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No Change Without Transitions

Some churches have gone through numerous changes and emerged energized and ready for new challenges. Other churches have been confronted by the need for change, made several unsuccessful attempts and emerged from the process deflated, polarized, and weaker than before.

What’s the difference between success and failure? On the surface, change seems to be a simple process of making a choice, setting a course and just doing it. But, it isn’t that simple. Leaders must understand and deal with the difference between change and transition.

What’s Change?

Change is movement from one place to another, such as changing the time of worship services. A meeting may be held, a discussion precedes a vote, a decision is made and the next week the times are communicated and the services are held at the new times. Seems easy enough. But, shortly, the rumblings begin, people start dropping out or becoming less active. Meetings are now conflicted over the issue of worship times, even when the original discussion was relatively calm.

What’s Transition?

This reaction is evidence of the difference between change and transition. Change took place when the group voted. Transition begins when people experience a modification in the way things were. Transition is the emotional process of dealing with change.

The vote on changing worship times may have made perfect sense to the voters. The experience of change may feel different. Worshippers have to modify family activities, waking time, eating times, or travel times to accommodate the new worship schedule. They may find that people they used to sit with for worship are not there or have chosen to worship at another time. Friendships may be disturbed and informal communication patterns may be disrupted. People may feel disoriented and may feel distrust toward the leaders who made the decision. This disruption may have many ripples and eventually emerge as anger and hurt. What seemed like a hopeful and needed choice may turn out to have negative results.

So, What Do I Do?

Even when the idea of change is understood and generally accepted, the experience of transition can be uncomfortable and emerge as resistance and anger. Does that mean that you should avoid change at all costs? No! What it does say is that when planning a change, it is important to plan for transitions as well.

If you would like to learn more about changes and transitions in your congregation, contact us:

Glen Rediehs, M.Div., Ph.D.

1001 East W. T. Harris Blvd.

Suite P-317

Charlotte, NC  28213



Larry Webb, Th.M., Rel.D.

14013 Zephermoor Lane

Winter Garden, FL  34787


© 2010 by Larry E. Webb

Dr. Webb has worked with corporations, churches, community organizations and government agencies for over thirty-five years. He has taught at colleges and graduate programs and has been a pastor and psychotherapist. Dr. Webb specializes in conflict

resolution, strategic planning, organizational assessment, executive coaching and improving effectiveness of meetings.

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