Church Leadership: Switch

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard  -             By: Chip Heath, Dan Heath    I’ve not read it yet, but I’m planning to read Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath at the first opportunity. A great summary of the book may be found at

Borrowing an analogy from the book The Happiness Hypothesis, Heath and Heath describe this tension as a conflict between an Elephant, our emotional side, and its Rider, our rational side. “Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small compared to the Elephant.” But get the two to work together and clear the way for them to succeed, and change comes easily. Heath and Heath explain the three steps to lasting change.

Direct the Rider.

Motivate the Elephant.

Clear the Path.

We in the Churches of Christ, and we Americans, think of ourselves as a rational people. We follow logic. We are moved by evidence. At least, we think we do. But most people are realy led by emotion much more than logic. We hold on to failed plans and strategies far too long because we are emotionally tied to them. We rationalize our “logic,” pretending that we’re acting rationally when, in fact, our behavior is driven by other things entirely.

The solution isn’t to demand that people stop being emotional. That would be quite impossible. Rather, the solution is to lead both through rationality and emotion. And great preachers understand this. This is where powerful preaching is found — at the intersection of emotion and logic.

Unfortunately, most of us elders don’t appreciate this. We try to motivate logically. And it rarely works. It’s the combination that’s powerful, and so all leaders have to learn how to work in both areas.

But even when the leadership manages to powerfully motivate the congregation to do the right things, we often frustrate their efforts by leaving structures and systems in place that interfere with doing right. If it takes six months to get budget approval, well, the process will suck the zeal right out of the member. If the elders have to approve everything before it happens, their caution will interfere with the working of the Spirit within the congregation.

The authors cite three major surprises in their research —

Surprise #1: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Perhaps the problem is not with the people in your congregation, but with the systems that reinforce their behaviors. What are you doing to enable the very behavior you are trying to change?

Surprise #2: What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. If new behaviors are too taxing, they stand little chance of developing into habits. Are you asking too much at once?

Surprise #3: What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity. Often change doesn’t happen because people aren’t given crystal-clear direction. Do you really know where you’re going, and do the people in your ministry know the next personal step to get there?

If you want your members to invite visitors to church, what are you doing to make your church visitor friendly? Do you have greeters? Are the sermons and songs accessible to visitors? Can they find the restrooms?

If you want your members to volunteer at the homeless shelter, what burdens will you relieve them from? Will you cancel Sunday night or Wednesday services so they’ll have time?

Have you taken your church’s vision and mision statement and broken them down into specific things you want your staff and members to do? Are these merely aspirations or are they easily converted into particulars that the ordinary members understand and can own and do?

It’s easy to say, “We’re a grace-filled community empowered by faith in Jesus.” That looks good in the bulletin and the Yellow Pages ad. But what are the members to do today that’s different from yesterday? What are the concrete, rubber-hits-the-road differences you expect?

To borrow from the great philosopher Nick Saban, it’s not enough to want a certain result. You have to figure out the process that will get you there and commit to the process. Do you want to win national championships in college football? Then you’d better recruit, train, and motivate players better than anyone else. Do you want to be a community of believers that transforms your community? Well, what disciplines are required for that to happen? What has to change so that your church is no longer ineffective and becomes effective?

Break it down to specifics. Push the church to become emotionally and rationally motivated to do the steps that are necessary to achieve the result. Push the process, not just the result. Make the process doable.

And don’t do it at all unless it’s important enough to remove all obstacles out of the way. Clear the path. Remove distractions. Then step back and watch the Spirit take over your church.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to Church Leadership: Switch

  1. Tim Archer says:

    Have you read Made to Stick by the Heath brothers? Excellent book. I excerpted a bit on my blog a few years ago:

  2. Chris says:

    Looking forward to the subsequent posts. It is easy to be vague about doing mission, but I need to be specific about the tasks in order to fulfill mission. I need this kind of post.

  3. Randy Hall says:

    FYI – Chip Heath is a member of our congregation (Campbell Church of Christ) and teaches our “Parents Connection” Sunday class. He presented a “Switch” sermon in my absence. The “Sticky” book is also good.

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for bringing Made to Stick to our attention — and I enjoyed your post!

  5. Derek says:

    Great book. If you haven’t already made your way through it, there are some useful lessons the church can learn from many of the stories. Thanks for writing. Love reading your blog.

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