Unit 8.1 What We Can Learn About Change From the Cell Church


Lecture: What We Can Learn About Change From the Cell Church

Over the past weeks we=ve looked at a variety of cell churches; this week our attention turns to the current situation of United Methodism in the United States.

A number of concerns are in the awareness of all persons attending the 2008 General Conference.[1] How can an understanding of the cell church enable us to achieve these goals?


The concern: The Council of Bishops, the top staff executives of the church=s general agencies, and the Connectional Table, a 60‑member group responsible for coordinating the mission, ministries and resources of the church, propose four areas of focus for United Methodists at the dawn of the 21st century: 1. Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; 2. Creating new places for new people by starting new congregations and revitalizing existing ones; 3. Engaging in ministry with the poor; and 4. Stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally.

This is a long‑term agenda designed to address long‑term problems and goals in both the church and the world.

The concern about the concern:

1. These are noble and wonderful goals. Anyone familiar with institutions knows that institutions resist change. There is a wealth of scholarly information available on this topic in business and sociological which generally agree that the more institutions seem to change, the more things stay the same.  The road toward change is hard, as Peter Senge writes:

Most change initiatives fail. Two independent studies in the early 1990s, one published by Arthur D. Little and one by McKinsey & Co., found that out of hundreds of corporate Total Quality Management (TQM) programs studied, about two thirds Agrind to a halt because of their failure to produce hoped-for results.@ Reengineering has fared no better; a number of articles, including some by reengineering=s founders, place the failure rate at somewhere around 70%. Harvard=s John Kotter, in a study of one hundred top management-driven Acorporate transformation@ efforts, concluded that more than half did not survive the initial phases. He found a few that were Avery successful,@ and a few that were Autter failures.@ The vast majority lay A. . . somewhere in between, with a distinct tilt toward the lower end of the scale.@ Clearly, businesses do not have a very good track record in sustaining significant change. There is little to suggest that schools, healthcare institutions, governmental, and nonprofit institutions fare any better.

Even without knowing the statistics, most of us know firsthand that change programs fail. We=ve seen enough Aflavor of the month@ programs Arolled out@ from top management to last a lifetime. We know the cynicism they engender . . .

This failure to sustain significant change recurs again and again despite substantial resources committed to the change effort (many are bankrolled by top management), talented and committed people Adriving the change@ and high stakes . . .

To understand why sustaining significant change is so elusive, we need to think less like managers and more like biologists.[2]

When leaders attempt to change systems, the system wins. That=s the reality we must deal with when we hope to change the United Methodist Church.

[1]These concerns are quoted from AGeneral Conference Issues,@ http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.3989587/k.636A/General_Conference_Issues.htm

[2]Peter M. Senge et al., The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 5-6.

NOTE (my response)



The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.

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