Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Congregational Change and Quadrants: Transformation is Birthed from Understanding

Written by: on May 11, 2019

Self-awareness usually yields to self-actualization; however, that’s not always the case within Christian leadership. Dr. Diane Zemke, the author of Being SMART about Congregational Change, challenges her readers to understand their nuances, their personalities, and their spirituality in light of transformational culture within the church.

Many churches are caught in the mentality of fortress-mode. They cling onto the past and sneer at the changing cultural dynamics that grace their pews each Sunday. However, others are inwardly-focused and don’t see the need to address the needs outside the doors of their narthex. Other churches are compelled and driven to enact social change or create hubs of emotive expression. According to Zemke, all four of these orientations provide value and influence one’s definition of  God,  outreach, fellowship, worship, and church culture. However, which one is more “biblical”?

All congregations are different, even when they stem from the same denomination. “In reality, no two congregations are the same inside even though they may seem the same from the outside. One of the reasons no two congregations are the same is because each congregation has its own culture.”[1] However, culture is not shaped by the pastor’s dictation, but the congregation’s direction. Zemke reveals:

Culture is created by what problems the congregation chooses to address, how they solve problems important to them, and what choices they repeat over time. It is not handed down from above or determined by the pastor, although a very long-term founding pastor will have an effect. Culture is developed and maintained by the congregational members.[2]

Therefore, if culture is presented by the masses, then a church’s lack of influence is not tied to the lack of transformational charisma of the pastor, but tied to the lack of adaptability from the community.

I noticed that a gentleman from my church was missing on Sundays mornings, so I reached out to the elders and inquired about his whereabouts. I was aghast at their response, but not surprised after reading Zemke’s definition of quadrants. This individual differed drastically from the rest of the congregation. He was much more vocal, emotive, and had a checkered background of addiction and mental health issues. One of the elders turned to me and told me that this individual was asked to leave because they saw him as a threat to the church and the culture of the congregation. My church’s quadrant is colored by their cultural preferences towards stoicism, as well a preference towards Quadrant 1, “head spirituality”.

I have great respect for the leadership within my church; however, I often find it frustrating that they’re insular and fearful of the changing culture outside their doors. I tend to lean more toward Quadrant 4, “kingdom spirituality” and see Christianity as highly outward in influence and purpose. This is why LOUD Summit tends to be met with fear from many Quadrant 1 churches. They see our outward focus as acceptance of secularity, instead of conversational evangelism.

Zemke rightly asserts, “Knowing your congregation’s (and your own) spiritual type can enable you to wisely enact change.”[3] If one does not know their spiritual type, then they risk living out the narrative of the past without understanding the impact for the future. Many churches are struggling to adapt because they view adaptation as a stance of tolerance, instead of God-driven transformation. This is why, in order to enact change within a congregation, one must be able to pinpoint why they refuse to move.

It is more imperative to understand the narrative that shapes one’s theology, then change one’s theology and then address one’s motivation. “Surfacing narratives and working with them is a starting point for significant change.”[4] If one is unwilling to go beyond the surface, then the congregation will not experience growth, but forced coherence to new facades. Zemke delves into adaptability, congregational decline, and embracing differing voices and reveals, “If you are working for change, acting as a change agent, you may also be acting as a dissident.”[5] Gary Comer, author of Remission: Rethinking How Church Leaders Create Movement, echoes Zemke’s idea of dissent and challenges readers to understand, “If you don’t give your people a chance to speak into the process, don’t be surprised when they feel undervalued – they are!”[6] Congregational change is inevitable; however, dissent is imperative in order to create transformational change that echoes the vision of the pastoral staff and the congregational culture.

For years, the majority of pastors and leaders were taught to focus on changing cultural dynamics and creating denominational distinctives. However, we should be inclined to lean into the dissonance, understand our congregational culture, and weigh the essentials and nonessentials of our spiritual identity. “It’s good to remember that before the new can spring forth, the old must die. God is active in the living, the dying, and the rebuilding of the Church. God is always faithful.”[7] There is a season for everything under heaven and there is a season for everything within our ministries. We have been entrusted with everything, not entitled to everything. When we realize that we hold it all with open hands, God is able to shape it with purposed change – He’s able to show His faithfulness in times of comfort and in times of chaos.



[1]Diane Zemke, Being Smart About Congregational Change (Diane Zemke, 2014), Amazon Kindle. Location. 79.

[2]Ibid., Location. 97.

[3]Ibid., Location. 429.

[4]Ibid., Location. 610.

[5]Ibid., Location. 1069.

[6]Gary S. Comer, Remission: Rethinking How Church Leaders Create Movement (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2018),132.

[7]Diane Zemke, Being Smart About Congregational Change (Diane Zemke, 2014), Amazon Kindle. Location. 1979.

About the Author

Colleen Batchelder

I speak at conferences, churches, companies and colleges on intergenerational communication, marketing, branding your vision and living authentically in a ‘filtered’ world. My talks are customized to venue needs and audience interests. My passion is to speak with organizations and bridge the intergenerational gap. I consult with companies, individuals, churches and nonprofit organizations and help them create teams that function from a place of communication that bridges the generational gap. I’m also the Founder and President of LOUD Summit – a young adult organization that presents workshops, seminars and summits that encourage, empower and equip millennials to live out their destiny and walk in their purpose. When I’m not studying for my DMin in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary, you can find me enjoying a nice Chai Latte, exploring NYC or traveling to a new and exotic destination.

10 responses to “Congregational Change and Quadrants: Transformation is Birthed from Understanding”

  1. Jean Ollis says:

    Great post and application of Zemke’s writing! I always enjoy and appreciate your application of the text to your own congregation. Even though you seem to have significant cultural differences from your congregation, I love that you choose to stay, invest in its ministries, and role model how to be relevant in a changing culture. They are lucky and blessed by your insight and leadership!

    • Thanks so much, Jean!

      It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s definitely given me the opportunity to be heard and be a voice of change within the congregation. The pastoral staff understands that we see Christianity quite differently, but they have such a respect for my voice, even when they differ with my views.

      I really appreciate your kinds words! It’s been a crazy week, so they definitely blessed me!

  2. Colleen,

    You mention something that I had never reflected on before, but on reading it in Zemke’s book, it rang true to me too. You said, “Culture is not shaped by the pastor’s dictation, but the congregation’s direction.” I think we often assume it is the pastor who sets the agenda and forms culture, but it is the people themselves who create and hold culture. Yes, it may be in response to the pastor’s ability to create a vision for a desired future, but it is the body of people who take action to live out the culture they believe in.

    • Thanks, Mark!

      There’s such an emphasis on the pastor’s ability or lack thereof to transform church culture. However, I believe that this emphasis is damaging because it puts 100% of the pressure on the pastor and produces apathetic congregants who hold onto the past with bruised knuckles and sneer at the idea of change.

      Many congregations think that they own the church and therefore own the pastor because it’s their contribution that keeps the lights on; however, this produces an imbalance that encourages manipulation and passive-aggressive behavior to attain one’s way and demand one’s desire. How have you seen this play out in educational communities? Do you find that there’s a healthy form of lateral leadership?

  3. Kyle Chalko says:

    Colleen, Its so sad to hear about that man the your church getting asked to leave. How unfortunate when a church gets blinded to the individual. But Your point about understanding their narrative to fully undersdtand their theology is such a great point.

    • Kyle, it really was! I was shocked by their apathy towards this man, but I was glad that they were honest about their congregational culture. The church is highly Quadrant 1, which means that they see any interruption as a blemish, instead of an opportunity.

      I once brought a friend who had pink hair and the pastor couldn’t help but comment on it multiple times. lol I was glad that my friend had a sense of humor, but the church is very insular and fearful of the changing culture.

  4. Shawn Hart says:

    Unfortunately, it seems that changes that are sought in today’s church are seldom encouraged through “open hands,” but rather with figurative fists. The younger generation wants to see more modern forms of worship; while the older generation wants to keep their traditional ways. Ironically, it is possible that both are possible…maybe even at the same time; however, few are willing to compromise. Instead, division and fighting. Seriously a sad direction for churches to turn.

    • Yes. It’s definitely an unfortunate situation. Sadly, I’ve seen churches fail because they heed to the sole idea of ideal values instead of core values. When pastors and leaders understand the reality of their congregational needs, then they can operate well. However, when they try to reproduce the latest trend or personal preference, the congregation becomes rigid.

      For instance, I’m not a highly emotive personality, but the majority of Millennials and Generation Z value experiential learning and expression. I had to listen to my team and attendees of past events and use their input to formulate future workshops and summits.

  5. Dan Kreiss says:


    Yes! Holding it all with open hands, even the ministry of the local faith community. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the immediate response of most congregations regardless of their denominational affiliation. It seems that many are more intent on exacting changes that they believe important for the local community to come around to their way of seeing the world. Sadly, this is frequently the cause of many to die slow and sad deaths. It is very difficult to lead in the way Zemke encourages, particularly in traditions that have a proud heritage and are just waiting for the Holy Spirit to bring about another revival so that they can flourish again.

    I am curious though: how do you see this book applying to your own context and ministry?

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this post and reflection on Zemke’s book, Colleen! I used that same quotation about how culture gets “made” in my post. It definitely seems like whether we know it or not, we are actively building up a certain kind of culture. The idea that church pastors and leaders need to get in touch with their own identity and the kind of culture they are engaged in, resonates with me and certainly seems like part of our whole DMin course. Thanks for your piece!

Leave a Reply