Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

Transformational Change Sneaks Into the Exurbs


I was doing a pastor’s conference recently with a number of area ministers. I was presenting the difference between operational change (when the answer resides with the expert within the organization), and transformational change (that involves a shift in values and beliefs, translated into behavior change). I emphasized the fact that if you apply an operational solution to a problem that has transformational elements, your solution not only will not work, the solution will probably become the problem.

A pastor of a church in the community that has rapidly gone for rural to exurbs raised his hand. His church was in the bucolic rolling hills of Virginia 45 miles out of Washington, D.C. where many large estates raised horses. Recently the growth of the suburbs has come to his area, and “McMansions” were being built on the rolling hills where once cows and horses grazed.

This pastor said that he had wanted to welcome new members into the church – many new people were moving into the area filling the new houses being built. He drew up a sheet of welcoming phrases to give to his ushers to use as new people show up on Sunday. This pastor told me that the ushers had pushed back and were reluctant to use the phrases or even be particularly nice to newcomers. He was bewildered.

Transformational issues usually involve competing values, and this is often what trips us up. We’ll have one value in our church (good stewardship and saving money) trumped by a competing value (the desire to have an attractive worship space that requires expenditures for carpeting, lighting, new buildings, etc). These transformational issues need to be handled differently than when the issue is purely operational. And when you think you have a purely operational issues, but are surprised by the heated pushback you receive, undoubtedly your dealing with transformational issues (and competing values).

A church administrator I know saw that the cost of printed bulletins for Sunday worship each year was $20K. He did a little research, and realized that the one time cost of installing power point machines to project the bulletin up front was $20K. His cost of the Power Point machine could be recouped in a year. He made the proposal to do away with printed bulletins and adapt the PP approach, and got immediate forceful pushback. There were competing values at play here that he did figure on.

So let me pose the question, what are the competing values for the ushers at the exurban church that is tripping them up? I’ll give you a hint, one of their competing values is the Great Commission: Reach out to new people. Can you discern what is the other competing value that stops them in their tracks?


4 Responses to “Transformational Change Sneaks Into the Exurbs”

  1. I’ll bite. The competing value of the ushers was, “We want to preserve the quality of life in our church that we once had in our community.” (And–unspoken, of course–“these newcomers have taken from our community and will take from our church if we welcome them here.”)

    • Tod. Good answer. Now everyone, what do you think this minister ought to do, now that he’s aware there are competing values in play?

  2. Hi, Jim! Just found this blog–glad to see it and hope you post again soon.

    I’ll bite: You wrote, “This pastor said that he had wanted to welcome new members into the church.” What stood out to me here is “that *he* had wanted to….” I wonder how this pastor presented this realization/value to the congregation…just as something he saw as a value? Or as something that “we” value and do together? Two questions he might ask: (1) Does the congregation and other leadership want to welcome new members into the church? This could be a no-brainer, but evidently is not in this case. This question is really worth his asking. (2) What values (stated or otherwise) are already a part of his church’s ethos? Might he, starting from those, help his church to start thinking and asking about welcoming others?

    This is not to say some re-culturing is not in order. But if that is the case, I don’t think it could be done unilaterally or just through preaching a series of sermons (though that could be a start). He’d have to allow people to be uncomfortable when they see a juxtaposition between a preservation mentality and, for example, the Christian call to welcome “the stranger” (or newly moved-in McMansion owners). I think drawing his people into some tension and conflict around these two potential values may be the way to go… not just telling them what to do.

  3. To add to my comment: one specific, practical way this pastor might move forward is to gather together with the ushers and ask, “How ought we to treat/usher newcomers and why?” and then see what they have to say. This could get the dialogue going. It might also help the ushers realize what it is they value (which they may have only internalized and not ever explicitly articulated). Sometimes we are surprised when we start talking and see what it is we really value….

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