Managing Change and Conflict Within Your Spiritual Community

Published on: June 1, 2013

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If there is one certainty about life, it is that it will change. This is true not only for individuals, but for businesses and other organizations, including spiritual communities. With change, though, comes resistance and conflict. While it is easy for us to shy away from conflict, it is a gift that can help us work more effectively with change in our communities. Resistance to change often allows us to think more clearly about decisions that have been made in our ministries and make adjustments that will increase the likelihood that proposed changes will be successful. In this article, we will discuss how conflict arising out of change can lead to better decision-making, result in congregational involvement, and increase the likelihood that changes in our communities will be successful.

Often we can mislead ourselves by thinking that a group process has resulted in a decision that has unanimous and widespread consent. This can especially be true in our ministries, where love, peace and harmony are core values. An inherent danger in trying to be loving, peaceful and harmonious in our decision-making is that we sweep under the rug our concerns, misgivings and disagreement with the decision being made. As a result of not frankly sharing views, the quality of the decision suffers. Probably one of the most tragic failures to express concerns about a decision was the reticence of NASA engineers to share their concerns about the launch of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle.

Like any other organization, our spiritual communities have weighty decisions to make for the benefit of our congregants. These decisions may include hiring a new minister, choosing a new church location, or purchasing a new computer system. Each of these decisions constitutes a change in the way our community does business. Conflict or resistance to a decision should be welcome. It is an opportunity to gather more information about the decision to be made. By giving “voice” to others affected by decisions in our ministry, the quality of our results will improve.

Another way we can make our communities more open to change is to include them in the change process. This may consist of forming church teams to search for a new minister, a new geographic location, or a new ministry outreach effort.

The advantages of engaging a congregation in major decision-making are immense. A major decision is likely to be successful if leadership is willing to work to get buy-in. Leading change is not just a top-down proposition but must occur at all levels of the spiritual community. A successful team might include the minister, board president, music director, greeter and congregant who occasionally volunteers for an assignment.

Participation is a great way to overcome resistance. Most people like being asked their opinion. By soliciting a broad range of views, we might discover better ways to make the change successful. It is important we welcome constructive feedback and even criticism. At times we all have blind spots in the way we think. Those who question our views serve a helpful function. By presenting different views, they cause us to question our underlying assumptions and to consider adjusting our position. We may even reconsider whether the idea is appropriate for the community to pursue.

Conflict over an issue is a good sign that people care about the issue. An organization without conflict is more than likely a dying organization. This is especially true when it comes to change. Approximately 70% of all change initiatives fail. The key to leading a successful change initiative and working through conflict is communication. It has often been said that the chief reason many change efforts fail is that the leaders of the effort prematurely stop communicating the necessity for the change. When promoting change in our churches, it is good to remember that when we think we have communicated enough, we probably have only communicated half as much as we should.

In order to successfully implement change in our ministries, it may be necessary to design systems that will make success more likely. We can instill a culture of safety by training our community’s leaders to handle conflict. By doing so, conflict during times of change will be something we welcome, not fear. We also will improve the quality of decisions as we create engaged congregations.

Bob Churilla
Spiritual Leader at Unity Church of Truth

Bob Churilla is the spiritual leader of Unity Church of Truth, Massillon, Ohio. Bob is a licensed Unity teacher and a prayer chaplain. He has been a mediator and conflict resolution consultant for over twenty years. In addition, Bob is a founding member of Conflict Resolution Professionals Group.


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