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?

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

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.

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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Coming this Summer: The State of the PCUSA by J. Russell Crabtree

We have shared before, our mission (or our why) at Holy Cow! Consulting, is to help regional associations and congregations, through an evidence-based discernment process, become vital, healthy organizations that better serve the Kingdom of God. As our database continues to grow, it is a part of our mission to use what we learn to help those regional associations and congregations that we have the opportunity to serve.

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This Summer, we will be publishing our fourth book about individual denominations – The State of the PCUSA.

The congregations included in the study participated for a wide variety of reasons: strategic planning, pastoral transitions, financial campaigns, to better understand their organizational health, to track progress, or as part of an effort their particular presbytery has undertaken to become more evidence- based in their ministries to and with congregations. These congregations all administered the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT)™.  Our sample is broad enough to be representative of all Presbyterian congregations within a confidence interval of ±5%.

This book represents our findings from 287 congregations with 40,000 responses from the members of those congregations.  It also includes every size, from smaller churches with under 100 in worship attendance to churches with over 1,000 persons in worship. While mega- churches and family sized churches possess significantly different cha
racteristics, they share this fact in common: member experience matters.

Because the Presbyterian Church is a denominational system, this book will include  an assessment of the relationship between local church members and their presbytery. It will also explore those perspectives, experiences, and aspirations using a separate instrument called Landscape™. This is one of the larger studies of its kind in the PCUSA, and perhaps unique in its scope which encompasses both local congregations and presbyteries.  This will include 13 different presbyteries with over 3,000 leaders reflecting on the work of their presbytery.

We look forward to sharing what we have learned in our work.  And as always, we are grateful for all of the people, the congregations and the regional associations that have contributed so greatly to our work and have touched our lives along the way.

 

 

 

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

Clergy-Focus, the Critical Clergy System and how the Middle Judicatory can help

Clergy:  Power and Vulnerability

With the exception of family-sized congregations, clergy are generally the individuals who hold the most power in a local parish.  Depending upon the polity, this includes the political, relational, moral, and platform dimensions of power.  The introduction of organizational intelligence (OI) into a system has the consequence of making the clergy person one of the most vulnerable, because he or she is the only person in the system where perceptions are individually focused.  This combination of power and vulnerability merits sensitivity on the part of OI interpretive and application consultants.

Since most middle judicatories are charged with particular oversight of their clergy, it is desirable for these bodies to prepare resources for clergy in congregations that are utilizing OI, especially if they are using OI systematically as an information system.  This is particularly true for clergy-focused systems.

The technical definition of a clergy-focused system can be found elsewhere.  Here it will suffice to say that a clergy-focused system is one where members tend to evaluate the vitality of the church through the lens of perceived clergy performance.  A clergy-critical system is one where members perceive that an improvement in the pastor-congregation relationship is the decisive factor in improving the vitality of the church.

Implications for a Clergy-Focused System

The fact that a system is clergy-focused can have a number of different implications and possible trajectories:

  • A “front and center” clergy person who can parley his/her relational capital into ministry and is a good fit for the congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership manage any narcissistic risks.
  • An overfunctioning clergy person who is paying a psychic price for success. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership manage tendencies to burn-out or flame-out.

Implications for a Clergy-Critical System

A clergy-critical system is essentially a clergy-focused system where things are not going well.  Again, there are a number of different implications and possible trajectories:

  • A pastor who is exercising the necessary leadership to shift the culture of a congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership by publicly and privately standing with them.  This usually occurs within the first several years of clergy tenure.
  • A pastor who is no longer, or never was a good fit for the congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership in a process of discernment regarding the pastoral relationship.
  • A leadership team that is beginning to engage in a project (strategic planning, leadership development, financial campaign) that avoids the clergy issue. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership avoid the costs of those failure paths by keeping the system focused on the primary issue.  Are they being led to (a) shift the church culture, (b) work on the pastoral relationship, or (c) dissolve the pastoral relationship?

In many cases, these will not be easy conversations.  However, many issues in clergy-
focused or clergy-critical systems will not improve with time.  Sometimes they will devolve into full-fledged crises of one kind or another in which no one wins and options are diminished.

Regimagesardless of where the congregation is, whether a clergy-focused or a clergy-critical system, there are important roles and conversations that the Middle Judicatory can be a part of – both in the short and long term.  Those early conversations on the part of middle judicatories can avoid painful, costly interventions down the road. These conversations and efforts can also aid clergy who may feel the weight of the congregation on their shoulders – before that weight becomes too much to bear alone.

From Holy Cow! Consulting and Crow’s Feet Consulting 

 

inSight©: Helping Regional Associations Help

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In our work with Regional Associations and congregations, we have found the following things to be true:

  1. A transformational Regional Association is one that has focused on creating vital, growing congregations and is discovering effective ways of achieving that vision.
  2. Using Organization Intelligence (OI) is an important step towards determining an organization’s health and next steps needed. But OI is also only as good as its application.  Without applying OI systematically to move congregations towards becoming vital reflections of our good works in Christ, OI just becomes data.

As we head into Autumn, Holy Cow! Consulting will begin rolling out some new ways to help Regional Associations help congregations.  For the systemic application of OI, by the end of September we will finish completely rolling out our inSight webpages.  inSight is a system of information that empowers Regional Associations to serve a transformational role in their congregations.  It is designed especially for those Regional Associations whose primary goal is to develop healthy, vital congregations.

use this one.pngFor each Regional Association, with five or more congregations that have taken the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT), we will create a private webpage.  On that page, the leadership of the Regional Association will find dashboards of all of their congregations.  These dashboards will show the energy-satisfaction levels of the congregations, the education and motivation, conflict management and levels of trust in leadership, the cultures of the congregations, spiritual vitality, hospitality and worship scores combined with the level of involvement that is meaningful to congregations. The webpage will also include all of Vital Signs (CAT results) for each congregation so everything is in one place and easily accessible.

How Does this Help? 

Regional Associations have a lot of different tasks and roles to fill as they serve their congregations.  Our goal with inSight is to help get that job done in less time with more confidence.

inSight tells a story beyond each individual congregation.  inSight helps Regional Association leaders begin to see what support congregations might need overall.  From tconflct-for-bloghe chart on the right, you can see that this Regional Association has several congregations that could use some help with becoming more flexible. Because we know that organizational flexibility is vital, this Regional Association might want to look at creating some resources that help their congregations become and remain nimble – open to change so they can meet the needs of who they want to reach in the community and in their membership.

inSight helps Regional Leadership know what each congregation is focused on. Walking into a congregation, a Regional Association leader can have that particular congregation’s data in hand. This means they can immediately know what folks in the congregation are focused on for energy and satisfaction.  For example, you would work with a clergy-focused congregation a bit differently than a ministry-focused congregation.  The Leader will also know what the priorities are for that congregation and their theological diversity.  So as they preach, teach, or meet with folks they can keep all of that in mind to ensure what they are saying resonates with the congregation.

inSight helps Regional Leadership make decisions.  One of the hardest things the Regional Association is tasked with is triage.  Answering the questions of what needs immediate attention, what can be dealt with later and what cannot be fixed for now is a tough job.  inSight helps Regional Association have a clear way to measure what is happening in a congregation without solely relying on fiscal reports, attendance trends, and anecdotes.  With an accurate and holistic way to measure the health of a congregation, the Regional Association can begin answering those tough questions of where attention needs to be paid and what the potential of success will be.  

In October, once inSight is in place, we will begin offering Pastor Start-up packages which will help the Pastor in their work as they embark on a journey with a new congregation.  This will complete our three phase transition process, which also includes a Transition Plan and Vital Leader Profile.

We look forward to continuing on this path together.  If there are other ways we can help please let us know.

Emily Swanson
President of Holy Cow! Consulting
emily@holycowconsulting.com

 

 

 

Using our Database as a part of our Why

I have been speaking with a lot of regional associations lately about our “why” at Holy Cow! Consulting.  For us, the reason we do what we do is very clear.  Our mission, or why, is to help regional associations and congregations, through an evidence-based discernment process, become vital, healthy organizations that better serve the Kingdom of God.

We have been collecting data from congregations and regional associations for over 25 years.   After working with close to 3,000 congregations and receiving 100s of thousands of individual responses, it is arguable that we have the largest database of congregations in the country.  But having the biggest database is not our “Why.”   It only becomes a part of our “Why” if we use it to help our regional associations and congregations become vital, healthy organizations.

This Fall we will be sharing more of what we have learned from our database in the beginning of a series of books.  This first book is entitled “The State of the ELCA: An Organizational Intelligence Perspective.” Russ Crabtree has used the Holy Cow! Consulting database with over 60,000 responses from Evangelical Lutheran Church members around the country to write this book about the current state of the ELCA church.  This book will look at the following:

  • Vitality of ELCA Churches
  • Beliefs and Spiritual Practice of ELCA Members
  • Aspirations of Congregations
  • Pastoral Transitions
  • Financial Giving
  • Synods

Here is what Synod and church leaders are saying about the book:

When ELCA pastors are ordained, one of the promises we make in our ordination vows is to not offer illusory hope.  Russ Crabtree helps us live out that vow in this small book.  It provides a clear evidence-based approach to assessing where we are as a church.  In New England, we now make use of the C.A.T (Congregational Assessment Tool) as the primary instrument for helping our congregation live in the present, and plan with honesty for the future.  – Bishop James Hazelwood, New England Synod

 Once again, Russell Crabtree has challenged us with a call to base our planning and practice on evidence rather than pre-conceptions or anecdotal biases.  This book is a must-read for congregational leaders, synod staffs, and synod councils.  For those who have ears to hear it will guide us into more effective and faithful leadership.”  – Bishop Wayne N. Miller, Metropolitan Chicago Synod

Author and motivational speaker Denis Waitley says, “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or to accept the responsibility of changing them”.  For the pastor, congregation, and church leaders, to be agents of change, here is an evidence-based book that provides insights for meaningful ministry in the local church.  From my experience in leading a transformational congregation, I found myself saying as I was reading, “Yes, this is most certainly true.”  Mining these pages for the nuggets of wisdom will raise the bar of dynamic ministry in your setting.  The church depends on you—and so does Jesus. – Rev. Ron Qualley, ELCA Pastor, Fairfax/Clifton, VA

All ELCA pastors and council leaders will find much in this groundbreaking book to stimulate thinking,and conversation. Russ Crabtree and the team of Holy Cow! Consulting provide evidence that has the potential for congregations to discover effective practices, refashioned priorities and renewed hope for the future. Our congregation has made use of the C.A.T. (Congregational Assessment Tool) twice in the past five years and it’s been transformational for our mission and a pastoral succession planning process. You owe it to yourself to read this book.  – Pastor Kurt M. Jacobson, ELCA Pastor, Eau Claire, WI

Our family at Holy Cow! Consulting continues to strive to  support the work our clients are doing and we are committed to sharing what we learn as we go.   We look forward to our continued partnership with all of you and are eternally grateful that you have become a part of our “Why.”

Emily Swanson, President

Holy Cow! Consulting