Change is essential to anything that is alive, including faith communities. Managing change is the challenge and essential task of faith communities that put faith first. As followers of Jesus, our faith calls us to grow our relationship with God and with others and to share our faith with others. As we change and as society changes, we need to change both tasks.
Lyle E. Schaller, in his 25 year old book, Strategies for Change, examines the importance of context in managing change, and how the context changes as a community develops over time.
A covenant community is one that is started by and centered on an individual with a narrow set of beliefs and values. In this community, change is determined by the leaders and framed in terms of the goal of the community. Anyone who does not like the change has to choose between staying and leaving. Since the ties to the covenant, high commitment community are very strong, most swallow the change and stay.
In a voluntary community, one that has been around for a substantial amount of time, no matter who wants the change, it has to be approved by a significant majority of the community before that change can be helpfully made. Failure to do this will result in the change not happening well and harm to the community, no matter how necessary it may seem.
Deer Park and St. Andrew’s are voluntary faith communities. As in most such communities, there are individuals who want to make some kind of change. If a change is felt to be important, several tasks need to be done. The first of these is to develop the clearest possible description of the change including known options for that change. The need for the change and the potential value of the change need to be communicated clearly and frequently without making the communication feel like being beaten with a club or subjected to Chinese water torture. The communication needs to include thoughtful and respectful responses to any questions about or challenges to the change. Opponents must feel respected and heard.
I will be soon leaving St. Andrew’s, but there are changes I hope will be considered in the future.
Let’s start with a small change. I believe it is important to communicate well with members and friends, and the e-newsletter provides mostly up to date information on a weekly basis. The print newsletter currently attempts to replicate the e-newsletter, but it is a different medium with different advantages and disadvantages. I believe the people responsible for planning events could help the recipients of the print newsletter by making it a monthly newsletter which would be received by the third last day of the previous month and would begin with a concise presentation of all planned events for the month, something easily posted on a bulletin board or fridge. More information about some of the events could then follow. Finally the rest of the newsletter would be a report on what has happened presented in an interesting and inspiring way. This kind of newsletter would take more time to create, but it would, I believe, better serve those who receive it. It might also include columns by the leaders of the church: the coordinating minister, the youth minister, the children and family minister, the regional ministry, the council, the choir, Church in Community, Integrate Worship, etc.
A big change I hope will happen over time is for many or most members of the community taking on a feeling of ownership of the ministry of St. Andrew’s, becoming willing to initiate and build new ministries that fit their goals, hopes and needs as well as supporting and advising existing ministries. This includes being aware enough of what is happening to invite people they know to participate in particular ministries. For example, on June 16, the movie night will feature Race, the movie about Jessie Owens in 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. It should be easy to say to people we know to be social activist that the movie night will be featuring that movie and there will be time after the movie to talk about the movie. For most of the congregations I have served, a relatively small core of members contribute a great deal to the ministry of the church and most just come to worship when it suits them and to participate in some of the activities of the community. This kind of involvement, while it may serve the felt spiritual needs of most, creates the feeling of the community being unimportant. This feeling then makes it harder for members of the community to invite others to participate.
The last change I will mention in this post is to develop a sense of clarity about whom we want to serve as a community. Potential targets include seniors who have become isolated and lonely, young families struggling with the challenges of today, singles of all ages looking for safe communities for connections and friendships, singles and couples looking for circles of friends with whom they can share in activities from going to movies or plays to hiking or gardening. For seniors, proactive activities include exploring issues such as wanting to stay where I have lived for the last 50 years, but recognizing this is increasingly unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons; to make it easier to decide to move to where connections with others are more readily available. I do not know which challenge you will take on, but it is necessary to develop some focus. My preference would be for individuals to recognize their particular calling and then come to the community as a whole saying, “I/We see a need for …. This is what I/we would like to try, and this is what we need….”
There is an old saying about change. We either manage it or it manages us. I hope St. Andrew’s will choose to to do the managing.