Alan Nelson and Gene Appel

Word Publishing, 2000, 350 pp.   ISBN 0-8499-1600-7


Both authors are senior pastors of churches that grew dramatically after converting to seeker style ministries.  Bill Hybells wrote the Foreword and Jim Mellado, President of the Willow Creek Association, wrote the Introduction. The book does a very good job of summarizing key points of some of the best literature on change leadership.  It applies these principles to becoming a seeker church, including many practical helps such as real-life stories, exercises, instructions, questions and answers, discussions starters, and devotional thoughts.  The applications are a bit dated.


The chapter sequence is helpful:

  1. Getting Real with Ourselves
  2. Value-Driven Ministry: Examining What Motivates Us
  3. Anatomy of Change: Getting Below the Skin of Improvement
  4. Why People Respond as They Do
  5. Not Sinking the Improvement Plan
  6. Developing a Vision that Compels
  7. The Improvement Plan: Setting a Course
  8. The Transition Plan: Getting from Point A to Point B
  9. When Christians Collide: Making Conflict Work for You
  10. Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: Persevering
  11. Celebrating Victories and Cutting Losses
  12. Starting Your Engines



“Jesus also said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, ….’ (Matt.28:19-20).  This was the ultimate challenge Jesus left his followers.  How is the church in the United States living up to that challenge today?”  (Introduction, p. xix)  [The book deals with reaching the unchurched in your community but not all nations. dlm]


“Is our church obeying the Great Commission command to make disciples, teaching them to obey what God wants?” (15)


“Size is not the issue; health is.” (15)  [Nevertheless, the stories and numbers all deal with attendance. dlm]


“Church planting is the best proven way to reach the unchurched, but a majority of church plants fail.” (16)


“Nothing beats prayer and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to develop an attitude of unity and humility.  Most congregations get into trouble because they do not begin from common ground.  The process is just as important as the outcome.  In fact, if you overlook the process, you will often not even get to the preferred outcome.”  (17)


Go back to the basics in terms of what you are trying to accomplish.  Start with the essentials.  “Why are we in existence?  What should we be doing?  What is vital to our identity as part of Christ’s body?”  (22)


“We prove what our priorities are by what we do.” (22)


“The new direction is largely born in the heart of the pastor.  This is because he/she has to be the main person to sell and drive it.  The dream must then take root in the hearts and minds of key leaders.  It has to be tested by other key leaders, but not approved by everyone.” (24)


“Most churches consider Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) as a driving value.”  “But…if you do a simple analysis of how many churches are actually reaching unchurched and lost people in their communities, few could claim to be effective.” (27)


“One of the most difficult issues to confront is a certain ministry or event that is performed with excellence and perceived to be effective but does not reflect the stated values of a church.” (29)


“When the pet projects of individuals become congregational responsibilities become congregational responsibilities, we run the risk of straying from our core values.” (29)


Jesus’ purpose statement:  John 6:38-40. (29)  [Have you seen other Scriptures suggested as Jesus’ purpose statement? dlm]


“Coming to terms with what you believe should be the driving force behind your congregation is key to seeing the discrepancies between what is and is not happening.  These discrepancies serve as the focal points for potential change and improvement.  Without the apparent discrepancies, change processes will likely be weak and minimal in effect.” (34)


“Too many church leaders hamstring themselves by creating conflict over matters that do not significantly impact a church.  A church, like people, can only handle so much stress and change.  If you overload a congregation with stress that does not enhance effectiveness, you will reduce the amount of improvement that will create positive momentum.” (39)


“Establishing new habits is harder for churches than for other organizations.”  (43) 1) We are tradition keepers. 2)  We respond more emotionally in church.  3) We aren’t very much in touch with the bottom line.  4) We want the church to be a relief from constant change.  5) Churches are often led by pastors, not leaders.  (44-45)


In some ways churches can change more efficiently.  We have the Holy Spirit.  We have lower overhead.  Family stick together.  We have a higher call.  Churches tend to be more relational and personality responsive. (45-48)


“The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.” (53, Alfred North Whitehead)


Primary Reasons Church Improvement Measures Fail (59-62)

  1. Inadequate leadership
  2. Lack of compelling, defining vision
  3. Failure to address biblical essentials
  4. Unwillingness to confront ailing issues (fear of conflict and rejection)
  5. Poor grasp of timing (too fast or too slow)
  6. Lack of team development
  7. Overly divided people groups
  8. Poor handling of conflict
  9. Carnality: a spirit of pride or self-centeredness
  10. Poor understanding of the change process


“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another.” (65 Anatole France)


“The primary difficulty with change is that it is 90 percent social/emotional and 10 percent logical/physical.”  “Cultures are mainly emotional, not logical.”  “Emotion runs deep.” (71)


Five Types of Church Members (75-76)

  • Creators (2 to 5% of population)
  • Progressives – don’t originate new ideas but see and act on them (10-20%)
  • Builders – prefer incremental improvements (25-40%)
  • Foundationals – prefer to keep things as they are (25-40%)
  • Anchors – in love with our heritage.  They make us think through change issues (10-20%)


“Our biggest mistake was that we did not establish a foundation of values for why we were doing what we were doing.  This takes time.  Take enough time to make sure your people understand and support what you’re doing.  We should have spent more time in teaching, preaching, reading, and talking with people” (87)


Common negative emotions during the change process: anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness, disorientation, depression.  (88, from Managing Transitions by William Bridges)


“The primary reason improvement issues fail or succeed is leadership.” (100)  “By leadership, we refer to the process by which change issues are initiated by people of influence within and among groups.”  “Leadership is the special kind of influence that significantly affects decision making, direction setting, and speed.” (101)


“Opinion leaders are vital to the improvement process because of their influence.” (110)  “They are the individuals who will persuade others to go either for or against proposed improvement suggestions.” (112)


“Leadership is basically social banking, whereby certain individuals with influence resources are entrusted by others to lead them well.  Trust, granted influence, and power are the results of an array of sources, such as personal charisma, professional competence, experience, relationships, and who is within your network.  Whenever a leader affirms followers, accomplishes tasks, and demonstrates competent leading and decision making, his recipients make emotional deposits into the leader’s social account.  When the leader asks people to make sacrifices, take risks, and push harder, he withdraws from that account.  If he is effective in using that withdrawal, he can turn it into a profit and wind up with still more in his social bank account.” (120)


“When a leader makes too many withdrawals, the group he governs will basically put a freeze on his leadership.” (121)


“If you just want to make deposits, never calling for sacrifice or change, you’ll not accomplish much as a leader and the Owner will be upset with your poor stewardship.  At the same time, you need to know when to stop pushing.  After a significant withdrawal, take time off to build up more deposits.  Care for people, minister to them personally, and rest.  The cycle of adding and subtracting continues all the time you are building the ministry as well as kingdom assets.”  (121)


“Many leaders do not understand why improvement processes fail, simply because they are not aware of how much they are able to charge against their leadership account.” (122)


“When people distrust a leader’s motives, the leader’s social bank account will be emptier than he thinks.” (122)


“There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long-range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future, widely shared.” (130, quoting Bert Nanus)


“A vision is a realistic, credible, attractive future for your organization.  It is your articulation of a destination toward which your organization should aim, a future that in important ways is better, more successful, or more desirable for your organization than is the present.” (130, quoting Nanus)


“…we used our current Bible-teaching times to cast a vision for reaching the lost at all costs.”  “Concurrently, I began casting more vision with staff and key lay leaders.  I arranged times for us to hang out together, listen to tapes, have semiannual staff retreats, and just generally keep the issue alive.  As a result, values and new dreams started to take root.” (131)


Top 10 Reasons Why Visions Fail

  1. No vision exists.
  2. The vision isn’t really a vision.  Just goals or plans.
  3. The vision caster has poor communication skills
  4. The audience lacks passion or a sense of urgency.
  5. The vision is too small.
  6. The vision caster suffers from low credibility.
  7. The vision is unclear.
  8. The vision caster has a great idea but no plan.
  9. The vision isn’t compelling.
  10. The vision is too improbable.  (133-34)


Top 7 Reasons Why Visions Work (136-137)

  1. A vision is touches both the head and the heart.
  2. A vision provides a picture of a desire.
  3. A vision highlights a way out of today’s discomfort. 
  4. A vision is full of hope
  5. A vision provides a reason for unity.
  6. A vision often provides God’s direction.
  7. A vision is powerful.


“The most powerful motive for changing is pain….” (137)


Motivation comes primarily via two avenues, the hope of gain or the hurt of pain.  (138)


“When the vision is foggy, the ministry team and congregation tend to wander.”  “Unless the preferred future is clear and well defined, a haze will exist in the minds of the followers.” (139) [“When there’s a mist in the pulpit there’s a fog in the pew.”  Attributed to Howard Hendricks.  dlm]


“Effective communication is two-way.  Leaders inevitably believe they are doing a better job than they are because they do not gather feedback.”  (141)


“But various people in any congregation have differing degrees of faith, experience, and fear of risk.  People with the gift of faith find it quite easy to dream big and trust for big things.  They are tempted to see others as low-faith people.  Low-faith people tend to see faith-gifted people as foolish.” (143)


“The challenge is to find God’s dream for your ministry and congregation.”  (144)


“When the senior pastor does not have a vision for the desired/recommend improvements, it is difficult to make them happen.  Permission granting is significantly different from vision driving.” (149)


“Changing the way you do things without a clear understanding of why you do what you do does not produce the results you’re looking for.” (149)


“We all want to believe that we have invested our energies into a church that will be successful, effective, and enduring.  But what are our blind spots?”  “Are we accomplishing the Great Commission in our community?”  (163)  [Are we accomplishing the Great Commission outside our culture or community?  Or could this be a blind spot?  dlm]


Measurements should be developed along four lines:

  1. Relevance – does the measurement reflect what we are trying to accomplish?
  2. Reliability – Will the measurement help me know the strengths and weaknesses?  Can I trust it?
  3. Availability – Are we able to gather the information we need?
  4. Accountability – Who will gather it, process it, debrief the appropriate people, and take actions to make corrections?  (175-76)


“There are many ways to reward ministry progress, such as minicelebrations, public notice, plaques and donated gift certificates, as well as personal ‘thanks’ from church leaders.” (178)


Four factors that affect the change process (183)

  1. how long the change will take to implement
  2. the amount of change
  3. the capabilities of leadership
  4. the readiness of the organization


Discomfort with the status quo + a clearly developed and communicated vision + doable next steps = reduced resistance.  (190)


“I would work harder at keeping open lines of communication with the disenchanted.  I should have had a cup of coffee with a few key players and followed up better.” (190)


Questions to Evaluate a Pastor’s Leadership Capacity (192-93)

  1. Do you have the gift of leadership?
  2. Have you been at the church less than 3 years?
  3. Do you plan to stay more than 10 years?
  4. Are you willing to risk failure?
  5. Are you willing and able to handle conflict well?
  6. Do you have a clear idea of what you want the church to become?
  7. Are you an effective communicator?
  8. Are you intentionally developing leaders around you?
  9. Have you started any new ministries in the last year?
  10. Do you have the ability to staff the needed changes once they’re made?


Going back to the biblical fundamentals behind the change is essential.  (209)


“An important predecessor to starting is saying good-bye.  To do this effectively, you need to clearly define what is over and what is not.  Confusion is a common denominator in the transition, and being as exact as possible as to what will and will not change reduces this anxiety.” (211)


Resistance can be classified as not knowing, not able, or not willing.  (213)


“As you create your communication plan, consider some of these elements:

  • Who are the stakeholders? Who needs to be hearing this information?
  • What are our objectives?  Why are we planning to do what we claim?
  • How do these tasks break down into actions?  Who will do what?
  • What will be the tone of the messages: urgent, hopeful, dramatic?
  • What media will we use (newsletter, sermons, video, audiocassettes, special brochures, Town Hall meetings, home-groups meetings)?
  • Who will be the spokesperson or spokespeople?
  • What are the expected outcomes?  How will we measure the outcomes?” (215)


“People need to see fruit as early as possible.  Whenever there are positive results from the improvement plan, make sure they are communicated.” (217)


“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.”  (224, quoting John Kenneth Galbraith)