When faced with a challenge, church leaders often turn to old tricks — programs, preaching and personal touches.

“The problem with old tricks is that old mental models rarely lead to new solutions,” said the Rev. Tod Bolsinger, speaking at the Disciple-Making Church Conference here Jan. 17.  

So what does work? Referencing the book “Leadership on the Line,” Bolsinger said that leaders must identify the type of challenge they’re facing and then create strategies to address that challenge.

There are two kinds of problems — technical and adaptive. Technical problems are solved with best practices and specific skills. Adaptive challenges require a shift in values, expectations, attitudes and behavior. They can’t be solved using current skills or knowledge.

Many in the church are facing adaptive challenges but are reverting back to technical solutions, Bolsinger said.

“A technical solution applied to an adaptive problem will not solve the problem, and it actually ends up creating a new problem,” he said.

We must learn new ways of being together as a church, Bolsinger said, outlining some key adaptive principles:

  • Give the solution work back to those who experience the problem most greatly. Don’t pass a problem off to the “experts.” A church is a community, not a hotel where problems can simply be reported to the management. Leaders should “pastor” the process — Bolsinger’s church follows the model of “lay-led, staff-supported.”
  • The new solutions will be a healthy adaptation of the group’s DNA. Work with those who are the healthiest expressions of the group DNA. Determine what will never change, and be prepared to change anything and everything else.
  • People don’t resist change — they resist loss. Pastors are trained to counsel people dealing with loss. The real reason people don’t change is because it’s hard, but if other ways worked, the needed changes would have already happened.
  • Expect sabotage. The key is to practice persistence in the face of resistance.