Moving Past the Same Old Plan – How OI can help

As the team at Holy Cow! Consulting works with congregations all over the country, we find ourselves experiencing two things quite frequently.

The first is the limitation of count data and the same old responses to that data. You don’t have to do a lot of research to find that a large number of mainstream denominations are experiencing decline in worship attendance, as well as a decline in membership numbers.  Often the response from regional associations to this decline is that congregations can mitigate these losses by (1) sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and (2) connecting with the growing number of the spiritual but not-religious unchurched people in their communities.

Here we see the limitations of count data. At a national level, denominations know virtually nothing about the kinds of experiences members and visitors are having in their churches.  They have no choice but to continue citing the same statistics with the same proposed solutions.

But in fact, churches do not benefit from a pep talk urging them to reach out. Reaching new members and incorporating them into the life of the church is already the first or second priority of 99% of the denominational churches in the USA.  The real problem that needs to be addressed can only be discovered through witness data, the power of letting members and visitors speak.

When we listen, we discover the real issues:  in the typical church,  only half of the members are clearly satisfied and more than a third (37%) feel members are simply “going through the motions.”  Until this changes, it will be impossible to make the case that the church is a better option for their lives than the local library, which performs many of the same functions of the church and with a 90% satisfaction level.  There are exceptional churches that rise about these generalizations which we call transformational churches.  However, our focus on count data means we are neither identifying them nor learning from them fast enough. This also indicates that our congregations are not adapting.

The second experience is a call from an interim pastor who has stepped into a church where the previous pastor left in a state of frustration.   In this all too frequent situation, when we run the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) and look at the Vital Signs report of the results,  it shows a church in the hospice quadrant.  This means that unless the church makes changes in the system to achieve a higher level of missional flexibility, the next pastor will also fail, and the next, and the next.  This is not the case of finding the leader that fits in the congregational culture but rather a situation where the congregation must decide it is time to change. Without this congregational self-awareness, we are sentencing leaders to failure.

These hospice congregations have made reaching new people their highest priority  (as urged by their denomination), but they are a congregation where only 30% of the members feel positive about the church and over 50% of members feel the congregation is just going through the motions.  This is not the setting where new people will feel the energy and vibrance of what Christ can bring to their lives within the body of a congregation. Outreach by this church is not only futile; it is likely poisonous.

The way to move past this same old plan that is failing our congregations is organizational intelligence.  The enlightenment from Organizational Intelligence (OI) offers meaningful hope for breaking out of the tired clichés and sermonic urgings. OI helps identify practical strategies that hold real promise.  It presses congregations to look deeper than count data- helping them take a meaningful look at where they are today, not where they wish they were, but where they truly are in terms of organizational health.  And folded into next steps, OI can help move congregations to where they are called to be.

We are here to help when your congregation or regional association is ready to begin this journey.

 

 

Restore™: Our Conflict Management Consulting and Organizational Intelligence

Conflict is a part of life.  It is something we have in common; we’ve all experienced it.  And we have all developed individual patterns of response to conflict.  Some of those patterns are productive and lead to increased authenticity in relationships.  Some of those patterns are destructive and can lead to divisiveness.

Congregations, like all organizations, develop patterns for handling conflict as well.  Those patterns can deepen respect and love for those with different views or they can create an environment from which a disturbing amount of conflict emanates.  When the deeply conflicted environment is allowed to go unchecked over time, it has the power to distort facts, destroy relationships, divide communities, and deviate our course from our mission and vision. It can keep congregations from becoming what they are called to be in Christ.

The good news is that congregations can learn to manage conflict more effectively.  But getting there requires the first step of understanding WHY the congregation finds itself in conflict, dealing with the current reality (however harsh or hard to examine), learning new skills for getting to better solutions, and gaining genuine closure.  All of this must happen through an intentional process of seeking to understand, seeking forgiveness, and seeking restoration.

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This requires a steady non-anxious look in the mirror.  It begins with organizational intelligence which allows the congregational leadership, in a systematic way, to look at the health of the church as an organization.  This is accomplished through soliciting input, using the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT),  from every voice in the body-none louder than another, none more influential than another.  And it requires an examination and understanding of the culture of the church.  All too often, it is the organizational culture that is at the root of conflict.

Through its work with close to 3,000 congregations across the country, Holy Cow! Consulting has a clear understanding of both the dead ends where congregations too often find themselves and best practices for congregations that can lead to vitality.   For a congregation in deep conflict, most often, nothing in the church is going to improve until that conflict is identified, mediated, and reconciled.  The conflicted congregation needs all of these steps in order to escape the cycle of poorly managed conflict that frequently depresses the whole system and leads to loss of morale, clarity of purpose and membership.

We can help and want to work with you.  If your Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) results indicate growing or significant conflict, we have the skills and processes to help move you to the other side through a customized but intentional process of education, practice, and reconciliation.

Would you like more information?

Organizational Intelligence as a Fearless Moral Inventory

 

In one of her lectures, Dr. Roberta Hestenes challenged her students “not to witness for Jesus until you are fun to be with.”  She got a laugh with that quip, but there is a profound, practical truth for churches at the heart of it.  The quality of the experience that members of a church share is the most decisive factor in the mission of a church, and outweighs the combined impact of all the programs, projects, and personal abilities resident within the congregation.

The research backs that up.  Nearly 90% of churches with poor climate are experiencing losses in worship attendance and no program of “inviting people to church” will be effective until the climate improves.  Whatever their particular theological perspective, the witness of churches to Jesus will be muted until their congregations are communities of purpose, peace, openness, leadership, followship, and joy.

In more liturgical traditions, Lent is a season during which individuals are invited to explore the shadows within their lives that are impeding spiritual progress.  As Hal Elrod put it, “Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.”  We can expect to hear many challenging sermons addressed to us as individuals inviting us to become more aware of our tendencies to fall short of the abundant life Jesus has promised us.

Organizational intelligence takes the experience of Lent to a whole different level.  Instead of focusing on the shadows within individuals, organizational intelligence explores the shadows within congregations as a whole:  tendencies to be conflict-prone, inwardly focused, shallow, ritualized, unfocused, rigid, inhospitable, chaotic, and uninspired.    Only as these shadows are identified, owned, and addressed can a congregation become what God has called it to be.-

While it may sound strange for an entire congregation to engage in the spiritual work of self-reflection and even repentance, it is actually an old idea.  Most of Paul’s letters were addressed to congregations.  In the book of Revelation, the Risen Christ addresses congregations as systems, including the church at Laodicea, which suffers from being neither hot nor cold (read “on the fence”).  When Jesus says he stands at the door and knocks, it is not into individual hearts that he seeks entrance, but an entire church.

In contrast to the New Testament, most of the church’s liturgy is focused on individuals.  Prayers of confession typically address individual failures, not the sins of a congregation as a whole.  The Lord’s Prayer is corporate, but most members would be hard pressed to name a corporate trespass of a particular congregation when they say “forgive us our trespasses.”  Rarely is the passing of the peace linked to a congregational tendency to duke it out.  Creeds are “I” statements.  Much of the hymnody is individualistic as well.  Amazing grace saves wretches like me, not like us.

“They’ll know we are Christians by our love” hits the mark, as long as it is not sentimentalized and used superficially to distract from the ways that congregations are not loving to one another nor to the stranger who enters their communities.  In many
churches, nearly 25% of members indicate they are disturbed by the level of conflict within their congregation.  In a world starving for hope, only 17% of members believe they live in faith communities where members are comfortable sharing faith stories.  Godsgrace-light.gifThese are not simply the shadows of individuals but entire communities.  Churches will not grow and flourish as long as these are unexplored and untouched by the light of God’s grace.

All twelve step programs have, as their fourth step, the exercise of making a fearless moral inventory.  In many ways, organizational intelligence is precisely that same exercise engaged at the congregational level.  It builds on the previous steps of acknowledging powerlessness, believing in God’s ability to help us, and turning our lives over to God.   Congregational sobriety is freedom from the internal demons that unconsciously sabotage its best intentions.  Only when it has done that penitential work can it finally get to the twelfth step:  carrying its message to others.

– J. Russell Crabtree

Skating together – OI and embracing congregational diversity

I had a bit of an unexpected long drive last night from Milwaukee to Columbus.  Along  the way, I heard a TED talk about community and order.  The speaker talked about how if you pitched the concept of the old style roller rink to some friends for the first time it would sound something like this “I want to buy a large warehouse, lay the floor with concrete.  Then I am going to add some hard rails on the sides and have people without certification, training or helmets skate around the floor just in one direction. There will be no pattern just one direction to skate. To music. It will be great.”

It sounds ridiculous when you think of it like that.  But, when you actually go roller skating in a skating rink it works.  Somehow we come together in this community of skaters, skate in one direction, and it is all to music.  Some us skate fast and have to move around others. Some of us fall and make the person behind us fall. We then brush ourselves off and get back to skating.   At the end of the day, it is great.

This weekend I had the opportunity to work with a congregation in Wisconsin. Their descriptive map from the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) looked like this:

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On paper, they have people who are more conservative in their theology  (scripture is the literal word of God, conversion is the first step in forming a betters society, etc.) and people who are more progressive in their theology.   This congregation has people that are more adaptable to change and those who need more intentional steps to help them move towards change.   Like the roller rink idea, on paper, it might seem like having this community work together may end up in a large pile up of stalemates and divisiveness – skaters in all directions with a hard floor beneath.

Instead, as we worked through all the congregation’s data, we kept this diversity in front of us for a large part of the conversation. There is work to do. This congregation has experienced some tough set-backs.  However, the leadership kept naming their diverse congregation as a strength and coming back to it as a focal point. This type of thoughtful leadership, with a deep care towards their level of internal diversity, will aid the congregation through their time of pastoral transition.   It will also help determine what gifts and skills their next pastor needs to have as well as what strengths and growth edges the leadership needs to focus on while they are in transition.

When Paul wrote I Corinthians he appealed to the church community in Corinth who was experiencing a divisiveness in their leadership and in their thinking.  He wrote “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  1 Corinthians 1:10. 

What I heard yesterday from the leadership of this congregation was exactly this.  They have fully claimed being a congregation that has folks from differing theologies, adaptability levels and places on the descriptive map.  When they come together in the name of Christ, when they work and worship together with all of the different thoughts, beliefs and ways of moving in community it works.   It is an unexpected unity. For me this was a great reminder that if we all keep our eyes on Christ and work towards our preferred future of ourselves in our congregations, we really can skate quite beautifully – even if you throw in an occasional fall now and again.

 

-Emily Swanson

 

 

 

 

Introducing “Front Door, Back Door: Why People Join and Leave Churches” by J. Russell Crabtree

The story we tell ourselves…a person has a seminal experience in their life when they decide they need to begin or renew their spiritual journey by joining a Christian church. Since there are about 300,000 churches in the United States, they have lots of choices. They attend a few and pick out the one that seems the friendliest. They join. Their attendance at worship strengthens their experience of God. They begin to set aside time in their daily life for spiritual practice. They find that the more they get involved in the church, the more they are growing spiritually. Their participation in the church carries over into other aspects of their lives, including their work life, which they begin to see as an extension of their Christian ministry. As time goes on they become even more impressed by the dedication of the people of the church in general and of the leaders in particular. As the years pass—twenty, thirty, forty years—they find peace in knowing that this is the church where they will finish their life’s journey in the company of other, longtime members.

It all makes a neat package. There is only one problem.

Virtually none of it is true.

In this groundbreaking book, Front Door Back Door, Russ Crabtree explores some of the most basic assumptions that leaders make regarding the churches they serve and what happens in the lives of members who join, stay, and leave.  It’s not just another book about losses; it offers insight and suggestions for creating learning congregations and developmental trajectories for their members.

In Front Door Back Door you will learn…

  • The characteristics of churches people tend to join and why there are so few of them.
  • The three things that churches tend to do well in developing the people who join them whether conservative, progressive, or somewhere in between.
  • The areas where people tend to coast without much growth even after years attending a typical church.
  • The areas where people tend to experience deterioration over time; the longer they stay in a typical church, the less positive they feel.

On the whole, churches are not learning. Churches with more seasoned members tend to fare no better than churches with more “rookies” in attendance in dealing with conflict, achieving their mission, or engaging their members.

The author proposes a core competency model that is aligned with a church’s particular mission so that both members and congregations can be more fruitful and, in the words of Jesus, bear fruit that abides.

Order Front Door, Back Door

What do we mean by Satisfaction and why do congregations need it?

When taking the Congregation Assessment Tool, we measure how satisfied members are in each congregation. While we might know generally what makes us happy, this look at satisfaction digs deeper.   When we talk about satisfaction we are talking about that sense of peaceful contentment when we sit in the pews with each other and work alongside each other – it is that feeling of belonging, and lack of discord. It is important to understand why we look at this to measure the vitality of congregations.

The word “satisfaction” or “satisfy” gets mixed reviews in the Bible. The Psalms speak of satisfaction as a way that God connects to his people.  In Psalm 90:14, the writer entreats “Satisfy us in the morning with your loving kindness that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”  Psalms 145:16 expands this thought to include other creatures:  “You open your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

Other passages are not so sanguine.  Paul sees the desire to satisfy others as an obstacle.  “For do I now seek to satisfy men or God?” he asks in Galatians.  As a tool of political expediency, we stray into the realm of the demonic.  Mark tells us that “Pilate, wishing to satisfy the mob, released Barabbas for them, and after scourging Jesus handed Him over for crucifixion.”

In our experience, satisfaction in a church is rarely achieved by appealing to the mob, primarily because there are multiple mobs.  In truth, we find that what satisfies one mob often alienates another.  Satisfaction is achieved by fulfilling a mission that does not ignore human desires but transcends them. It succinctly answers the question “why do we do what we do the way we do it?”  This is the satisfaction that is coveted as a primary goal in life to be achieved through a direct, frontal assault on the rest of the universe.  It is its own reward.Also importantly, there is another kind of satisfaction that is a by-product of other activities, like happiness is a by-product and can never be achieved by “trying to be happy.”  Churches that land in the transformation quadrant are generally filled with members who have clarity about a mission that transcends them and draws them into an alternative reality where the Gospel is plausible and compelling…and satisfying.

You don’t know what you don’t know – Leadership Clarity Check™

To be effective,  leaders must have an accurate understanding of the starting point for the organizations they lead. This is especially true for Christian organizations where the incarnational model established by Jesus impels us to enter into the lives of the people we want to serve. If leaders have widely differing estimates of where people are, it can be an underlying source of conflict, reduced giving, and low morale. A strategic plan developed by a group of people who believe that 20 percent of the people feel positive Unknown-2.jpeg
about the church or regional body will be quite different from one developed by a group of people who believe that 70 percent feel positive.

The Leadership Clarity Assessment™ is a brief, 10 question, online assessment in which leaders are asked to provide their best estimate of the perspectives, experiences, and aspirations of the people they serve and lead, either in a church or in a regional association such as a Diocese, Presbytery, Synod, or Conference.

The purpose of the Leadership Clarity Assessment™ is to help leaders evaluate how clear they are as a leadership team regarding the thinking of the people they are called to serve and lead. It identifies a number of key indicators that have been found to make a critical difference in how members make decisions about supporting the church or the regional body. It then provides feedback to the leadership team evaluating whether the team is very clear, clear, somewhat clear, or very unclear on each of those key indicators.

Even if you have already decided to use the Congregation Assessment Tool as a congregation, the Leadership Clarity Check™ can be extremely useful.  First, it will probably confirm that you have made the right decision to conduct the survey. Running a survey requires a significant investment of time and money. Members will want to know why it is necessary. The results from the Leadership Clarity Assessment‚ will help answer that question.  Second, it will help the leadership team manage the “surprise” factor when the actual data is provided from the survey. Conducting an assessment is a spiritual journey from the shadows into the light. People often need help to stay positively engaged in the learning process when the results are different from their perceptions. Finally, the Leadership Clarity Assessment‚ can help leaders gain insight into patterns of conflict, declining resources, and frustration as they realize that some of the underlying causes have to do with varying perceptions that can be brought together with the right information.

To learn more or to order:
 https://holycowconsulting.blog/leadership-clarity-check/.

  Holy Cow! Consulting – organizational intelligence you can use to make better decisions, in less time, with more confidence.

The Conflicted Congregation

All congregations have conflict. So, the question really isn’t “is there conflict?” – we Unknown-7.jpegknow it is there. The real question is “how do you manage the conflict you have?” Or put another way, is this congregation a place where people can say “I was wrong and I am sorry” and receive an open and loving response in return.  High levels of conflict that remain unmanaged or unhealed in congregations can be painful for everyone.  They often result in a loss of missional focus, a loss of membership, burnt-out leadership, a loss of the sense of family, and a deterioration in our spiritual life together as a congregation.

The questions that bring conflict to light in the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) ask whether folks are feeling there is a disturbing amount of conflict, if they move through conflict by mutual effort, if there is a healthy tolerance of differing beliefs and opinions, and if there is frequently a small group of people that oppose how the majority wants to move forward.  Sometimes these questions in the CAT will reveal that a congregation has become extremely conflicted.  When we review the data with these congregations there are often tears, as well as the frustration of feeling so stuck in the conflict, and many times, deep sighs and a statement that “it is nice to just finally admit that there is conflict out loud.”  We always say to these congregations this is your story today but it doesn’t have to be your story tomorrow with the warning that the road ahead will take commitment and intentional steps.

In 2015, a congregation in New England took the CAT while in a pastoral transition.  When it was compared to other 1,500 churches in our database, their dashboard indicated that there were in the 11% in conflict, meaning that 89% of the other congregations in our database were managing their conflict better.   This high level of unmanaged conflict had bleed into everything – leaving them with low hospitality scores (8%, or 92% of the other churches were more hospitable), low morale (24%), and affecting all of the other performance areas where we want them to be doing well.

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2015

After working through the review of their data with the support of their Synod, this congregation had to decide what to do.  Prayerfully, they chose to own the data, recognizing that it was time to deal with their conflict and started their new story.

This congregation  realized that during this time of pastoral transition they would need help to clearly address and respond to the conflict.  They couldn’t rush forward to call a new pastor without serious self-reflection and initial steps.  They instead hired a skilled Intentional Interim who led a series of cottage meetings, openly discussed concerns, and directly addressed what had become “the two sides” engaging conversation and reconciliation.

The congregational leadership then prepared an honest profile to call a new pastor.  They were better able to articulate both the skills needed in their next pastor and the challenges they still faced as a congregation.  The congregation was transparent about the tremendous steps they’d taken with the strong leadership of their interim, acknowledging that there was still work to be done in moving forward.

When they found their new permanent pastoral leadership, that person came with the experience they needed – because the congregation knew exactly what they truly needed and were honest with their pastoral candidates.  Their new pastor brought experience, strong mediation and communication skills, and a great deal of enthusiasm and energy for ministry. Together, they continue to face some challenges but the match is strong and the foundation for moving forward was strongly set with their Intentional Interim.

This same congregation ran the CAT again and we sent them their new reports two weeks ago.  This is their new dashboard – their morale is in the 79%, conflict levels are at the 55%, and look at the hostility score moving up: west barnstable 2017

This is a congregation that has made enormous strides in the last two years. If you asked this congregation, their middle judicatory team, or their pastors, I am sure they would say it has been a lot of work.  But their ability to say “this is our story today but it wouldn’t and it can’t be our story tomorrow” has allowed God to move them closer towards true healing.

I would like to extend my gratitude to both the congregation and the New England Synod for allowing us to share in this work.  When we see the data tell this kind of story we jump out of our chairs at Holy Cow! Consulting because this is why we do what we do – not so that congregations can have a lot of numbers and statistics, but instead, so that congregations can see where they truly are now so they can become and move to who they are called to be.

-Emily Swanson, President of Holy Cow! Consulting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interpreting Data with your Story

Autumn is a busy time for us, as it is for many of you. Our team will be traveling quite a bit and working with congregations both onsite and online.   This also means that we will be meeting many people and congregations for the first time – which is one of the favorite parts of our job
at Holy Cow! Consulting.

Before I walk into any interpretation of a congregation’s assessment results, I know their data very well. I can see how satisfied and energized people are, where they are looking for that satisfaction, what cultural strengths and shadow-sides they might be experiencing, how conflict is moving, the congregational strengths they have to leverage and the places that need growth edges. I can also see their hopes for where they want to go.  This is what organizational intelligence offers.

But what we don’t have is the narrative – the back-story of that congregation – the list of the things that have been tried, the ministries that are hard to let go of because of their history, the clergy that has been loved, the leadership that has been faithful.  The feelings that come with our stories in our congregations also provide a background for those stories and for the data.  Both the stories and the feelings around them are important because they give the data a storyboard and they provide the needed imagination of how to move forward.

Each congregation has a story. Data doesn’t replace it, but it does help us look at where the congregation is as a whole and lets us know what is typical and exceptional about that place where the congregation finds itself.  The data also helps the congregational leadership take a breath, get a clear picture, and decide what is next; always with the reminder that this is your congregation’s story today but tomorrow a new story can begin.  And as always, the first step to any good story is prayer.

We look forward to hearing your story.

Emily Swanson
President of Holy Cow! Consulting

Assessment as a Spiritual Journey

All truth is God’s truth. That God is loving and gracious, that e=mc2, and that curious tendency of all children to giggle at hiding in plain sight with just their eyes covered, all these are expressions of God’s truth. The process of discovering God’s truth, in any of its many forms, always has an element of revelation to it as if one were being shown something. Using the vernacular of our day, our own personal discoveries have the quality of “a light coming on.” This is also the language used by Jesus as he describes the discovery of God’s nature and purposes in the world. “He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The process of discovering the perspectives, experiences, and aspirations of a church is also one of revelation and has the revelatory quality of moving from darkness into light. In response, it is not uncommon for people to speak of “a light coming on” in the experience as they come to understand aspects of the entire body that they could not possibly have known from the relatively small number of interactions that characterizes the day to day relationships in most organizations. This process of reality moving out of the shadows and into the light is a spiritual journey.

As a spiritual journey, it has all the elements one would expect.
There are insights that evoke a liberating “aha” as connections
are uncovered that were not intuitively obvious. Some aspects of
the process tell us nothing new, but they express what we do
know using language that enables us to get a firmer grasp.

Sometimes the need for healing is revealed in the relational
wounds that come to light, often painful and occasionally urgent.Unknown-3.jpeg
There are the common resistances that we all experience, the sense of inferiority or shame or fear that tempts us to retreat
back into the perceived safety of the darkness. We often find ourselves in denial struggling with what it will mean to embrace these truths which can often feel like loss.  So, we engage with an air dismissiveness and return to our unfruitful behaviors which led us here in the first place.

Finally, there is the concrete action that must  root itself in the earth of any spiritual journey and express itself in fruit for the Kingdom of God. The fulfillment of a spiritual journey ultimately hinges, not on the research design, but upon the spiritual practice that surrounds it. Without this spiritual practice, insights degenerate into trivia, wounds are probed but not healed, resistances harden into defensiveness and denial, and the promised new life fails to materialize as an incarnate reality. King David’s greatest loss of life was not to an enemy but to his own inability to manage information and keep it disentangled from his own ego.

For these reasons, it is critical that an evidence-based discernment process be interwoven with a robust spiritual practice including prayer, reflection, confession, devotions, study, and worship. Because an assessment generates a symbolic narrative, that is, a corporate story told through the symbol of numbers, we must ponder several questions:

  • How do we deal with our stories? While the individual contribution to the assessment is confidential, the corporate story will be quite public.
  • How might the disclosure of our corporate story bring insight, healing, and renewal?
  • In the past, how have we dealt with surprises, with things we thought were true but we discovered were not?
  • In that same past, how have we dealt with our wounds, our resistances, and our tendency to intellectualize as an escape from change?
  • What Scriptures help us reflect on truth, listening to God, trusting God’s plan for us and facing change?
  • How do we find access to the grace of God in this process of discovery so that our journey might be one expressive of Jesus, full of grace and truth?

When we take the time to answer these questions and weave our data with the story of our congregation, then prayerfully we can move forward with hope.

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