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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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An excerpt from our new book “Penguins in the Pews: Climate, Change and Church Growth” by J. Russell Crabtree

Purchase Here
PURCHASE HERE

An Introduction from “Penguins in the Pews”

In a study published in Nature, scientists showed that over the past 50 years the numbers of emperor penguins in Antarctica have dropped by more than 50 percent.  The problem:  The current climate cannot support penguin populations, and emperor penguins in particular are having trouble adapting to the change.

Eight thousand miles to the north, a similar problem is devastating populations of Protestants where, over the past 50 years, membership in most mainline churches has dropped by more than half.  The problem: like their penguin cousins, the current climate in most churches does not offer a compelling reason to belong, and members are having trouble adapting to the change.

Members realize that something must be done.  When nearly 200,000 members from over 1,300 churches were asked where they would like the church to invest additional energy, they prioritized “develop a comprehensive plan to reach new members” as the first or second priority 92% of the time.  With an average age over 53 years, the members of the typical mainline church are significantly older than the general population.  Conscious of the demographic hole for younger cohorts in their congregations, 72% of churches ranked “make necessary changes to reach families with children and youth” as first or second as well.

The concern for numeric growth is undoubtedly a response to nearly 50 years of membership decline in mainline denominational churches.  A review of the last ten years of data from the churches in the Holy Cow! Consulting database reveals that this decline continues, and is universal across all denominations.  (See Figure 1)

Figure 1  Decline in Attendance Universal for Mainline Churches

decline

Congregational leaders are looking for resources that can help them address these priorities.  When 20,000 leaders were asked where they wanted their middle judicatory to invest additional energy, “equipping leaders to reach new members” was the first or second priority 100% of the time.  Given the opportunity, it is reasonable to assume that leaders would prioritize services from church consultants in a similar order.

Over the years, leaders have adopted a number of different perspectives on this decline as they guide churches.

In some quarters, it has been treated as a non-issue.  From this perspective, churches are called to be faithful.  Numeric growth or decline is in God’s hands.  The advantage of this approach is that it frees leaders from the complexities involved in making new disciples and allows them to focus solely on issues bubbling up in the corporate consciousness.

A related approach has been to treat numeric decline as beneficial.  The thought here is that many persons who joined the church in the 50’s and 60’s were members in name only.  Their departure from the church has left a core of more committed members who can now be about a ministry unhampered by the inertia of half-heartedness.

A third approach has been to treat numeric growth as a bi-product of church vitality.  If a church is healthy, it will automatically grow.  If a church is not growing, it is a sign that something is internally amiss.  This approach allows members to simply focus on the health of the church with the assumption that numeric growth will follow.

A fourth approach has been to engage the issue of church growth directly through programs that have a proven track record in other faith communities.  What one church can do, another can do.  The advantage of this approach is that it offers clarity through a set of programmatic blueprints.

An alternative approach is what I call an intelligent system growth strategy.  In contrast to the perspectives above it is built on four core affirmations.

  • Church growth is the result of a core commitment to making disciples, whether understood as individual salvation or incorporation into a soul-saving community.
  • Church growth is ecological in nature. An unhealthy church environment tends to foster a decline in numbers rather than growth.  The churches that are losing members at the fastest rates are those that are the least healthy.
  • Church growth occurs when strategies are employed that are tailored to a particular context. Programs adopted from other churches without consideration of climate and culture will generally fail.
  • Church growth strategies benefit from organizational intelligence, made possible by information technology, which provides valuable insights that can clarify factors that impede or enhance church growth.

I will say more about what I mean by an intelligent system in the next chapter.

This book is written for leaders at every level.

This book is for church leaders serving on planning teams of various kinds, most of whom serve churches with members who indicate that reaching new people is their highest priority.

This book is for the regional association leaders, conferences, dioceses, synods, presbyteries, and districts who are being asked by local leaders to make “equipping leaders to reach new members” their highest priority.

This book is for professional church consultants who shoulder the responsibility of guiding churches in directions that are both faithful and fruitful.

Much of this book is built on the approach detailed in the book Owl Sight:  Evidence-Based Discernment and the Promise of Organizational Intelligence.[2]  Readers will find Owl Sight to be a helpful preface to this one.

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=98565&page=1

[2] Crabtree, J. Russell, Owl Sight, Evidence-Based Discernment and the Promise of Organizational Intelligence for Ministry, Magi Press, 2012

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