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Five Coaching Questions To Help You End a Ministry - Episode 23

In the last episode, episode 22, we began to learn how to lead change.  All leaders must have a clear idea of how to take their organization through change. This ability to lead change is essential.
The good news is ability is something we can learn. And the steps that I will be covering with you can be applied to big changes or small changes.
As I said in the last episode, I greatly value the work of Dr. William Bridges. Dr. Bridges wrote several books on change, both on personal change and organizational change. If you see change on the horizon for your church or ministry, I suggest you read Managing Transitions, by Dr. William Bridges. I will have a link to this book in the show notes.
Dr. Bridges differentiates between change and transition. Change is just that, change. You say we are going to change the carpet. That’s the change. A transition is the process of removing the old carpet and getting new.
According to Dr. Bridges, transition involves three phases. All transitions begin with an ending. That’s phase one. They then move into phase two, called the neutral zone. And the final stage is the new beginning.
The mistake we often make is moving instantly into the new beginning. We fail to take the church through the first stage, the ending, and the second stage the neutral zone. This jump to the new beginning is why you have failed in the past, failed at starting and sustaining the change.
Today we will focus on phase one, the ending.
When you make a change, the current thing must end before the new thing begins.
What I will do today, is take you through the early part of the ending and give you a series of coaching questions that will help you and your team end the thing you are changing.
I recently asked pastors what are examples of changes churches go through. In about 90 seconds these 10 pastors came up with 17 changes churches face. I won’t go through all 17, but you can imagine, the list ran from Polity changes to Service time changes. Changes in worship style to change in leadership.
For today, I will use the example of a change in discipleship. Our example, we will change from Sunday School to Small Groups. But the questions I will give you will apply to any change. I suggest you write these questions down as we go.
So if you have decided to change your church from a Sunday School model to a small group model, what are the steps of transition? Here are some coaching questions for you and your team.
Question number One “What is actually ending?
In our example, Small Groups are beginning, but Sunday School is ending. I know that Small Groups is the new thing, the goal of this change, but our focus must be on what is ending.  Before you start the great new idea, you must identify what is ending.
I think the first question is easy to answer and will only take a moment, but the follow-on questions will take some thought.
Here is the follow-on question.
Question number two:  “Who is losing what?
In our example, the question sounds like this, Who is losing what when we end Sunday School?
Here are some answers to that:
The Sunday School superintendent and the teachers are no longer needed. They lose their opportunity for service. They lose their position. They lose some meaning in their lives. They lose the Sunday School room where they’ve taught for the past 15 years. They lose access to the kids they are teaching.
And on and on you can go. You need to write out all of this.
Here’s some more - Those that attend Sunday School lose the instruction they were receiving. They lose the fellowship they were part of. They might lose a position, such as prayer captain, or the person who took the role, or the person who brought the snacks...
As you take your church through a transition to a change, you need to answer these questions
1. What is actually ending?
2. Who is losing what?
Now we are moving quickly through this, but I want you to understand that when you initiate a change and begin to take your church through this transition, these questions demand time and thought.
You should go into detail with your answers. Use names and positions when appropriate. “Bruce will no longer teach the young adults. Linda will have to let go of her 4-5-year-old class.” These names are people and these people will respond to this ending in predictable ways, based on their personalities. By answering question number two, Who is losing what, you will be better prepared to take your church through this transition.
Next question to ask is:
What are the secondary changes your change will probably cause?
Think of it this way. Your change is the first domino in a line of dominoes. When you make your change, ending Sunday School, your domino knocks over another domino. And that domino knocks over another.
So ask, What are the secondary changes your change will probably cause?
When you change from Sunday School to small groups, there will be secondary changes that will occur.  The church custodian’s responsibilities and hours will change because he is no longer cleaning classrooms. That may affect his income if he is an hourly employee. Or it may free him up to focus on something else.
  • Training for small group leaders will need to be developed.
  • The church secretary will have to coordinate with leadership so that the new schedule can be printed.
  • The former SS rooms will now be used as...
You need to identify these before you tip over that first domino. Before you announce, “Hey were shifting to small groups!” you need to answer these questions.  Brainstorm. Get the leadership involved. And if anything, over plan.
The first coaching questions you need to ask before you announce or begin the change are:
  1. What is actually ending?
  2. Who is losing what?
  3. What are the secondary changes that your change will probably cause?
Next, you need to anticipate the emotional reactions to your ending.
Here are some, but I am certain you could have guessed this list: Anger, Anxiety, Depression, Sadness, Resentment, Fear, Worry.
Robert McGee in his workbook The Search for Significance says “Emotions express themselves through actions.”
What are the actions you will probably witness? Impatience, Hostility, Rudeness, Blaming, and even Departure.
People have come to the church where I am the pastor because of a change at their previous church. And I am certain that people have left my church because of change. They reacted emotionally. This emotion led to action or actions; one of which was departure.
So the question is How will people react emotionally to this change?
Again, dive deep. Consider people. You will miss some. You will not guess every response. But if you ask, “How will Amy respond emotionally when we do away with her six-grade girls class? If you know Amy, you can anticipate her emotions.
So the questions are:
  1. What is actually ending?
  2. Who is losing what?
  3. What are the secondary changes this change will cause?
  4. How will people react emotionally to this change?
Finally, a question you should ask before you go too far down the road is this:
Is this change something that the church stands for?
In the last episode, I gave you two questions to share with your board or your congregation.
The first question was, What can we never change? And the second one was, What should we change? Or reworded to, What do we need to do to improve?
But the first question, What can never change? Is linked to the question, Is this change something that the church stands for?
I said in the last episode, that I believe the only unchangeable thing is the gospel. The local church is called upon to defend and protect the gospel. But everything else can be changed. But there will be things, other than the gospel, that will be considered unchangeable.
When you ask your leadership or congregation, What should never change? They will answer with things that the church stands for; things that the church is known for.
Back to our example. You feel certain that a small group approach to discipleship is essential. You determine that the future of the church is linked to moving to small groups.
So you begin the process of ending Sunday School in order to transition into small groups. But here’s the problem. Your church is known for its Sunday School ministry.
In the past, you hired education pastors. You spent large sums on the building to support Sunday School. You have a bus ministry that brings in community kids for Sunday School. When you begin to end Sunday School, you are killing off something the church is known for. You are ending something on the Do not Change List.
You can change something on the Do not Change List. You can kill off something your church is known for. What you need to understand is this - if you kill something the church is known for the pushback will be multiplied by some number – 10 – 100- 1000. And you and your team must prepare for that.
Also, you will have to decide whether to end this thing immediately or end it slowly – one blow or death by a thousand cuts?
My advice – kill it once and for all. End it immediately. Do I always do that? Sadly no. Sometimes it is much easier to allow it to die slowly.
I will spend more time on this idea – immediate end or slow death – in a future episode.
So here are the questions one more time.
  1. What is actually ending?
  2. Who is losing what?
  3. What are the secondary changes your change will cause?
  4. How will people react emotionally to this change?
  5. Is this change something the church stands for or is known for?
All these questions are listed in the show notes. Go to and look for episode number 23. I am also developing some worksheets with these questions. I will let you know in a future episode how to get these worksheets.
In the next episode, we will continue to look at how to end something. We are not finished with this phase of transition. So start looking for episode 24
This is Mark Jones. If you have enjoyed listening to Coaching Christian Leaders please review the podcast at Apple Podcasts, Google podcasts or where ever you listen. Also, please visit the website, for more information. There you can listen to past episodes and learn more about the coaching I provide and the masterminds I facilitate. I would love to help you develop a healthy church or ministry.
Thanks, I will speak to you soon.


Managing Transitions, by Dr. William Bridges

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