Leading Change by Creating Urgency

In Leading Change by admin

One of the greatest factors in producing positive change in any organization, especially the church, is how well urgency is leveraged.  Unfortunately there are two enemies to urgency that a leader needs to be aware of when leading positive change in the church.

  1. Complacency
  2. False Urgency

In his book, A Sense of Urgency, John P. Kotter points out that any organization that has survived for a significant period of time (like the Church), complacency is more than likely the norm.  And if not dealt with, complacency has the potential to kill your vision, and more importantly the urgency of the people for accomplishing that vision.

The dictionary says complacency is “a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger or trouble.”

The result of complacency? No change.  No change is needed in the mind of the complacent, so therefore no change takes place. When no change takes place over a long period of time, inevitably the organization dies a slow death.

Urgency on the other hand is the sense that what you’re doing really matters, and therefore each day becomes an opportunity to take one more bite out of the elephant.  It’s the idea that each day is an opportunity to accomplish something worthwhile and valuable.  As Kotter puts it,

“never leave yourself with a heart-attack producing task of running one thousand miles in the last week of the race.”

Still, there is another enemy to urgency and that is false urgency. False urgency is deceiving because on the surface, it looks like things are being done, but in reality it’s just busy work. A schedule filled with activities that go nowhere. Fast moving actions based on non-important issues.  A life full of energy, but unhealthy energy that often reveals itself in the form of anger and anxiety.

This is not the urgency that we’re looking for, nor is it the type of urgency that will lead to a struggling church experiencing health and growth. An effective strategy that will lead to healthy change needs to include positive emotions like joy, purpose, and excitement because at the end of the day no one (including the most committed church goer) will give their life to something that dos not produce exciting, meaningful, uplifting work.

Which is why a mouthwatering, blood pumping, bet the farm, type of vision is so critical to a dying or declining church.  When a good vision is presented to the congregation, it not only engages people’s minds, but also takes aim at people’s hearts. In fact, Potter points out that when it comes to initiating and sustaining change in any organization, feelings are more influential than thoughts.

According to Potter, there are four types of categories for engaging the head and the heart:

1. Reduce the gap.

Reduce the gap between the outside reality and inward focused mentality that so many insiders of an organization have. Sounds awfully similar to what happens in the church.  See, over time, churches become so inwardly focused they forget the purpose for which they were placed in that community for. Jesus told the church to “go and make disciples”. In order to go, it requires a person to leave.  As Rick Warren says, so often the church is concerned about being keepers of the aquarium, not fishers of men.

The challenge is to bridge the gap between insiders and outsiders so that insiders begin to see things as outsiders. We need to remind people in an engaging way, what it was like before coming to church, before coming to Christ.  Then and only then will people inside the church have the urgency needed to reach out to those outside the church.

2. Model the Behavior.

The leaders of the church (starting with the pastor) need to model the behavior they want others to emulate.  Every single day becomes an opportunity for the leader to visibly show what they are asking others to do.

As leaders, we need to remember that everything we do communicates a sense of urgency or lack there of.  Everything from our tone of voice, to body language, to even starting meetings on time give credibility to the words that we say.

“actions speak louder than words.”

The above aphorism is true, yet so often the natural tendency of a church the longer it’s been around is more discussion and less production.  Endless meetings where trivial matters are discussed to no end.

Listen, If you want to lead positive change in your church where there is life, growth, and purpose, then at some point you need to end the meetings, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.

3. Look for opportunities when crisis situations arise.

Case in point, at the time of this writing our church recently found out we were denied a grant that we needed for the launch of our next campus.  The natural reaction would have been to panic; and to be honest I was a little worried about what we would do–we needed that money in order to purchase the technology for planting the multisite campus. This wasn’t a luxury, this was a necessity.

We could have panicked, thus creating false urgency in our people (anxiety), which would have led to waisted time and energy.   Instead we saw it as an opportunity to communicate openly and widely to our congregation about the need that was before us.

As a result more money came in for our Christmas offering. The “crisis” also forced us to apply for two more grants; grants that I would have never known about if we were not first denied our initial request.  The point is, crisis are often opportunities in disguise.

I think of National Community Church in Washington, DC where for years they were meeting in a public school when all of a sudden they were told they couldn’t meet there any longer.  To say this created a crisis for their church is an understatement–They were about to be homeless as a church.

Yet, this crisis created an urgency for their church to seek God in prayer; which resulted in the Lord revealing to them their new home, or should I say homes: The church now rents out movie theaters all throughout the city.  In fact they actually own a movie theatre.  This strategy for doing church is so engrained in their church now, it’s hard to imagine National Community Church not meeting in movie theaters.  In fact, one of their mottos is “ministry in the marketplace.”  They even have a coffee house on capital hill (see picture below)!  But it all started with a crisis moment.

4. Handle Naysayers in a healthy way.

Naysayers and negative Nancys (sorry Nancy) have the potential to derail your church’s vision like no other, if not dealt with in a healthy way.

In his book, Potter calls these people, “NoNos” because they are more than skeptics, they are people who are always ready with 10 reasons why the current situation is fine and no change is needed. To ignore a “NoNo” is to create a lot of problems in the church because they will relentlessly talk to others (especially others who are anxious about the direction of the church; or those who have a grudge against the leadership).

So how do you deal with these people? Well, with a lot of patience and prayer. Make no mistake though, if you are not willing to have the tough conversation with these people, they have the potential to derail the destination that God desires for your church.  I love what Craig Greochel says,

“you cannot change what you are willing to tolerate.”

I mean this in the nicest, most sincere way: Don’t tolerate the naysayers.

It’s important to note that not everyone who disagrees with the decisions made by you or the church board are naysayers.  In fact, you’ll probably never get 100% agreement with big church changing decisions.  This process takes discernment.  However, if through discernment you find you’re dealing with people who would even disagree with Jesus himself if he came down and said “we’re going to do it this way”, then you have a problem that needs to be dealt with.   Why?  Because these are people who just like to disagree for the fun of it.  In fact, it’s their hobby.

Let me say it again…Do. Not. Tolerate.  You will always have opposition to change, and you must not be complacent, nor should you tolerate it.

In one of his podcasts, Craig Groechel introduced this formula for urgency:

Outside Opposition + Divine Calling + Limited Time = Sustained Urgency.

First off, we are never short of outside opposition when it comes to ministry. Opposition is both from the enemy and from friendly fire.  Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble”.  Add opposition to that list.  However, we must not forget the all-important task Jesus himself called us to.

I love how when Nehemiah was tempted to stop the work God had called him to do (rebuild the wall in Jerusalem), he said to his opposition:

“so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3)

Andy Stanley has a great summary of this verse in his book, Visioneering.  When it comes to God’s vision for your family or career, Stanley reminds readers of this phrase: “I’m doing a good work and I cannot come down from my wall.”

So, let me do my part to remind you: Don’t come down from your wall…especially not for naysayers. 

Secondly, time is of the essence when it comes to the calling God has placed on the church. There is limited time.  Jesus is coming soon. We must be about the matters of the church, because after all the local church matters.

Listen, there are a lot of things that you could give your time, talents, and treasures to.  There are a lot of things that you could give your life to, but there is nothing like the local church.  As Bill Hybels says, it is the hope of the world.  Therefore, we as leaders should strive to create a culture of sustained urgency within our church.

The question then of course is, do we really believe that what we do matters?  If we do, maybe just maybe, there should be a little more pep in our step.

The challenge is sustaining urgency over time by creating a culture within the church where our focus is on the most important matters of the church.

Don’t confuse activity with productivity.  There’s a lot of things vying for our attention and time.  Just because you’re busy doing ministry doesn’t always mean you are focused on the most important things.  Again, don’t confuse activity with productivity–They are different.

Activity on trivial matters is the norm in the church.  Bake sales.  Color of the carpet.  Where to put the coffee.  And much more.  These are trivial matters.  If we are not careful, our attention can easily be swayed towards these matters of the church.   The result is we become complacent about the things that really do matter.  Unfortunately, too often complacency is the default in churches today.

So bottom line, here’s what you need to do:  Wake up.  Stretch for higher goals.  Reach for higher ground.  Strive for healthy urgency on the most important things:

  1. Reading God’s Word
  2. Seeking God through prayer
  3. Cultivating a spirit of discipleship in the church
  4. Developing leaders
  5. Equipping the saints

Are these the areas where you spend most of your time and attention?  After all, these are the things that God uses to build His church.  See, when we keep the main thing the main thing, and when we have a heightened sense of urgency towards those main things, we are well on our way to creating a healthy change within the church.

Questions to consider: 

What projects/to dos have you’ve considered doing but for whatever reason have put on the back burner?
(Either commit to do them or check them off the list (if you feel the urge to check them off, they were probably not that urgent to begin with.)

What are you doing that is “busy” work but not necessarily “productive” work? (make a stop doing list)

How could you limit your focus to what matters most?


For a good read, I would recommend checking out John P. Kotter’s book, A Sense of Urgency.