Unfreezing is an aspect of Kurt Lewin’s force field analysis model. This is a model of “systemwide change that helps change agents diagnose the forces that drive and restrain proposed organizational change” (McShane and Von Glinow, 2009, p. 488). Unfreezing refers to the “first part of the change process whereby the change agent produces disequilibrium between the driving and restraining forces” (p. 489).
Systemic organizational change is rarely, if ever, achieved without conflict. This is true in churches and it is true in business. This process of change has been shown to have identifiable agents that participate in organizational movement from the status quo to a desired condition or state of affairs. The preeminent model that describes systemic change is Kurt Lewin’s “force field analysis.” This model assists in diagnosing “the forces that drive and restrain proposed organizational change” (McShane and Von Glinow, 2008, p. 488).
On the one side of this model, there are “driving forces” that are pushing “organizations toward a new state of affairs” (p. 488). On the other side, resisting the change, there are “restraining forces” that are striving gallantly to maintain the status quo. Carol Bartz (2009), the new chief executive officer of Yahoo, Inc. has witnessed this firsthand. She has correctly observed that organizations frequently can “get in the way of innovation” (“Question of Management”). Often the restraining forces are fearful of change, and automatically assume a hostile stance toward anything new or different. This hostility drives behavior that ends up restraining, or attempting to restrain, the winds of change.
Within organizational settings, change cannot occur without an “unfreezing” of the status quo. A distortion must be introduced into the organization in order for an unfreezing to occur. The unfreezing process begins as (1) the driving forces for change become more prevalent, (2) when restraining forces are diminished, or (3) as a result of a combination of both of these occurrences (McShane and Von Glinow, 2008, p. 489).
For instance, driving forces for change become more pronounced when someone new is inserted into a key point within the structure of the organization. In a church setting, this can occur when a new pastor or elder is called to serve the congregation. This person may, knowingly or not, begin an unfreezing process that moves the organization in a new direction. “Change rarely occurs by increasing driving forces alone, however, because the restraining forces often adjust to counterbalance the driving forces” (p. 492).
Restraining forces can be diminished when key leaders or managers within an organization relocate, retire, or pass away. If a person was influential within the organization, these types of events can easily begin to move the group in a new direction. If restraining forces are declining as driving forces for change are increasing, then movement from the status quo to a new condition is probably inevitable. Thus, the process of unfreezing begins.
The unfreezing process can create great tension and disharmony within the organization. The disequilibrium that results can generate a considerable amount of stress for those who desire no movement from the existing state of affairs. Those in positions of authority must handle this instability with great care and gracious understanding for those who are uncomfortable with the movement to a new condition. Disgruntled and disenchanted people, even if in the minority, can be a great hindrance to the growth of any organization. Effective resistance to change can take many forms that undermine the goals of the leaders who are trying to move the organization to a better position in order to accomplish their mission.
Rather than resenting the reality of resistance, leaders and managers would do well to consider the brute fact that many people oppose change simply because they fear the process of change itself. The following six items are forces that resist organizational change, adapted from McShane and Von Glinow (2008). These forces are manifest to some degree in all organizational settings, even, regrettably, in churches:
(1) Direct costs. People tend to block actions that they perceive will cost them something. This cost is weighed socially, economically, or psychologically.
(2) Saving face. Some resist change as a political strategy in order to enhance their personal reputation within the organization.
(3) Fear of the unknown. People resist change out of worry that they will not be able to properly adjust and acclimate themselves to the new environment.
(4) Breaking routines. People are creatures of habit. They like to stay within their comfort zones by continuing routine role patterns that make life predictable. Changes within their workplace or place of worship are viewed with as much gravitas as changes that take place within their own living rooms. Also, people simply do not wish to invest the time and energy necessary in order to learn new role patterns.
(5) Incongruent organizational systems. Social and psychological rewards accompany certain role patterns within any organization. People do not wish to alter such well-known unspoken social structures.
(6) Incongruent team dynamics. Groups develop and enforce conformity to a set of norms that guide behavior. However, conformity to existing team/group norms may discourage people from accepting organizational change. In the eyes of those who resist change, new norms that conflict with the status quo must be eliminated (p. 490-91).
Progressive-minded leaders within the organization must create a climate that cultivates change. For this to occur, the leaders must lay a foundation of instruction that teaches people about the necessity of change in a world of constant movement. If the people don’t see the need for change, increased resistance will overwhelm any purposeful increase in driving forces and a continuance of the status quo will be the end result.
The visionary leader is one who can anticipate cultural forces and see the need for the organization to adapt to face the new challenges that lie ahead. In churches, such leaders must, through their teaching, counseling, and personal interaction with the people in their congregation, create a sense of crisis and urgency for change. This must be done carefully and over time, but it must be done if the church is to stay properly contextualized and relevant to the culture it is attempting to reach for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This does not mean that the church must become “of” the world in order to reach it (cf. John 15:18; 17:16), for the Gospel message possesses universal relevance and, by its very nature as God-given propositional truth, unchanging. However, church leadership must recognize that the church is to be “in” the world (cf. John 17:11, 18) in the sense that we are still here on earth (for we were not instantly translated into the presence of the Lord when we were saved) so that we may carry out our task as ambassadors of the King until He returns to inaugurate His reign in all of its fullness. Being “in” the world as ambassadors necessarily implies that we are to be constantly reaching out to communicate the Gospel in ways that are understandable and meaningful to the culture around us.
For the church to remain static in its outreach and methods of communicating with the culture is to stubbornly stand opposed the effective advancement of the Gospel of our Lord. Paul’s charge to “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) simply does not apply to the effective, relevant communication of the Gospel by Holy Spirit-empowered and –sensitive saints who are pursuing what is good and eschewing the wicked elements within culture. Paul’s own preaching on Mars Hill in Acts 17 displays a willingness to confront the world with the Gospel on its own turf, utilizing fleeting and changing elements of localized culture (which is itself shaped by those who are created in the image of God) as touchstones for the unchanging truth of the Gospel. Therefore, culturally relevant evangelism cannot be what the Holy Spirit is forbidding in Romans 12:2.
The church never needs to change (its message) but always needs to change (the form that the message takes). Christian leaders must refuse to be defeated by the familiar rhythms of the church’s existence. This merely condemns the church to continue down the same failed path as our most recent predecessors.  The solution cannot be to simply shout the message louder. We must change the way we are delivering the message. It is the task of the men whom God has called to pastor our churches to constantly and consistently lay the foundation for effective change within their respective congregations.
McShane and Von Glinow (2008) point out that “effective change occurs by unfreezing the current situation, moving to a desired condition, and then refreezing the system so that it remains in this desired state” (p. 489). In light of what has been said above, any refreezing that occurs should be understood as contingent and temporary.
The church needs to recognize that we are sojourners and pilgrims in this world (1 Peter 2:11). As such, we need to stop building immutable, permanent edifices that testify to the methodologies and religion of past generations. We need to stop sitting around pining about the supposed glory days of Christian yore and whining that the culture has moved on from Churchianity to something else. We need to stop practicing a dead Nostaligianity  and embrace a living, vibrant, New Testament Christianity.
Our post-church culture has moved so far beyond these older forms of the expression of the Christian faith that it no longer understands or even values them. My prayer is that church leaders of all ages would recognize the value and necessity of moving their congregations in directions where we can make the Gospel make sense again in our culture. My prayer is for a great “unfreezing” to occur in our churches. It is my conviction that unless such an unfreezing takes place, we will not see Gospel revival again in our lifetimes.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. (2006). Version 2.1. Accordance Bible Software, Version 8.2.3, 2009.
Lindsey, B. (2009). Nostalgianomics: Liberal economists pine for days no liberal should want to revisit. The Wall Street Journal. Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124508075585515437.html [24 June 2009].
McShane, S. L. & Von Glinow, M. A. (2008). Organizational Behavior: Emerging Realities for the Workplace Revolution. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
A Question of Mangement: Carol Bartz on how Yahoo’s organizational structure got in the way of innovation. (2009). The Wall Street Journal. Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203431004574196080698220124.html [24 June 2009].
Shalit, W. (2009). Delighting in dust bunnies: The elusive quest for domestic order. The Wall Street Journal. Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204482304574217822376214350.html [24 June 2009].
 I owe the structure and wording of this and the previous sentence to a portion of Wendy Shalit’s “Delighting in Dust Bunnies: The elusive quest for domestic order.”
 I came up with the term “Nostalgianity” after reading Brink Lindsey’s “Nostalgianomics: Liberal economists pine for days no liberal should want to revisit.”
Note: Illustrations are from McShane and Von Glinow’s Organizational Behavior.