Making Organizational Pivots – Episode 159 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

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Why Healthy Organization Change Before They’re Forced To + a Few Pivots We’re Making at The Unstuck Group

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It’s the catchphrase of stuck organizations… “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But healthy, thriving churches and organizations tend to initiate changes before they need to. And the leaders in those organizations are willing to step out in front and lead significant shifts other people may not be feeling the need to make.

I’ve been studying the lifecycle of churches now for more than two decades, and this is what I’ve observed:

Healthy, thriving organizations change before they NEED to change. Stuck organizations avoid it until they’re forced to change—and even then they often don’t.

On the other hand… I recently heard an interview David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, did with NPR. He shared that based on the data that they’re seeing in recent months, he believes one in five churches could close in the next 18 months.

That’s 60,000 churches in the US.

Many of those churches were already stuck. We can blame the pandemic if we want, but that’s not really going to help. Before the pandemic, we knew based on our research that close to 20% of churches, self-identified as being on life support.

Is it more likely that those churches are stuck because they embraced change? Or is it more likely that they’re stuck because they avoided change?

Before you listen to this episode, let me offer this: You’re going to feel encouraged after listening. We don’t want you to feel beat up reflecting on changes you didn’t make before now. It seems many of the pastors I’m talking to lately are expressing some version of this sentiment:

I just don’t know if I’m the right leader for our church now.”

Put that to rest. Unless God has clearly directed you otherwise, I believe it’s safe to assume He put you in your role, in this season, for this time. Your leadership will probably need to grow and change, but He can equip you with what you need.

Are you ready to consider the organizational pivots you may need to lead in coming months? In this conversation, Amy and I discuss…

  • The key questions pastors are asking me in conversations about what they are experiencing in this unique season
  • Why healthy, thriving organizations change before they NEED to change, and stuck churches and organizations tend to avoid change until they are forced to
  • What churches can learn from the pivots Amazon just announced it’s making (even when on the surface they look more successful than ever)
  • Why you need to think about STRUCTURAL changes if you’re trying to make STRATEGY changes (As Andy Stanley has said: “Organizations do what they are organized to do.”)
  • 2 significant pivots we are making at The Unstuck Group to help us continue to serve pastors and churches well into the future
You can't make pivots around online engagement without making key structural changes. Without those structural changes, people will naturally drift back to what their roles were previously. #unstuckchurch [episode 159] Click to Tweet Healthy, thriving organizations change before they NEED to change. Stuck organizations avoid it until they're forced to change—and even then they often don't. #unstuckchurch [episode 159] Click To Tweet

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. With so much change happening in our world, almost every organization’s had to pivot in some way. Whether it’s shifting what you do from less analog to more digital or redeploying your team with a new measure for success, significant change has affected nearly all of us. So what should we learn from those changes that will make us better in the future? On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy discuss some recent organizational pivots and what they’ve learned along the way. Before you listen today, though, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes. Each week you’re going to get one email with the leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you’re not going to find anywhere else. Just go to and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (00:55):

Before we jump into today’s conversation, Tony, I’m just curious, you’ve been reporting back to our team on the conversations you’ve been having with pastors in recent months. In fact, what you’ve heard from pastors in those conversations has really shaped a lot of what we’ve been talking about on this podcast. So what questions are they asking?

Tony (01:15):

Yeah. Yeah. Good question. Yeah. Well, the key question they’re asking is just if what they’re experiencing as a church, as it relates to, you know, in-person attendance in this season, what online engagement trends are looking like, what giving trends are looking like. They’re curious to know if what they’re experiencing is what other churches are experiencing. And all of that, I think, is really coming from a good place. They just want a sense of, you know, it feels like they’re working hard to engage what they’re doing now as a church. And it doesn’t feel like the fruit is there. And so they want some sense that what they’re doing is a reflection of what other churches are experiencing as well. Second key question pastors are asking about is really about the key pivots that they need to be making. Most of those questions in recent weeks and months have revolved around the discussion about what needs to be happening online for obvious reasons. And so that’s where a lot of my conversation has been in recent weeks and months. And then, I don’t know if it’s funny. It’s just that at the end of the conversation, they’re thanking me, thanking our team for what we’ve been doing to support churches and church leaders in the season. And then they ask me how I’m doing, which I just think is so kind to them to ask that. But, you know, my whole intention is to really press in and engage and support them in every way I can. And honestly, it makes me feel a little awkward when they ask that question. That probably says a lot about my personality, Amy.

Amy (03:00):

Well, maybe it’s us who should be asking that question. You know, how are you doing, Tony?

Tony (03:03):

Well, to be honest, it kind of depends on the day, Amy. I mean, like everybody, I miss the in person stuff. So I miss being on-site, hands-on, working with the church. I miss our team’s gatherings. I mean, even though we have been a remote team for many, many years, we prioritized at least once a quarter getting together someplace in the country face-to-face. And I really miss those gatherings right now. You know, every day feels the same and this is the stuff that everybody knows. I mean, you’re all feeling this. Every day feels the same when you’re not traveling someplace. And that was my natural rhythm for about 10 years, oftentimes on the road working with churches and then back home after being in being gone a couple of days. And, you alluded to this in one of our recent conversations that some days it’s just hard to stay motivated. But there has been blessings in all this, too. I’ve been home nonstop for six months, and I can’t remember the last time that Emily and I have had that concentrated time together. I’ve had more time with my kids and I’ve ever had in my adult life probably. So that’s been wonderful. And then, you know, it’s just where my head is related to the church. I mean, generally I’m very hopeful and that is for the church and that’s for our team as well. And that’s weird for me because I’m not naturally an optimist. I’m definitely more of a realist.

Amy (04:39):

Really? Really that’s how you’re wired?

Tony (04:42):

I mean, God’s given me hope in this season. And I really think that’s a gift for me personally in this season, because that’s not naturally the way I’m wired, but I’m hopeful for churches. I mean, I’m encouraged by the pivots that churches are making. And I’m encouraged that churches are beginning to shift from the reactive mode that was required of them in the early months to more proactive mode now in recent weeks and months. So that’s been encouraging.

Amy (05:11):

Yeah. That’s been a fun shift, hasn’t it? I feel the same way. Let me ask you a related question, Tony, how’s The Unstuck Group doing?

Tony (05:19):

Yeah. So, you know, I often, I don’t get time to brag on my team, but I just want to brag on my team a little bit. Our team has been working harder than they’ve ever worked before to support the needs of church leaders. And I’m really proud of them for this. I mean, again, this is nothing that you haven’t experienced as well, but in the midst of all of this, in midst of all of the work that the team has been doing to support churches and church leaders, they’re dealing with pressures like you’re dealing with pressures. I mean, we have folks on our team, one of the guys on our team, he’s working home for The Unstuck Group and trying to homeschool four of his kids online. I mean, I just, I can’t imagine living life like that right now. And we have another person on our team, she’s pregnant and just the challenges in this season of, you know, going to doctor’s visits and things like that. It’s just, it’s weird. And so there’s lots of personal transitions happening on our team. And at the same time they’re working so hard. And so I’m just proud of them. Over the last several months we’ve had the chance to work with over 50 churches through The Unstuck Process. And I mean, just between you and me, I was just looking at our two calendars over the last couple of weeks, Amy. We’ve had the chance to work with churches in the UK, in Iowa, Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Maryland, Wisconsin, Canada. I mean, this is, it’s just crazy that just between the two of us, we’ve been able to engage with so many churches through our Unstuck Process and through our process, we’re helping churches reshape ministry strategy in the season. And given what we’ve experienced, I mean, these are critical conversations. And then on top of that, and maybe more importantly, we’re helping churches reshape their staffing and their structure to engage this new strategy. And that that’s a key point. I mean, a lot of churches are talking about the necessary pivots that they need to make in the season, but oftentimes they’re not thinking about the key structural changes that need to happen if they’re going to engage new strategy. And I’m not sure if it was Andy Stanley or someone else I heard say this, but it’s so true. “Organizations do what they’re organized to do.” And so when we’re talking with churches about strategy changes, you can’t just make pivots. For example, you just can’t make pivots around online engagement without making key structural changes, because if you don’t make those structural changes, people will naturally drift back to what their roles were previously. And so you’re not going to be able to push forward what you believe your new initiatives are to accomplish, your mission. So on top of that, we’re having conversations, I counted them up yesterday, with over a hundred pastors and denominational leaders right now about going through The Unstuck Process. And needless to say, there’s no shortage of stuckness right now. So, I’m thankful for those opportunities to potentially engage with all of those churches and denominations, and, you know, on top of that, I mean, there’s a lot of good stuff happening, but we are, we’re making some pivots ourselves. And I actually, I think that’s where we’re hoping to go with today’s conversation.

Amy (08:51):

Yeah, definitely. I just want to add on the structure piece of things, Tony, what I’m seeing is that when churches first entered the COVID season, they kind of scrambled and re-divvied up workloads, and people started doing a lot of things. And it’s a bit like a bowl of spaghetti in a sense, and churches really need to be thinking about moving away from that interim structure into one that’s really going to serve them. And those have been some fascinating decisions with church leaders right now on how to do that. But anyways, that brings me back to the conversation we want to have today is we’re going to talk about the changes The Unstuck Group has implemented in recent months. But let me begin with the basic question of why, Tony,? Why make changes now when by all appearances, The Unstuck Group is in a healthy place?

Tony (09:36):

Well, we’ve talked about this, but I’ve been studying the life cycle of churches now for more than two decades. I’m getting old, I think. I like to believe I just, I began this process when I was very young. How about that? And as I’ve been studying life cycles of churches, I really believe some of the same principles apply to businesses and nonprofits and really all types of organizations. And this is what I’ve observed. Healthy, thriving organizations change before they need to change. Stuck organizations avoid change until they’re forced to change. And then often times they still don’t change. Now, you know, there’s this old adage, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And, what I’ve noticed as an outsider looking into organizations, again whether these are churches or businesses or whatever the case might be, as I’m looking in as an outsider, completely detached from all of the emotions and things like that, my natural tendency would be to look at an organization that’s healthy and say, why would you change? Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you just stick with what’s working right now and just ride that out as long as you can because it’s working? But what I’ve seen is the opposite. Healthy, thriving organizations change before they need to change. From the opposite perspective, as an outsider looking into churches that are stuck or businesses or other organizations that are stuck. I look at that situation, I think, well, it’s obvious you’re stuck. You have to make changes. But like I said, for whatever reason, stuck churches or stuck organizations tend to avoid change until they’re forced to change. And then even in those situations, oftentimes they don’t change. So let me give you a recent example. This is just from the news this week. I’m reading about Amazon. Amazon, by the way, is the second largest company in the entire country. I don’t know globally. I don’t know what the global stats are, but they have to be ranked pretty high. So through 2019, they had revenue of close to $300 billion a year. And that 2019 revenue was an increase of over 20% from the year before. I don’t know how a business that large can still see 20% year over year increase. But again, as an outsider, looking in, you would say, Amazon’s not doing too badly right now. They seem to be a healthy business. But even with that health, just this week, Amazon announced that they’re pivoting their grocery business. And so remember they already own Whole Foods, and Whole Foods has been in operation for 40 years. But even with the success Amazon is experiencing, they’re still pivoting. And so they’re opening a brand new chain of grocery stores that’s called Fresh. Their first location, I think this week, opens in the LA area. I love this. So this is really tapping into how I’m wired up. For a grocery store, they’re looking to blend their in store and online shopping experiences. They’re going to be using their new technology called “dash carts,” which allows shoppers to check out without waiting in line. So I’ve never seen it, but somehow you put your food, your products in your grocery cart, and you just leave this grocery store and they charge you for it. I don’t know how that works. Throughout the store, they have these Alexa kiosks set up so that you can ask Alexa to help you find products or to get help with meal suggestions. And so I’m reading about all this. And again, my natural tendency is an outsider looking in is to think, why are they doing this? They’re making $300 billion a year already. They already have a healthy grocery business in Whole Foods, but like I said, healthy, thriving organizations change before they need to change. On the other hand, I’m just reflecting on where churches are currently globally, not individual churches, but globally. And again, this past week I heard a conversation. It was an interview that David Kinnaman from the Barna Group did with NPR, and in that interview, he acknowledged based on the data that they’re looking at in recent months, he believes one in five churches could close in the next 18 months. I did the math, Amy, that’s 60,000 churches in the U S. And so, again, step back. Many of those churches are stuck, and we can blame the pandemic if we want though that that’s not really gonna help. But before the pandemic, we knew, based on our research, that close to 20% of churches self identified as being on life support. And so again, now you could ask, why do you think this is likely? Is it more likely that those churches are stuck because they embraced change? Or is it more likely that they’re stuck because they avoided change? My guess is they got to where they are today because they avoided change along the way. And needless to say this, when I consider where we are at The Unstuck Group, trying to support churches across the world, it would be bad for business if The Unstuck Group got stuck.

Amy (15:34):

It would be bad for business, yes.

Tony (15:36):

Because of that, again, I’m stepping back, I’m looking at how healthy organizations embrace change before they need to change. And that’s where we are. I want The Unstuck Group to remain healthy. And because of that, we are going to embrace change before we need to change.

Amy (15:56):

Well said. Well with that, would you be willing to unpack some of the pivots that The Unstuck Group is making?

Tony (16:03):

Absolutely. So the first one is probably obvious because we’re making the same pivot that many of you are making. So we’re pivoting from in-person experiences to online. Again, I miss in person and I’m trusting that at some point in the future in person experiences will again be a part of what we get to do at The Unstuck Group, but right now we can’t do that. There are limitations to that. And because of that, we have in recent months made this pivot. We’ve replaced really everything that we do in our Unstuck Process so that it can happen online. And we’re leveraging new technology. We’re leveraging some things that we’ve never done before. Old dog learning new tricks, Amy, is that the way to talk? I mean, seriously, Amy, I remember a couple of days early on, now you plug your iPad in and you click here, but now I’m better at it now, but yes, we’ve had to move everything online, and there’s been some benefits to that. I mean, there’s been some challenges because we can’t be there in person, but there’s been some huge benefits. For example, as I just alluded to, just between you and me, not even including the rest of our team, we’ve been able to help churches in three different countries in six different states in the last two weeks. We would have never been able to do that before. Because everything’s online, it’s less expensive for churches, too. We don’t have to charge for our travel time and expenses. So, this is one of those examples of it’s a big pivot for us, but this is a good change as well. And in some ways it’s not been a huge pivot though, because for a number of years, we’ve been using digital online engagement as part of our strategy to connect and serve churches. And, as an example, that’s what has allowed us to connect with now, we’re connecting with over 30,000 church leaders every week through our content. In fact, I want to just brag on our digital engagement team. Year over year, we’ve seen a 70% increase in web traffic to our websites. There has been over a 40% increase in podcast downloads just in the last 12 months. We’ve grown our content subscriptions by 25%. I mean, our digital engagement team, Amy, we’re winning in that area. And I’m so thankful for them, especially because we have, you know, we’ve talked in recent weeks about the spiritual journey that people go on from being not interested in anything spiritual to hopefully we want them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus and disciple makers. There are steps that people make in their spiritual journey. And we’ve noticed, too, there’s kind of these steps that people take as they engage with The Unstuck Group. And so when I see engagement numbers increasing like that, that gets me excited about the opportunities that are coming down the road for us to work directly with churches and with church leaders. So I’m pretty excited about that pivot because we’re just leaning into even deeper how we can engage with churches online.

Amy (19:27):

Yeah. So that’s the first pivot. I agree with you. It’s not been huge, but it certainly has been different. But that’s not the only pivot that we’ve made or are making. And I think you’re pretty excited about this next one. Aren’t you?

Tony (19:40):

I am. Yeah. So this one is something, and Amy could confirm this, I mean, it was probably, it’s been several years ago, we were meeting. We have an annual strategic planning conversation that we have at The Unstuck Group, and we were meeting, and I was just talking about, it feels like, you know, we’re helping the church get healthy, but we could go a step further to help the pastor get healthy, to thrive in their leadership capacity. And we’ve dabbled in this a little bit in the past. So, I mean, even 12 years ago, I started doing these coaching networks with senior pastors and executive pastors primarily. There were some other church leaders that engaged in some of those coaching networks. It had its limitations though, because I could only work with a handful of leaders at a time. And it was challenging to scale. It was cost prohibitive too because all of those pastors would have to travel to wherever I was in order to go through that coaching. And actually as a result of some of those limitations, I stopped doing coaching networks a couple of years ago, but what I continue to hear, especially in recent months as we’ve been responding to some of the needs of pastors during this pandemic, you know, as a church, they were looking for strategic help. But for pastors, they were looking for personal coaching. I mean, how do I lead my team through this challenging time? How do I deal with some of the ups and downs I’m feeling personally as I’m walking through this season? And more and more I was hearing from churches in recent weeks and months, I just, I need a coach. I need a mentor. I need a guide to help me through this. And it’s around things like, how do I lead my staff? How do I continue to drive vision and strategy in this season? The obvious one, how do I lead change? How do I help my team experience both health and high performance? And deep down, I think this is what I was hearing from leaders is I don’t know if I’m the right leader for this church or for this season. And I’m thinking, oh my goodness. I mean, yeah, you are the right leader. You just might need a guide to help you through the situation or the season, but God’s put you in this place for a purpose. And so to me, again, it was like, this is obvious. We need to take advantage of this opportunity, not just to provide the consulting, which we’ve provided to churches in the past, but we need to get more to that personal mentoring and coaching that I think is really going to help church leaders move forward. And so, because of this, we’ve been working behind the scenes for the last several months pulling this together. But, for the first time, I just wanted to share with you, we’re launching Unstuck Leadership Coaching. And, part of why I’m excited about this is there are actually going to be three different levels of coaching at three different price levels so that hopefully this coaching can be accessible to every leader. And so, one level, we’re calling it toolkit access, it will include on demand coaching if you will, because it’s going to be all of the on-demand ministry training courses that we offer, leaders will get access to all of our tools, all of our assessments, our entire resource library, and we’re including here access to Facebook, a private Facebook group. So there will be some kind of personal coaching that comes through that experience as well. The second level, we’re calling it Cohort Coaching. And I think this is going to be a fun process because in addition to things that I just mentioned, we will be adding a monthly, facilitated e-coaching cohort. And so we’re going to be partnering leaders, senior pastors, executive pastors, other senior level leaders with other like-minded pastors and churches. And so this will be fun because, here, it’s not just learning with other peers in ministry, you’re going to get an Unstuck Coach/Facilitator joining you in that process. And you’ll also get free access to the quarterly masterclasses that we’re going to be offering, continuing to offer moving forward. And then maybe call it the top tier, but we’re calling it Complete Coaching. And on top of the things that I’ve already mentioned, we will be adding one-on-one coaching for senior pastors and or executive pastors. And we’re expecting for, especially in mid-size and larger churches, where there is both a senior pastor and executive pastor, we’re expecting that churches are going to want to engage this level of coaching together in a partnership. Also on top of that, we’re going to be providing quarterly conversations with the church’s senior leadership team. And this is, I mean, this is where we’re going to really provide access to some of the great leaders on our Unstuck Group team, people like Amy. Amy’s going to be providing some of this one-on-one coaching to churches, and I’m thinking, Amy, how do I sign up so that you can be my coach? Can we do that somehow?

Amy (25:17):

Yeah, we’ll talk about that when we’re done recording this today. We have a couple of things to cover. Can you, can you go a little further, Tony? Can you give some examples of what you think the benefits are that pastors will experience through this coaching?

Tony (25:33):

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great question. And so I’m excited because several folks on our team, Lance Witt has been speaking into this. I mean, Amy, you’ve obviously been speaking into this quite a bit. There’s going to be, I think, huge value here and beginning with the fact that as a pastor, as a leader, you will have an experienced coach helping you develop your ability to lead the church forward, to lead your team forward. And, it’s just good because you’re going to have somebody that’s been where you’ve been. And actually they’ve been a step ahead of where you’ve been as well. And some of that coaching on where you’re going, I think, is just going to be so beneficial. You’re going to be equipped and your team will be equipped with some practical tools to navigate the complexity of ministry challenges, especially in this season. You’re going to be building your personal leadership skills, which I think is going to be so helpful for pastors. I know in many cases you’ve been equipped for the spiritual side of what needs to happen in your role, but it’s the leadership skills that you’re looking for. And so because of that, I mean, it’s going to be key things that we’re going to be helping you through. Like, how do you successfully cast vision? How do you create digital ministry strategy? How do you lead your team well? These are all things, I mean, they oftentimes don’t get hit in seminary or in other equipping environments. But we know that these are essential for church pastors today. And so we want to come alongside you and provide that type of coaching. And then, like I said, in all of these levels really, you’re going to be getting peer support, accountability, community. And I can’t tell you how many times, especially in recent weeks, where I’m having conversations with pastors and you can just hear it in their voice. They just, they feel alone in this. And so I think it’s going to be so helpful. I mean, we’re going to work hard to make sure that you’re paired up with like-minded pastors, like-minded churches. But we think there’s going to be huge value for you to be hearing what other pastors, what other churches are experiencing, again, especially in this season. So, Amy, I’m just looking forward to, we’ve been working with a handful of churches, but I’m ready to roll this out because I’m confident there are going to be many pastors, many church leaders that are going to want to be a part of what these different options that we have available here.

Amy (28:14):

Yeah. I remember when we used to do on-site cohorts and things like that, and that last one, that peer support and community, that was one of my favorite parts. I mean, we had a lot of strategic conversations, and we compared notes on a lot of things, but the relationships that form, when you find that pastor who is very similar to you and a sounding board that’s not in your community, that you can just build one another up and try new things. I think that was one of the biggest X-factors back then. Don’t you?

Tony (28:42):

Absolutely. I agree, Amy.

Amy (28:44):

All right. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (28:49):

Yeah. I just want to go back to that observation I made earlier. Healthy, thriving organizations change before they need to change. Stuck organizations avoid change until they’re forced to change. The similarity between both of those organizations, the healthy and the stuck organizations though, is change is a part of this. And as a result of that, I know it. I’ve been through it. Change is not easy and goodness. It’s been helpful for me through the years to have people that I could lean into that could give me guidance and coaching on how to lead through the change. And so, because of that, again, I’m super excited about the new opportunities that we have available. In fact, if you’d like to learn more, we’d love to talk with you about those different coaching options that are available. So reach out to us. You can find out more by visiting

Sean (29:45):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony said, if you’d like to learn more about leadership coaching through The Unstuck Group, visit us at If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast and it’s been helpful for you, we would love your help in getting the content out farther. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

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