Creating Urgency for Change

What is the role of "urgency" in a situation requiring change? What's been your experience in managing change successfully that results in long term, positive God-honoring change? 

Have you ever assumed a congregation you were working with was eager and ready to make changes but when you got into it, you found an extraordinary amount of complacency and a significant pocket of those who were not so eager to change as you first thought? 

As I continue to grow and learn to serve and carry out the role of change agent in congregations this issue of "urgency" is showing up very clearly on my radar screen as something I better not overlook.
Authors and change experts like John Kotter, John Britt and others are helping me to grow in my capacity to help others find ways to navigate the turbulent waters of change and transition.
As you look at your own ministry whether as a  pastor, coach, denominational leader, how often do you make the mistake of assuming a congregation or group you are working with is ready for change but in reality is sadly lacking the ingredient of "urgency?" 
John Kotter suggests that without the sense of urgency, any change effort will lose steam and fall by the way side.  A  metaphor that comes to mind is to say that urgency would be like deep sea diving without a oxygen tank.  Before long, you'll be back to where you started from (gasping for air just above the water line!).  Without urgency, any attempt to bring positive, God-honoring change will be lost to complacency and the status quo. 
If people don't feel the same sense of urgency, the  momentum for change will probably die far short of the finish line.  People will find a thousand ingenious ways to withhold cooperation from a process that they sincerely think is unnecessary or wrongheaded  (Kotter in Leading Change). 
So what exactly is "urgency?"
In Who Killed Change? urgency is described this way:
Urgency explains why the change is needed and how quickly people must change the way they work.  If people do not have a sense of urgency regarding the need to change, the inertia of the status quo will likely prove too strong and people will not make the changes you are seeking. p. 133
Urgency is where people say from their heart (not just their head) "We're ready to go!"  Urgency is that motivational factor that keeps people going when the going gets tough during a change process.  Urgency in kingdom work is connected to a realization that God is calling us to something more, something different, something radical and we're ready to follow.
How do you Create a Greater Sense of Urgency?
On a practical level, how do you create a greater sense of urgency in any change venture?  Here are a few ideas that might stimulate your thinking:
  • Bring people face-to-face with the reality of their situation.  Share lots of information and involve them in identifying the gap between what is and what could be.  It is here where you put on your facilitator's hat and engage people in conversations that lead to self-discovery and increased awareness.  
  • Provide credible, believable reasons to change, answering the question "What is wrong with the way things are now?"  Develop a shared spirit of discontent with the status quo.   
  • Frame the change in terms of a cause that is motivating.  Find a way to describe the shorter term "vision" for the change process itself. 
  • Show people valid and dramatic examples from outside the organization as to why change is necessary.
  • Never underestimate the role complacency, fear and anger can play in derailing a change effort.
Some Questions to Help Creatie Urgency
  • Are you or the leadership ignoring a lack of urgency and jumping immediately to creating a vision and a plan? If you are, what needs to change?    
  • Do the people being asked to change see what's wrong with maintaining the status quo? 
  • Do the people have a sense of urgency about the need to change?
  • If people's sense of urgency is less than ideal, what will you do to create a stronger case for change and a greater sense of urgency?
For more reading on this topic, I point you to both the work of John Kotter (Leading Change, the Heart of Change, A Sense of Urgency, etc.) as well as Ken Blanchard and John Britt's book called "Who Killed Change?"  For a summary of both Kotter's Eight Stages to Change and an overview of "Who Killed Change?" click here.
Now I challenge you is to TAKE ACTION!
Take Action

1. Think of a situation you are currently involved with.  Now on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being total complacency and 10 being red-hot urgency, where are they in their urgency for change?
2. With that quick assessment in mind, what are the next steps you'll need to take to move that change process along? 
3. How will you equip yourself in the next 30 days to be more aware of the change process not just in your head but in the world of your experience and behavior?  (This is one of the reasons we provide training events - to equip you not just with knowledge about working with churches, but an experience that will move you along in your ability to go out and do the work God has called you to!). 

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