May 31, 2017 by: Laura Lincoln

We’re excited to welcome guest blogger Laura Lincoln, an expert in managing church change. Laura will be contributing a series of guest blogs over the next several weeks dealing with early issues of conflict in planning for a major building program.

You know your congregation needs to make changes. Your worship space is too small or inflexible. There’s no place for staff or volunteers to work. A prayer garden, cafe tables, or a really robust Wifi make more sense than the old youth room with torn carpet and tired couches. Times and needs change. Your space needs to change as well.

1.pngIt’s important to remember, churches aren’t just buildings. Any change made in the physical structure will have an impact on the church’s people as well. Of course, that’s what you want. You want to have the physical space match your congregation’s vision and be supportive of your ministry. That makes perfect sense.

However, every good change is still change - and change is hard. Particularly during times of crisis or uncertainty in the world at large, changes that affect our emotional comfort touch points (like home and church) can feel too difficult. Even thinking about them is too much for the more anxious members of the group. An anxious church can easily become a conflict-riddled church.  

Conflict itself is not a bad thing. Every choice has different consequences that need to be weighed. If we spend money here, we won’t have money there. If we start the building project now, we might not be finished in time for Christmas, so should we wait? Thoughtful consideration of each aspect of any project, and its consequences, is necessary. Processing those conflicting choices is simply part of the package, and is productive.

Then there is the other side of the coin; once you begin to think about a building project out loud, you may quickly see indicators that an unproductive church conflict is on the horizon:

  • People in your congregation seem anxious and are expressing a higher level of dissent than usual.
  • Your committees spend more time bickering over problems than making plans for how to fix them.
  • More talk happens in the parking lot than in the meeting itself.
  • “Sides,” or factions are forming.
  • The thought of asking for money makes you queasy.  

These are all signs of underlying resistance to change that need to be addressed and successfully managed.  

Churches are generally made up of people of sincere faith, who care about history, tradition, and one another. They are protective of their faith community, and are wary of anything that might threaten the close relationships that members share with each other. In such an environment, a change can be seen either as an energizing opportunity, or a potentially harmful event.

From my expertise in church conflict and change, I have a unique perspective on these types of challenges. When a community demonstrates serious resistance to change, or is so fearful of church conflict that they delay a building project, that’s where I come in.

As an objective outsider, I help congregations make the most of what they do well in order to address anxieties or other impediments to change.

  • First, I do an assessment/diagnosis of a congregation’s change readiness by talking with the leadership (both formal and informal) and as many people as want to talk to me over a period of several days;
  • If possible, I worship with the community;
  • I document my observations and submit a report to the leadership;
  • Together we make a plan for moving forward for managing change and resolving conflicts as they arise.

But let’s also be realistic. No consultant can “fix” anything in your organization. What I can do is help a group learn new skills for weathering predictable storms, resolving conflicts, and becoming a healthier instrument of God’s work in the world.

In the series that follows, I’ve organized major characteristics of church conflict and resistance to change into six major issues and how best to combat them.   Over the coming weeks, each issue will be examined in a blogpost with examples from my real world experience. I won’t be mentioning names, but for each issue we’ll look at what works and what doesn’t. I hope these are helpful to anyone seriously engaged in a church or worshipping community. These are all situations that cause people to get bogged down when dealing with change in the church. Let’s see if any of these sound familiar...

 Look for Laura’s guest blogs on the following topics:

  • Building Projects and Church Conflict Resolution: Are you being too nice?
  • Conflict in the Church - Building and Money
  • Handling Church Conflict and Change - Importance of Mourning
  • Dealing with Church Conflict - Building and Mission Statement
  • Resolving Church Conflict - Buildings and Baggage
  • Church Transitions - Growing Building Program Support

Download the entire resource "Managing Church Change and Conflict" and let us know if we can help you on your next building project:

Managing Church Change and Conflict

-- Laura Lincoln, MA, MS

Laura Lincoln, MA, MS is a theologian and organizational psychologist who has served as an intentional transitional minister, organizational development consultant, professor of Christian Worship, and campus minister. She has worked as a consultant for churches of various denominations in both the United States and England, is the former Executive Director of the Texas Conference of Churches, and the current Director of People and Organization at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.

Laura studied at/has degrees from Walden University, Yale University Divinity School, St. John's School of Theology (Collegeville, MN), Gettysburg Seminary, and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest.

Design Process/ Building Committee/ Master Planning/ Church Change