Diane Zemke’s book Being Smart about Congregational Change was nice change in pace from other books we have read. I felt this book was very academic and calculated in its delivery of well-rounded ideas. But also I felt this book was deliver with a vocabulary that is not littered with academic jargon, but a real voice that a real church could listen to.
Zemke in her opening chapter talks about why congregational change is different than business change and warns us from getting too much pastoral direction advice from business models and popular leadership literature. A congregation is different because first of all, the volunteers hire the pastor. This is the opposite of what typical businesses experience. This was a great point, but also one I couldn’t quite relate to. Having only been a staff pastor, and never been a senior pastor / lead pastor, I was always hired into situations which I was expected to lead both up and down. The typical church however is under 200 people and most churches these size do not have more than maybe 1 support staff.
Secondly congregational change is different because of the unique hieararchy that can grow within a church, as Zemke calls Clans and Bureaucracies. And lastly, congregational change is different because there are often very unclear measurements of success. It’s not uncommon for a church board to not all be using the same report card in how the rate how the church is doing. Could even the board members of a church agree on what the exact vision of that church is. This is what Any Stanley calls “define the win.”
Zemke explains that in a changing a congregation there will be a shift in some one’s commitment.  In order to see what is the right battle to have and what is simply good growing pains, you can be aware of what someone’s commitment “to church” actually means. For example, one person’s commitment to church might be more about. Of the most committed members of your church, what are they really committed to? Are they committed to the relationships, to the theology, to the values, to the tradition? Of course, many are just more committed to sports than any of those things.
I sensed a connection in this book to some of these ideas presented in Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. Haidt wrote about the different core values that two opposing viewpoints come from. And its these core values which cause us to see the opposing view point, not just as a different opinion, but something that causes us to see them as the enemy – they are threatening our core values. And of course, these values are all noble virtues by themselves, but it’s in the variance of emphasis in each value that can cause us to see someone else as a monster.
Zemke also talks about the importance of more than just superficial change. Again this is another question behind the question scenario. It’s not just about the service time change or calling yourself “contemporary” now… (contemporary is the new traditional, btw) but real change in how the congregation thinks. You can’t change the congregation from plateau or decline situations without changing their mindset. Surely a new program or a new pastor might attract some more lookey-loos to initially increase attendance. But for real growth, a “deeper shift” is needed. And it’s here I saw tying into my knowledge our book Deep Work we read last year. Diane Zemke though gives us the practical guide on how to be smart about that type of change, for our congregations.
The most helpful idea presented in this book was the chapter on commitment. Zemke breaks down that conflict is actually as simple as it sounds. And then answers is not that some people need to be more invested. Its no that simple. This also means simply trying harder is not a viable sustainable solution for others, its that they are already trying hard but at different things. Zemke explains the commitment and lack of commitment is not the real measurement. Buit looking deeper and seeing the value that’s represented by their commitment/lack of commitment. It’s the question behind the question.
I appreciated how Zemke delivered this argument. I felt it was delivered with a heart to really encourage the local church and pastors and offer some practical help. Even the sections that were about the nuances of commitment, Zemke reminds the reader multiple times about the dangers and foolishness of over committeemen. Before we ask our people to commit more, we stop and ask ourselves, not just, are we committed enough? But also, are we over committed?
Also Zemke is hesitant to challenge about commitment, because many many pastors and congregational members are over committed.
 Zemke, Diame. Being SMART about Congregational Change. 2014. 16.
 Zemke, Diame. Being SMART about Congregational Change. 2014.99.