Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”: The Preface

I’ve known Hollywood for nearly a quarter-century. We were roommates in college for a couple of years and kept in touch, mostly via Christmas cards or a yearly phone call. Then came e-mail and blogging and social networking and now there’s rarely a week we don’t communicate.

Anyway, he’s a deacon at his church and their board decided to walk through the book together. I needed something to read on a rainy Sunday (and Monday) so I thought it’d be fun to work through it with him. I’m glad I decided to do this, too. The book has my brain engaged big-time.

In the preface, the author discusses how his brain got going when one of his congregants said he felt that his church had changed (“overnight”) for the worse, trying to implement methods of prominent, well-known (and large) churches. MacDonald decided to write the book as a work of fiction (after several failed starts and stops, realizing that there are already tons of books out there on church-change). He and his wife are the only two “real” people, and he creates an ad hoc committee of sorts, about 15 or so long-time New Englanders at a church of about 200. The characters are speaking for a broad range of what I’m guessing are actual comments he’s heard over the years regarding change and churches.

The significant quote from the preface is this: “There is one primary issue that I am concerned with in this book: how do people face change when it threatens their comfort zone.”

The note I wrote down was that I feel like all too often people throw the quote around that says something like, “People don’t like change.”

I fundamentally disagree with that.

What people don’t like is actually UNEXPLAINED change. Let me give you an example: Imagine you’re in a Texas summer and you don’t have air-conditioning. The someone offers you a window unit that will cool your living room. You mention that, in addition to the cost of the unit, there might be a one-time cost to install a special plug, and that there will be an increase in their monthly power bill. However, you will no longer have to be bothered with sweating while you sleep, or keeping wet rags handy, or any of the other inconveniences that come with trying to stay cool when it’s 105 outside.

You weigh the costs and the benefits…and you decide to purchase the window unit. After a couple of days of those benefits, you actually LIKE and APPRECIATE the change, even if there’s a few more dollars out of your pocket. See what I mean? It’s change, but you explained the change well and they do LIKE the changes.

You could do this with anything, I guess. Like your family moving the furniture in the living room. Or having your school board shift your kid’s school zone. Or the head coach of the little league team gets transferred. The grocery store no longer carrying your favorite brand of coffee. I could go on.

And, yes, you might get annoyed or frustrated no matter how well it’s explained…especially when the unintended consequences occur (and they always do). But I contend that, as long as you are carefully explained the reasons why the change is made and the “big picture” is at hand, well, you’ll ultimately be okay with change as you put up with any personal inconveniences that occur in the interim. So, yes, I’ll concede that there is an “adjustment period.”

So, initially, the question of how people face change when it takes them out of their comfort zone is that it is incumbent on leadership to lead effectively through the change. Whatever that change may be. Clear, consistent communication makes the changes palatable.

This is just the preface.

I think this’ll be fun! What are your thoughts, patrons?