Creating Change In Your Church With Little To No Resources
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One of the most delightful YouTube videos I have recently seen describes the changes at Yellowstone National Park following the re-introduction of wolves to that environment (seen above). Wolves – typically seen as threatening animals – drove the deer back into the forest, allowing riverbanks to regenerate. In so doing, a “trophic cascade” of environmental health was begun. This video is beautiful in its cinematography; it is also a fascinating metaphor for organizational and congregational change.
Beginning a Trophic Cascade
Many of us belong to or know of congregations or organizations that are struggling. These same groups often do not have the financial or emotional resources to support changing the entire system all at once. If this is true, would it be possible or could we imagine doing to our congregations what the leadership of Yellowstone Park did there? In other words, what would it be like to introduce “wolves” back into our congregations? Do we know that which would begin a trophic cascade of health for our congregations?
In his book, The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg works with a similar concept. He suggests that when organizations (or individuals) initiate a keystone habit, that habit creates a snowball effect, bringing change to the entire system. Of course, just as a good keystone habit can create a cascade of health, so also can a bad keystone habit create a cascade of ill health. And, to complicate matters, not every initiative or habit is a keystone or cascade-creating habit. With a limited amount of energy, time and resources, how do we know where to put our energies?
We live in a time where neither the problem nor the solution is easily understood. If we look into history, however, we see that whenever the church or the children of Israel were in times of great upheaval, their renewal was spiritual before it was anything else. It was in their Exile, after all, that the Israelites produced much of the Old Testament. The social upheaval of the 16th Century produced both a reformation and a counter reformation – both of which were movements of profound spiritual renewal. To be fair, these movements of renewal were not at all easy. There was much dissention throughout Europe during the Reformation regarding what the correct path forward should be – both within the community of Reformers and within the Catholic Church. And, there were some efforts at renewal that we now shrink back from and call misguided.
Discovering the wolf that leads to a healthy trophic cascade will not be easy – years from now we may even call some or our efforts misguided. But let us not shrink back from the task. Our very existance depends on it.
Betty Pries has more than 20 years of experience coaching, mediating, training and consulting in the areas of conflict resolution and change.
Betty's work with churches and church organizations is guided by her desire to enhance their spiritual and organizational health, and strengthen the capacities of leadership to discern a way forward.
Fred J. Hiltz - Archbishop and Primate - Anglican Church of Canada
"Thank you very much for the amazing work you did with the House of Bishops during their recent retreat. Thank you for helping us move into some difficult conversations with grace, courage, and respect. Thank you for grounding everything in prayer. The effect of your work was that a number of us engaged one another in ways we had not done before. You took us some distance in some cases in the building of such relationships and in other cases in the restoring of relationships strained by a lack of trust.
For the blessing of your presence, teaching, facilitation and prayers I am deeply grateful."