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Video #10 - Key Insights about the Stress of Adaptive Change

Posted by Tom Bandy, Consultant on


Video #10 - Key Insights about the Stress of Adaptive Change

John: We have accomplished a lot in the last year. We have studied our community context and compared the similarities and difference between the lifestyle groups represented in our church membership. We have a comprehensive report. We’ve already started addressing the recommendations and anticipate exciting improvements and initiatives in the fall. What do you consider the most urgent things we should do?

Tom: We have already begun staff development with our new Christian Education leader, and along with Session we have begun the process to focus and deploy staff around an intentional discipling process and volunteer empowerment. I think that needs to continue this fall and expand to include lay leadership training. The biggest challenge, I think, will be to help leaders and teams to define measurable outcomes for each ministry area that are both reasonable and missional. 

John: Hiring additional staff and rethinking job descriptions will probably take a year or more, but what is our next priority?

Tom: I think the next priority is to develop staff leadership and team training for small group multiplication. This includes expanding adult learning opportunities for spiritual growth and life skills, and mentoring relationships that help younger lifestyle groups discern meaning and purpose in daily living. Contemporary small group ministry is relatively new to us, and we have much to learn.

John: Are their changes in hospitality and worship that we should prioritize?

Tom: Yes, but first let me affirm that staff and Session have already been setting priorities to reach and bless specific lifestyle groups currently under-represented in the church, and that will help build empathy between hospitality and worship teams with the community. There will be adjustments needed in our pre- and post-worship strategies. The biggest challenge related to worship is the redevelopment of what we used to call “contemporary” worship to emphasize practical coaching in Christian living and outreach ministries.

John: Speaking of outreach, what should we be emphasizing this fall?

Tom: Well, we need to continue to pray and listen to discern what God is calling us to do as a major “Signature Outreach Ministry”. Remember, this is a ministry that expresses the heart of the congregation, involves many of our own volunteers, and not only involves doing good stuff but also building deeper, trusting, relationships.

John: When you think of all the proposed changes and adjustments, what do you think will be most stressful for the church?

Tom: Initial feedback has expressed anxiety about finances. There will be future costs related to staffing, training, program improvements, and some facility updates. And we will need to balance realism and mission opportunities. That will challenge stewardship campaigns and eventually lead to a capital campaign. However, I want to emphasize that while church people are very generous, the congregation has not come close to reaching its financial potential.

John: But are there deeper anxieties we should anticipate?

Tom. Yes. Beyond finances, there are deeper challenges related to changes in attitudes, assumptions, and organizational habits. Stress is usually experienced first in changing attitudes, then traditions, then leadership and organization, and technology and property. The truth is that if churches can overcome the stress in these areas to make missional changes, there will almost always be sufficient money for ministry.

John: What attitudes and assumptions do we need to pray about and discuss among our leaders?

Tom: Empathy, trust, and accountability. Let me explain. When we consider the growing cultural diversity of Hamilton, we realize that each of us brings hidden biases to our treatment of others. It is not easy for seniors and baby boomers to understand baby busters and millennials … and vice versa. Growing churches today are what I call “high trust” communities. That means our clarity and commitment to core values and bedrock beliefs will be crucial to our credibility and effectiveness. And that means that all leaders, paid and unpaid, will need to step-up their accountability for how they behave, relate, and lead.

John: Will there be stress related to shifts in tradition or changes in organization?

Tom: Yes. Presbyterian tradition generally regards Session as spiritual leaders who mentor, model, and equip laity for faithful living and service. But over the years our local tradition has become more bureaucratic with many meetings and committees, and Session tends to act more like a council than a board. To become a high trust organization, we will need to learn how to delegate both responsibility and authority to more entrepreneurial teams. Moreover, staff have tended to work in program silos that sometimes overlap and conflict, and we will have to develop habits of teamwork and emphasize alignment to vision.

John: Will there be stress related to property and technology?

Tom: There will be adjustments to hospitality and nursery space, and probably future adjustments as additional worship options and a signature outreach ministry develop. But in general, the biggest stress is the shift to become a “hybrid” church. The “new normal” accelerated by the pandemic is that physical and virtual ministries are now equally important … and that means changes in job descriptions, budgets, and so on. High quality virtual worship, options for home-based education and virtual resources, social media, and more are higher priorities that ever before.

John: Is there a danger that some of our current members, especially our seniors, might feel left behind or ignored?

Tom: That is a risk not only in the church, but in all sectors of society. The good news is that seniors and boomers in the church are committed to being faithful to Christ (who blessed the full diversity of society) and God’s mission (that seeks to be relevant to the world). I have found that seniors and aging boomers are often quite open to changes … provided that the mission outcome is clear, the leaders are credible role models of spiritual life, and we continue to sustain treasured options for worship and fellowship. 

John: We look forward to a busy fall! And I think we are all confident that there is a great future for the Presbyterian Church of Hamilton as a community of faith and a blessing to the city.


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