Leadership books rarely include motivational considerations among the suggested criteria for choosing a leadership team for a change initiative. Bill Hybels, for instance, proposes his “three Cs”: character, proven competence, and chemistry.1 John Kotter proposes four key characteristics for good team members: position power, expertise, guaranteed credibility, and leadership.2 These are all excellent considerations, but only one of these seven selection criteria (credibility) approaches a motivational concern. Hybels and Kotter are more interested in people being chosen based on their capability.

Typically overlooked among such team-building lists are two other criteria: team members must be motivated, and they must be motivating. In fact, the absence of these last two criteria in a team member will undermine any strengths the person has in the first seven. Wise congregational leaders look for team members who are motivated to participate in guiding a project.

Ask yourself the following questions when considering a potential candidate:

  • Does the person already act like a steward of the present and future life of the congregation?
  • Does the person share the concern for current reality that is a motivation for action?
  • Does the person have a goal-oriented nature? Not everyone does, and those who don’t may not be focused and driven enough to apply their time, energy, giftedness, and experience.
  • Does the person generally believe that congregational change is necessary for the future’s sake?
  • Does the person have the strong personal capability beliefs needed for the task? People with strong capability beliefs are not easily discouraged when facing the trials of plan implementation. Instead, they tend to respond to challenges by increasing their efforts.
  • Does the person believe that the environment of the congregation will not prevent the congregation from attaining its goal?

Also look for team members who will be motivating for the congregation. The particular individuals who make up the leadership team for your congregation’s change initiative will affect the congregation’s confidence not only in the leaders but also in the achievability of the initiative. Consider your candidates for the leadership team using the three character qualities of trust-based relationships:

  • Will congregants believe that this person has in his or her heart the best interests of the congregation?
  • Will congregants believe that this person has the needed knowledge, gifts, and experience for this work?
  • Will congregants see this person as reliable?

The more confidence congregants have in the project’s leadership team, the more inclined congregants will be to accept change as important and sensible.

Picking team members with motivation in mind helps team effectiveness, but it is not the only motivational concern. If team members do not make a conscious effort to be aware of their own motivations when planning, then their motivations will take subconscious control of the planning process. Two negative effects may arise as a consequence. First, it may result in the team tumbling into a pitfall described by longtime congregational consultant Kennon Callahan: assuming what motivates the leaders is also what motivates the congregation. This pitfall easily leads to the second negative effect: making plans without motivation in mind.

Teams can avoid these negative effects and engage in some initial team building by sharing their own personal motives and attitudes regarding the discrepancy gap and for their participation in the project. At the team’s first meeting the convener simply asks members to introduce themselves and then state why they agreed to be on the team. This question opens the doors for people to express their own motives and attitudes about the team’s project. The exercise strengthens the bonds of a team because team members will probably discover that they substantially share the same concerns and hopes about the discrepancy gap, which represents shared motivation. The exercise will probably also highlight individual motivations as well.

For example, imagine a congregation that forms a team to create a new ministry for the homeless people in its neighborhood. One team member might share that her brother was homeless for a period and speak about the impact that had on her family. Her motivation is a value to help those who are homeless and her compassion for those in need arising from her experience. Other team members, hearing this motive, will likely feel empathy and greater solidarity with this individual. Empathy, which is the vicarious experience of the feelings of another person, helps us adopt the motives of others that were not first our own.

The agenda of a project team’s first meeting tends to be dominated by defining and understanding more fully the team’s purpose, giving the team some organizational shape, and engaging in some preliminary planning. If the discrepancy gap (the difference between how things are and how they might be) is already well defined, then the team may also conduct an initial round of a force field analysis. This tool—identifying drivers and resisters for change and weighting each factor’s significance—-will introduce to the team the importance of maintaining awareness of congregational motivation. After all, the congregation had some motives and attitudes for creating the team in the first place, and congregants expect the team to represent these motives and attitudes through its work.

The exercise could focus on the question, Why would our congregation want-and not want-to deal with this discrepancy gap? Through the exercise, team members will develop an initial appreciation of the congregation’s drivers and resisters for the project and perhaps begin to see that some congregational motives and attitudes are different from their own. This initial consciousness-raising exercise can help team members be more mindful of congregational motivation throughout their work together.

If leaders maintain a perspective that planning for congregational motivation is as important as planning for goal attainment, then they will be more confident that the congregation will not simply weather change but thrive through it.

For Reflection and Discussion

1.   Review Peter Coutts’s questions for selecting project team members. Which two questions do we think would most improve the quality of teams in our congregation? Why do we believe this?

2.   Coutts encourages leaders to ask this question about a change initiative: Why would our congregation want—and not want—to deal with this discrepancy gap? How might reflecting on the question affect our approach to a recent or current effort?


1.   Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 81- 85.

2.   John P. Kotter, Leading Change (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996), 57.

This article is adapted and excerpted from Choosing Change: How to Motivate Congregations to Face the Future by Peter D. Coutts, copyright © 2013 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.


See also “The Science and Art of Motivational Leadership




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AL437_SM Choosing Change
by Peter D. Coutts   

Humans have been choice-makers since the days when hunter-gatherers had to decide when to hunt and what to gather. Making choices is what humans do. But individuals feel more personal autonomy and power to choose today than ever before in human history.


AL186  Leading Change in the Congregation  
by Gil R. Rendle  

Many books have been written about leadership and change, but until now none has focused on the kind of change that tears at a community’s very fabric. Alban senior consultant Gil Rendle provides a respectful context for understanding change, especially the experiences and resistances that people feel. Rendle pulls together theory, research, and his work with churches facing change to provide leaders with practical diagnostic models and tools. In a time when change is the norm, this book helps to “lead change” in a spiritual and healthy way.    

AL371_SM Pathway to Renewal  
by Daniel P. Smith, Mary K. Sellon  

No pastor can lead a congregation to renewal alone. It requires a change of heart for the whole congregation. Congregational renewal occurs only when people reorient their very understanding of the nature and purpose of their church. This goes far beyond a simple retooling of the mission statement or addition of a few programs. Authors Mary Sellon and Daniel Smith lead congregations through this process of renewal, breaking down into understandable components what is happening in the people themselves that makes renewal efforts successful.   

AL287_SM When God Speaks through Change    
by Craig A. Satterlee     

Anyone who has preached at a wedding and a funeral in the same week can attest to the power of the occasion to impact the preaching event. At times, a congregational transition looms so large in a sermon that it becomes the lens through which scripture is interpreted, the congregation is addressed, the preacher is heard, and God is experienced.  



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