Change – take it one step at a time


It is really hard to change your lifestyle in one sudden act. The most effective and long lasting change happens through incremental steps.

Diets and making a change to meeting procedures

We have all done it! We know we need to lose weight, or rebalance our eating so that it is more healthy. So full of motivation we dive into it “boots and all”. With no half measures we go cold turkey on all those unhealthy calories and carbs. As a result we find the change a painful experience!

We know that the most effective way to make long term change in our eating habits is to take incremental steps. Give away the fizzy drinks this week, the popcorn and chips the next week, cut back on the carbs a little bit here and there.

Why would we expect it to be any different if we are changing the way our community engages in discernment? It is most likely that a complete and sudden change of process will be hard to sustain. Make the changes in small steps. You will see that by building them into your processes over time they are more palatable – less of a shock to the system.

Small steps you can take – now

  1. Build in transparency: provide quality information about the subjects under discussion well before the meeting and during the meeting. Make sure that there is plenty of time for questions for clarification.
  2. Grow the quality of your community life: encourage sharing and prayer for one another; attend to any special needs that people may have; show respect.
  3. Listen: provide time so that everyone that wants to contribute can do so. Consider power imbalances and how you can overcome them. Look at how to present your business in a way that avoids jargon or the need for inside knowledge or high levels of ability in the language you are using.
  4. Generate options: think about ways to pick up and explore the fresh ideas that are raised. Perhaps defer a decision to allow consultation between people with different perspectives. Don’t try to conclude every piece of business the first time that you raise it. For example set up working groups to take up the ideas raised in the meeting and to bring something to a later meeting.

Slow and steady wins the race

Years ago the Northern Territory in Australia had a tourism slogan “If you never never go, you will never never know.” Of course the idea was that people had lots of reasons they put forward for not visiting this tropical, hot and isolated part of the country. So the encouragement was to just give it a go and then you will know if it is any good.

People offer all sorts of reasons why consensus building discernment will not work for their context. But if you never never have a go, who will never never know if it will work or not. Just give it a try and see what happens.

The World Methodist Council has become the latest group to “give it a go”. Rather than jump in and change everything they are going to do some training and then “test drive” the process on a piece of the business agenda. That’s right – they are going to practice the process before they decide to take it up.

When the World Methodist Council¬†meets in Seoul, South Korea in July 2018 Terence and Julia will be providing training and orientation to consensus based decision making. There will be a very practical introduction to the processes and the values that lie behind them. This will be followed by a later session where a genuine piece of business will be processed using consensus practices. Terence will chair that session. No decision will be taken at that time. The decision will be made in a business session but it is expected that the material will be close to ready to resolve once it comes to the floor because of the processing that has happened in the workshop. If your church, local or regional,would like to workshop consensus processes just get in contact¬†at, and let’s see what we can make possible.

This one of many examples of where an organisation that is considering change is taking it a step at a time. By trying the ideas out without committing to change they can build confidence and learn how to adapt the process to suit their situation. The World Communion of Reformed Churches began this journey with the meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Acra, Ghana in 2002. Subsequently it has implemented the lessons that it learned there and in Grand Rapids (USA) in 2010 into its meeting in Leipzig, Germany in 2017. How did it go? Very well because they have built on the lessons of the past.


Don’t be daunted by the apparent size of the task involved in making a change to consensus based discernment. Take the small steps that are open to you. There is a lot that you can do without having to change your meeting rules! Then look for opportunities to showcase different parts of a consensus building approach. Consider holding a training workshop in your meeting like the World Methodist Council is doing.

Sometimes you have to crawl before you can walk.

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Author: Terence

I am a Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. My current ministries focus on consultancy and teaching about consensus based decision-making, mediation, governance training and professional supervision for Ministers. I am co-author of the book "The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together". I live on the beautiful Far South Coast of NSW from where I undertake ministry across the globe. Contact me at

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