Build Consensus for Change From the Inside

by Hans Finzel

In the last sixty years, three quarters of a billion Slinky toys have been sold world-wide. What a simple great idea! But like any new thing, it had to grow from only a concept. Do you have a dramatic new idea you want to sell your congregation? It may be your brightest inspiration ever, but it has to take the same path, from conception to popularity by building consensus from the inside out.

When the Slinky was invented by Richard James during World War II, he and his wife decided to demonstrate their new toy at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia for the 1945 Christmas season. But they feared that their discovery was so simple that no one would buy it. They were so worried that they gave a close friend a dollar to buy one. An hour and a half after the first demonstration, they had sold a total of 400 Slinkys! 

Richard knew the first rule of effective consensus building: get an insider to step up and commit himself publicly to the change.

Pastors are the key to making change happen in their churches.  But how often have changes been rolled out from the pulpit, only to be shot down by the troops in the pew?  Too many times pastors are guilty of the cuckoo-clock syndrome: they announce from the pulpit when the door swings open,  "It has been decided"  Those are the four deadliest words of a change program.  In the words of Spencer Johnson in Who Moved My Cheese? "A change imposed is a change opposed."

A guiding coalition for change has to be built from the inside out.  Start with those closest to you that have a kindred spirit.  Build a team that is committed to moving in new directions.  Allow the circle to expand outwardly to other people who can influence the future.  Try to get as many stakeholders as possible into those ever-expanding circles before any change is ever publicly announced.

Why People Resist Change

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Fear:  The unknown is a threat to comfort zones.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Insecurity: They may be worse off after the changes.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Power: They may lose power or status in the shuffle.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Trust: Previous actions have eroded trust in the leadership.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Inertia: It is easier to maintain the status quo.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Energy: It takes a lot of work to change things.

Change will face many detractors. It is up to leaders to turn these six barriers around-showing that everyone will be served by supporting the change, not opposing it. 

Saving Face Is Not Just Asian

Follow the principle of persuading individuals before selling groups. Groups respond differently to change proposals than do individuals. When seeking to change the direction of a group, you have to sell its individuals firstespecially its key influencers.  When an idea is presented to an entire group, everyone's reaction is publicly registered.  Everyone sees where everyone else stands in the initial reaction. So people who initially reacted negatively are not going to want to lose face and change their mind publicly. 

Losing face is a huge issue in the quest for change. Selling an idea to individuals before presenting it to the entire group makes it easier for people to change their minds.

Work Those Circles

When mapping out how to lead your group through major changes, be careful to work the process through the circle of ownership from the inside out.  In other words, look for consensus first from within the organization's most powerful and effective circles, or your idea for change will be DOA. 

Unfortunately, status matters. You must be brutally perceptive in ascertaining who can help you the most, and dole out your disclosures of the great new idea accordingly. 

Local Church Circles of Ownership

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>The Board circle: the decision-making boards.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>The inner circle of top leadership: the executive team.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>General staff  circle: the hired staff.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Key stakeholders circle: other key people that should be in the loop and have influence-informal leaders in your church.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Key opposition circle: The likely opponents

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Rank and file members: the congregation

Got a great inspiration for your church? Everyone is important as you sell your idea, but timing and sequence do count.

Adapted from Change Is Like a Slinky, by Hans Finzel, Northfield Press, 2004. (

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