Leading Your Church Through Change


Dan Southerland

Zondervan, 1999, 240 pp.   ISBN 0-310-23344-5


In 1990 Dan Southerland, pastor of Flamingo Road Church in Fort Lauderdale, began changing their church to focus on the unchurched.  The church was so successful it now hosts conferences on how to change to a Saddleback-type church.  It is all cast in terms of vision.  The key question: “How do we transition the church back to a purpose driven model?” (15)  This book is very simple, clear, and easy to follow. 


Here are Dan’s steps: (17-19)

1.     Prepare for the vision (spiritually)

2.     Define the vision – What is our purpose? Target? Strategy?

3.     Plant the vision in the hearts of church leaders

4.     Share the vision with the congregation

5.     Implement the vision – the change process

6.     Deal with opposition

7.     Make course corrections

8.     Evaluate the results


Preparing for the Vision

Spend time in major preparation.  See what God is doing and join him. (Blackaby)  “Vision is a picture of what God wants to do.” (22)  See the wave of what God is doing.  Catch the wave…  Ride the wave… (Rick Warren’s surfing analogy) (24)


You must understand the people you are trying to reach.  Collect information on 1) the unchurched people in your community and 2) churches that are reaching unchurched people.  (26-28) 


“Vision is usually birthed out of heartache and burden.  It must come from the heart.” (29)  “God gives us His vision when we are desperate.” (30)  “Vision is usually birthed out of a serious search for God’s direction.” (32)  “You find God’s vision when you search for God.  Fasting is a serious part of that search.”  It requires a major commitment to prayer. (33)  “First, I must be still enough to hear God.” (34)  “Vision is usually given to those who pray until they get it.” (36)  “Waiting is a big part of preparing for vision.” (38)  “Rushed preparation results in sloppy vision.” (39)


Defining the Vision

Defining the vision requires some serious question asking.  (43) Three steps: 1.  Discover your purpose.  2.  Define your target.  3.  Decide your strategy. (45)  “The major question that must be answered here is what does God want us to do.” (46)  “Your purpose will frame the rest of the vision.” (47)


“If you cannot state the purpose of your church in a single sentence statement, you have not yet discovered your purpose.” (48)


“The most controversial and misunderstood part of vision is defining the target.”  “The question in business jargon would be ‘Who is our primary customer?’” (49)


The right questions: (50-51)

·        Who is our immediate community?

·        Who is our primary target?

·        Who has God put in this community that we are best equipped to reach?


Other churches are not your competitors.  14 of the 16 missions and grand missions [I believe these are Baptist terms for church plants. dlm] we have helped start are in this county.  (55)


Four specific ways to define your target: (57-60)

·        Geographically – within 5 to 10 miles from your church (farther for rural churches)

·        Demographically – age, marital status, education level, occupation, income, ethnic background

·        Culturally – “You must do church differently for different cultures.” (59)

·        Spiritually – e.g. unchurched lost, unchurched Christians, new Christians, mature Christians


Decide your strategy.  “We evaluate every program and ministry annually according to whether they are accomplishing our purpose.” (61)


The first mistake is to define strategy before defining purpose, usually because there is a prior commitment to a set of programs.  The second mistake is to be event driven instead of process driven, being run by the church calendar instead of vice versa.  (61)


To align strategy with purpose and target, ask

·        “What process will accomplish our purpose and reach our target?”

·        “How do we move from where we are to where we want to go?”

·        “What must change?”

·        “What must not change?”

·        “What is the best order of change?” (62)


“The more specific the vision, the more dynamic the results.” (63)


Planting the Vision

“You must plant the vision with the key leaders in your church, so that your vision can become their vision.” (67)


Secure the approval of the power brokers, the people everyone listens to, opinion makers, people with formal (position) or informal influence.  Share the plan, the timing, the details, and the resources.  If you get their support they will back you but if you don’t, they will tend to fight you.  (69-71) 


Get the assistance of those you need to help you such as leaders whose territory will be affected and those who will provide the resources.  (71-73)


Seek the advice of your vision team, the small handful of leaders who can help you dream the dream.  (75) These should be mature believers who are dreamers (not detail people) and who can keep their mouths shut until it’s time.  Consider your staff first.  Keep the team small and work quietly behind the scenes.  Share your heart with this team – at staff meetings, eating together, informally in homes, in touch electronically when away – enough time to work as a team.  (79-81)


Expose your key leaders to model churches.  (81-2)


Sharing the Vision

“Before vision is shared with the church from the pulpit, it must be shared with the entire leadership team.  Nothing devalues and alienates a leader as quickly as not knowing what is coming next before the rank and file know.” (85)  “Leaders who hear about changes in direction and focus from the pulpit are not likely to support those changes.” (86)


Take a Friday night and Saturday retreat and take them through the vision process and bring them up to speed. (87)


“The success of any vision comes down to one issue: will the majority of the people of the church get behind it?” (88)


Share it in as many ways as possible.  Do a sermon series, perhaps using the book of Acts, where each sermon shares one piece of the vision.  (See his sermon series on p. 89).  Do small group vision studies, widely use your purpose statement, use vision phrases and slogans as reminders, use a handful of verses that support your vision, use faith stories during worship times, take leaders to conference, disperse tapes and books, share your heart one-on-one, be a living example.  (88-96)


Implementing the Vision

“Most churches spend far too little time in preparation and move far too quickly into making changes.” (98)


Implement changes

·        One at a time

·        In a strategic order – you have to figure out what the unique order is for your church

·        Put key leaders in visible places

·        Put people to work where they are vested, areas that match their interests and passions (99-104)


“Build on your strengths, not your weaknesses.” (105)


The speed of implementation depends on how far you must go (the farther the slower), the size of the ship, the age of the ship, and the toughness of leaders. (106-108)  “Go slow.” (108)


The four-year change at Flamingo Road

Year one – prepared for and defined the vision

Year two – planted the vision with the leaders and shared it with the church

Year three – began to implement smaller changes

Year four – began to implement major changes  (109)


Dealing with Opposition

How people deal with change:

·        “People can only handle so much change.”

·        “People feel awkward when asked to do something new.”

·        “People think first about what they must give up.”

·        “People feel alone when they are asked to change.”

·        “People are at different levels of readiness for change.”

·        “People tend to revert back to their old behavior the minute the reason to change is removed.” (111)


Expect apathy, anger, criticism, and fights.  There will be a showdown somewhere along the way.  But don’t take it personally.  (111-117)


Keep on track.  Keep on working.  Keep on encouraging.  Don’t be afraid: God is with you.  Remember your purpose.  Keep on leading.  Don’t let the whiners set the agenda.  And don’t give the complainers the time you need to give to workers.  One of the hardest parts is that you have to be willing to let people leave the church.  (118-127)


Making Course Corrections

“Every step requires course corrections along the way.” (130) Complainers will say it’s too hard, too costly, or unfair.  Dismiss the troublemakers and divisive people.  Address legitimate complaints.  Some may be expressions of deeper wounds.  Some may not be visionaries and will never be able to see the vision.  Care for them anyway.  Demonstrate your care by providing for their needs.  (130-138)


Negotiate peace between the pros and cons, the involved and the left out, and the old guard leaders resisting and the new guard leaders on board.  (139-140)


Stay among the people.  Don’t separate yourself by titles, dressing above, churchly language and doing all the talking. 


“Continually remind people why you are changing.  Drift is always downward in the vision process.  People need to hear vision again and again until it becomes a part of their soul.” (147)


“Continually affirm and appreciate people for the changes they are making.” (148)


Evaluating the Results

How you know the vision has caught on:

1.     The vision is completed [He doesn’t say how you know it is completed.]

2.     Demonstration of God’s work - generally observed by growth and giving

3.     Continued opposition and criticism

4.     Emergence of new leaders

5.     Major contributions by the people
People give to vision above all, need if well expressed, a budget rarely

6.     Renewed commitment to worship and obedience
“If all you do is reach seekers and you do not develop them, then by default you become a shallow church.” (160)

7.     New people joining in.

8.     Openness to further change  (149-164)


“Cutting edge churches are always in change mode.” (164)


The last 65 pages constitute a workbook, a self-study tool, to work through the steps of discovering and implementing a purpose-driven vision.


Further Reading:  The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren