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.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organizational Intelligence and the development of Evidence Based Congregational Membership

One of the things that we frequently discuss with a congregation’s leadership is the idea of now we have the data, but what do we do with it.  It is here that the conversation turns to not just being leaders but having an evidence-based leadership – encouraging leaders to engage in a discernment process that integrates organizational intelligence into their leadership decision making. This is important for the leadership as they move forward. But, leaders are not the only ones in a congregation cannot work alone.

Organizational intelligence makes something else possible:  an evidence-based membership.  An evidence-based membership is one that has learned how to integrate organizational intelligence into their behaviors. 

Let’s look at why this is so important through the following example:

A church takes the CAT and discovers that it is in the Recovery Quadrant.  In addition, a lack of flexibility appears to be the primary factor inhibiting their vitality.  In a politically-based membership, leaders try to win support for developing a more adaptable culture through their own relational cache.   This is a top-down approach that inevitably invites polarization around the local configuration of relational networks.

In an evidence-based membership, the entire congregation confronts its own lack of flexibility, understands the trajectory of that organizational culture, and wrestles with the likely consequences of choosing to become more adaptable or remain settled.  The focus of the discernment process shifts from how folks relate to a particular leader or leadership team to how they are going to deal with their own corporate and individual behavior.

The implications of this shift are profound and include:

  • Specifying clearer, more concrete changes in behavior for members who are committed to developing a more vital congregation.
  • Relieving pressure on young clergy who are thrust into systems with politically-based memberships that repeatedly cycle through conflicts that have little to do with him/her.
  • Developing change processes that are also bottom-up rather than cascading all change down from the top.

Developing an evidence-based membership requires all the steps of developing an evidence-based leadership, beginning with helping them understand that their biggest problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know.

We are not suggesting that OI will or should eliminate the need for the political and relationally based components of leadership.  These types of components will still exist but having an evidence-based membership frees leaders from spending all their time and energy answering WHY so that they can invest their leadership into WHAT’S NEXT.

Telling the Story of the Transformational Congregation

When we call a congregation a Transformational Congregation, we are talking about a congregation with high energy and satisfaction looking particularly at how members themselves are experiencing the church rather than imposing our own external definition.    In our work we have found that just as healthy organizations have certain characteristics ingrained in their corporate culture, healthy or transformational congregations have certain characteristics ingrained in their culture.

We typically find that transformational congregations have the following characteristics:

  • TransformationalInspiring and engaging Worship.
  • Flexibility (the ability to change to meet the needs of the congregation)
  • Conviction that church has given new meaning to life.
  • Inviting, friendly body of people with good relational skills.
  • Open, responsive decision making process (not thwarted by the same small group of people)
  • Opportunities for service in the church and the world that fit a person’s gifts and passions.

A transformational congregation has strategic options that other congregations may not because it does not have to spend a lot of time on internal issues, like managing conflict or regaining trust in the leadership of the congregation.  Instead, it can focus on more external things such as numeric growth, program expansion (ministries, facilities, education),  replication (church planting, mentor), and external impact (local, regional, international).

It is important to note that a congregation with scores in the Transformational Quadrant does not guarantee that it is growing, expanding, replicating or impacting.  Instead the  congregation must choose the right strategies.  In fact, the shadow side of the Transformational Quadrant is that congregations can use the information to avoid taking further risks that growth may require.   It takes as much work for a transformational congregation to continue to have that high energy and satisfaction, keeping the momentum moving forward, as it does for the reinvention congregation in the low energy and satisfaction quadrant to reinvent itself.

We hear a lot about the struggles facing our congregations in every denomination, in every geographical area, in every community.  But, at Holy Cow! Consulting, we also get to hear some pretty phenomenal stories of congregations doing great work and really transforming lives.   There are churches of less then 50 people in their average Sunday attendance that are transformational.  There are transformational churches in rural areas, in metropolitan areas, in the middle of prairies or the D.C. beltway.  There are transformational churches making strides every day and we think we should be celebrating those stories.

Over the next year, Holy Cow! Consulting will be spending some time on this blog telling the stories of these transformational churches from all over the country.  We are hoping these stories will serve as a way to inspire and a way to give hope as we all determine what the Lord is asking of us as congregations.

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Now Available: The State of the Episcopal Church in America

 

 

The State of the Episcopal Church in America

In his new book, The State of the Episcopal Church, J. Russell Crabtree examines the perspectives, experiences, and aspirations of a large cross section of members in the Episcopal Church. 

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The State of the Episcopal Church in America

An Organizational Intelligence Perspective

Russell Crabtree

$12.95 US  ·  Paperback

ISBN 9780997768725

6 x 9 x 0.4  ·  104 pages

MAGI Press

BUY HERE! 

In his reflection on the responses of nearly 41,000 members to a variety of questions, he addresses a number of topics including:

• How does the experience of Episcopalians compare with other mainline denominations?

• What are the five promises that Episcopalians want their churches to make and keep?

• What are some of the factors that make the difference between Episcopal churches that are experiencing vitality and those that are struggling?

• How are Episcopalians experiencing life in their congregations over their lifecycle ranging from the teenage years through child bearing, child rearing, empty nest, and retirement?

• As they think about the future, what are the aspirations of Episcopalians for their churches and how do these vary from Boomlets up through Boomers and the GI Generation?

Get ready for a few surprises as you read the answers to these questions, but also discover Episcopal perspectives on Scripture, spiritual practices, pastoral transitions, and their dioceses.

“…Russ Crabtree helps us live out our promises as a church that inspires our witness of God’s will and dream.” 

Susan Tamborini Czolgosz

A picture of health- Vitality and Somatic Knowing

imagesOne of the points of conversation in the broader faith community is my definition of a vital (what I call “transformational”) congregation.  Most definitions of a vital congregation follow what I would call a conceptual-behavioral approach.  A conceptual-behavioral approach establishes a set of externally developed metrics that focus on customs, beliefs, and values against which the congregation is evaluated.  For example, some groups would define a vital congregation as one which meets in a worshiping space that is free of symbols, holds an evangelical set of beliefs, and values individual
conversion.  The middle judicatory of a mainline denomination may have a very different set of customs, beliefs, and values, usually skewed to benefit the denomination itself.

The weakness of the conceptual-behavioral approach is that it fails to take into account the actual experience of the members in faith communities.  Neither concepts nor behaviors create meaning.  Most of us have been in situations where someone argues for ideas that leave us wondering what they have to do with real life.  In addition, we have participated in ritualized behaviors after which we have felt that we were simply going through motions.    In other words, the conceptual-behavioral approach fails to establish meaning, and faith communities are generators of meaning if they are anything.

The alternative approach that we have taken with organizational intelligence is what folks are now calling somatic-knowing, that is, knowledge that is attained through the experience of the body.  A somatic-knowing approach probes the emotional states that arise from the actual experiences of members.  Specifically, organizational intelligence defines a vital congregation by looking at two dimensions of somatic knowing: satisfaction (the experience of fullness and wholeness) and energy (the experience of excitement and purpose).  Fullness, wholeness, excitement, and purpose generate meaning in a way that custom, beliefs, and values alone cannot.

This definition of vitality solves a problem that denominations and religious systems have struggled with for years, namely, how to reach consensus on the particular customs, beliefs, and values that constitute vitality.  In the conceptual-behavioral approach, any group of thirty different leaders will develop thirty different lists that are then to be applied as external standards to the faith communities under their shepherding.

The fallacy of this approach can be seen in reflecting upon the behavior of a healthy individual.  A healthy individual has many different ways of expressing that health.  He could be a runner, a biker, a swimmer.  She can serve as a doctor, a lawyer, a barista, or a construction worker.  He could have many casual friends, or a few close ones.  She could earn a million dollars a year and give a hundred thousand to charity.  He could live on social security and volunteer in a local food pantry.  Health has so many options.

Similarly, a vital congregation has many different ways of expressing that health.  Some are going to be noisy and boisterous in worship.  Some are going to be quiet and reflective.  Some are going to focus a large percentage of their resources on international mission.  Some are going to excel at equipping individuals to understand their work as vocation.  Some are going to be led by a pastoral team.  Some are going to have a strong, central leader.  Some are going to meet in a warehouse.  Some are going to meet in a school.  Some are going to meet in exquisitely appointed sanctuaries.

Healthy churches have options.  In fact, one of the characteristics of healthy churches is that they capitalize on opportunities in ways that are creative and unique.

Unhealthy churches, like unhealthy individuals have restricted options.  I broke my ankle skydiving, and the injury limited many of my options that required physical activity.  In fact, if you look at persons who have broken their ankles, they all look pretty much the same.  They have a cast on their leg.  They keep their leg elevated.  They use crutches. They don’t move very fast.

The same is true with churches.  While healthy churches look very different from one another, struggling churches look very much the same.  Conflicted.  Settled.  Inwardly focused.  Fixated on scarcity.  Here’s the thing:  if you look at these churches through a customs, beliefs, and values lens, they may be holding up fairly well.  However, if you look at them through the lens of somatic knowing – fullness, wholeness, excitement, and purpose – their corporate lives are starved for meaning.

Do I worry that congregations with high levels of somatic knowing – fullness, wholeness, excitement, and purpose – have simply abandoned all interest in customs, beliefs, and values?  Not really.  That’s like asking if I worry that a healthy person might not be eating right, exercising, or getting enough sleep.  Vital congregations, like vital individuals, tend to be paying attention to the habits of mind and behavior that contributed to their health in the first place.

Russ Crabtree
Founder of Holy Cow! Consulting

Why Do We Talk about Congregational Culture?

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. –  Isaiah 64:8

“Organizational Culture” has become a very common phrase in business, non-profits and faith-based organizations. An organization’s culture represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of the organizational members. It is a product of many factors: organizational history, unwritten but understood rules, treatment of leadership, traditions, transparency of decision-making and how new ideas come to manifest themselves. Over the last ten years, many of the great organizational pundits have gone back and forth on whether organizational culture trumps strategy or if a good strategy wins the day. After a time, this type of argument becomes more about semantics than actual useful application. The real question is how does organizational culture affect strategic thinking, leadership and growth for organizations? The pundits can debate all day, the rest of us have work to do.

In congregations, the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT)™ examines culture using a congregation’s collective values and beliefs regarding the world and the wider community through the lens of their Christianity. This is their theology. The CAT also looks at how committed the congregation members are in moving towards their collective objectives. This is their flexibility or adaptability.

For a congregation’s strategic movement and priority-set to be embraced, it must have alignment with the congregation’s culture. This is true in terms of a congregation’s theology – a conservative congregation that believes that conversion is the first step to a better society needs to have ministry that fits with that belief set. Likewise, in order to avoid becoming stagnant, a congregation with limited flexibility will have to be mindful in next steps so that they are able to embrace change and create an environment that is open to new ideas.

It is important to note, that while we have found time and time again that theology does not hinder strategic movement, lack of flexibility can. With the rare exception (14 congregations out of 2,000 to be exact), the more settled the congregation becomes the harder it is for them to be a vital organization. This indicates that the more settled the congregation, the more imperative it becomes that next steps focus on flexibility so that the strategy can be rooted in culture, but, importantly, that the culture allows forward movement.

In order to help congregations strategically plan their next steps, we have to first understand their culture and how this will help, hinder, and propel growth of various kinds.  The often quoted phrase is “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Let’s get them at the table together. Because as we come to understand how culture affects a congregation’s next steps, we can truly begin to lead in way that is compassionate, mindful and effective.

– Emily Swanson, President

Holy Cow! Consulting