Rollerblades and Tailbones- When to Change (Part 2)

When my wife Emily and I first moved out to Iowa, we noticed biking was a Big Deal around here. We once asked someone what a good price for a nice, entry level, budgetary friendly bike would be. When they answered $1,000, we decided biking may not be our cup of tea for a while.

So, instead, we harkened back to the halcyon days of the 90's, and bought roller blades. We hadn't rollerbladed in years, but we figured it was like, well, riding a bike.

We strapped on our blades that roll and hit the church parking lot to un-rust-i-fy our rad skills, And by hit the parking lot, I mean our tailbones hit the parking lot enough times that we promptly packed the rollerblades back up, got a refund, and saved our pennies to by some Trek bikes a few years later.

In the previous post, we discussed the counter-intuitive leadership axiom that leaders should introduce change into an organization when things are going well, and not wait until a church is descending down the lifecycle.

This is, of course, easier said than done. Inherently, changing things about an organization or church that is currently doing well will bring conflict. People like the way things are: why would you possibly change it!?

This introduces us to what's called the Sigmoid Curve or the J-curve of change.

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When introducing change to a person, organization, or church, it's going to be incredibly rare that the change will simply initiate a new period of growth without any disruption, discouragement, or falling down on your tailbone. There's no such thing as a roller coaster that only goes up.

Rather, when we introduce change, there may be an initial state of excitement and a unconscious incompetence that leads to an uninformed optimism. In other words, the change may sound fun (20 Missional Communities by 2020! 1,000 baptisms in 2 years! Rollerblading around Okoboji!) but we don't yet know the road that will take us there. So once we hit the first bump on that road, we dive into an informed pessimism and we become starkly aware of our incompetencies. That's the bottom of J-curve.

It's at that point leaders have to make a choice. Will we pack the rollerblades back up ("Sorry! This change was a bad idea after all. It's harder than we thought, so we should go back to the way things were and hope that can sustain us.") or will we be willing to swim in the bottom of J-curve in order to make to the other side.

That's not to say that all change initiatives are God-breathed, divinely inspired works of perfection. Some ideas are just bad and should be abandoned. But here's the thing:

Merely because the change is hard, encounters resistance, or takes longer than expected doesn't, by itself, prove that the change was a bad idea!

All change will be hard, Leadership inherently encounters resistance. And most leaders aren't fortune tellers who can perfectly predict how long the tunnel is until we reach the light on the other side. That's why we cannot use those categories as a reason to brush away an idea or change initiative.

Rather, when we enter into the J-curve of change, we need to do so with our eyes wide open to the fact that there will be a decline in morale, productivity, or comfort for a time. If those things are happening, it more than likely means that the change is working and we should push through, not that we should give up!

In Part 3, we'll finish up this change series and talk about what this practically means for churches.