the implementation plan is to see how big a chunk of what they have drawn can be financed and built at one time.
My friend is an innovative architect. He designs a master plan with the facilities to be built incrementally based on the congregation’s ability to finance them, and the urgency of space they need for the next steps in their development. He also designs some buildings with an initial purpose and later they are retrofitted for their long-term purpose.
He has congregations build in phases, and thus finance in phases. He never suggests they do anything in a phase that will cause their core strategies for growth to be hindered. Once they start raising money and building it is continual.
These two illustrations point out key things congregations need to hear about the change process. First, make many small changes rather than a couple of really big changes. Change creates the need for people to transition to the new normal, and that transition is easier when the steps are small.
Second, once changes start to happen and a congregation is over the inertia of being at rest, keep moving. Make the change process continual and not something that keeps starting and stopping. It takes less energy to keep moving forward than it does to move for a while, stop, and then create a new change movement.
Third, see change and transition as a long-term journey that seeks to provide a solution for the opportunities and the challenges your congregation faces. Do not see it as a short-term fix that is more like a project than a process. Fourth, take your journey with a vision or dream in mind. Where are you headed and why?
Fifth, realize changes that happen continually do not require everything to take place at once. Therefore, the preparation time and energy may not be as great as you thought. Also, you can make adjustments along the way.
Sixth, changes that happen continually do not require everyone to be on-board with the changes at the beginning. Making small changes continually may require fewer votes and more informal permission-giving. From a congregational governance perspective, it may not require a vote at all.
Seventh, changes that happen continually do not require that you have all the necessary resources for the change journey at the beginning. If the change process is fruitful, it will attract additional resources along the way.
Before we leave this subject, let’s think about an area of change. Perhaps you need to change one or more of the worship services in your congregation to reach a new generation of people or new residents in your community context. If so, take one of your worship services and modulate it over the course of a year rather than trying to figuratively pick it up and move it to a different place.
The first method is relatively easy. The second may crush you with its weight. It may seem like a silly question, but which one would you prefer? It is not silly because too many congregations choose the second way and get crushed.