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.

 

 

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

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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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.

Now Available: State of the Evangelical Church in America

image001The State of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

An Organizational Intelligence Perspective

J. Russell Crabtree

$12.95 US  ·  Paperback

ISBN 9780997768701

6 x 9 x 0.4  ·  100 pages, MAGI Press

PURCHASE HERE

 

 

 

In his new book, The State of the ELCA, J. Russell Crabtree examines the perspectives, experiences, and aspirations of a large cross section of members in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In his reflection on the responses of nearly 60,000 members to a variety of questions, he addresses a number of topics including:

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

• Which groups feel most positive and which groups feel less positive about their experience in the Lutheran church?

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

• How are Lutherans 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 Lutherans for their churches and how do these vary from Boomlets up through Boomers and the GI Generation?

• What are the motivating factors for giving among Lutherans and how do these differ from one congregation to another?

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

The State of the ELCA ends on a positive note by summarizing interviews with the pastors of four transformational Lutheran churches, one large, one small, one more conservative, and one more progressive.

 …a must-read for congregational leaders, synod staffs, and synod councils.

Bishop Wayne N. Miller

 

10429477_1539479202980070_182352615483068509_nAs a former pastor, Russ Crabtree served in small, midsize, and large churches in New York and Ohio. In that role, he was active in his regional association and worked in the areas of strategic planning, energy conservation, human sexuality, church consultation, presbytery staffing, and administrative oversight. He has served as a consultant to every level of the church in areas such as succession planning, strategic planning, and organizational assessment. He has developed congregational and regional association assessment tools and has maintained a substantial database on church characteristics and congregations of all sizes and contexts.

 

Publication Date:  August 2016

Author Events Coordinator:  Shawn Kelly, shawnkelly.rn@gmail.com, 614.216.5537

Bulk Orders:  russ@crowsfeetconsulting.com, 614.208.4090

 

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

Evidence Based Membership – Congregations owning their Data

We, at Holy Cow! Consulting, spend the largest portion of our communication minutes talking about evidence-based leadership, encouraging leaders to engage in a discernment process that integrates organizational intelligence into their leadership decision making.

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.

For 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.

images.jpegThe 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 or new 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 so naïve to believe that OI will (or should) eliminate the need for the political and relationally based components of leadership.  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.    

Russ Crabtree
Founder of Holy Cow! Consulting

Where Generation X, Y and the Millennials are looking to go- OI and the younger demographic

Almost without fail, one of the top three priorities for congregations we work with is a commitment to “make necessary changes to attract families with children and youth to our church.”   The priority is an interesting one because it is not just that the congregation wants to attract this demographic, but they are stating a willingness to make necessary changes to do so.  The question then becomes what are those necessary changes?  In order to answer that question we need to look at the priorities for this younger age set.

When we examine the data from the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT)* there are, at times, some stark differences between the 35 and under demographic and the other age demographics when it comes to where they want to go in the future as a congregation. Out of the 17 priorities in the CAT there are 6 that resonant with the younger demographic at a much higher level then they do with the other age demographics.

The priorities that are much higher for this demographic are:

  • Create more opportunities for people to form meaningful relationships (for example, small groups, nurtured friendships, shared meals, etc) – benchmarking in the 74.4% as compared to other groups.
  • Expand outreach ministries that provide direct services to those living on the margins of society. (i.e. homeless, immigrant, transient persons) – benchmarking in the 71% as compared to other groups.
  • Adapt the opportunities provided by the church making them more accessible given the pace and schedule of my life.  (i.e. online education, early morning classes, lunch classes, lunch discussions) – benchmarking in the 80.7% compared to other groups.
  • Expand the international mission of the church with both financial resources and personal involvement – in the 88.7% in benchmarking compared to other groups.

It is clearly important for congregations to note that the 35 and under demographic are highly interested in building relationships with other members of the congregation.   But there is  also a significantly high response from this age group for congregations to be externally focused through specific ministry opportunities. They need opportunities for education and ministry offered through venues that fit their lifestyles.

This age group is also distinguishable by what is not as important to them.  Out of the 17 priorities in the CAT there are 4 that are less resonant with the younger demographic than with the other age demographics.

The priorities that are lower or much lower are:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to reach new people and incorporate them into the life of the church – benchmarking in the 37.5% as compared to other groups.
  • Develop the spiritual generosity of the people to financially support the ministry of the church – benchmarking in the 29.6% as compared to other groups.
  • Strengthen the management and support of persons in various ministries so that they are able to do what they do best in work that is meaningful and celebrated – benchmarking in the 38% as compared to other groups.
  • Strengthen the pastoral response of the church in serving people with special need- benchmarking in the 27.2% as compared to other groups.

It is perhaps not surprising that the younger demographic is not as concerned about tithing while the 65 and older demographic quite frequently include it in one of the top priorities. However, in some ways these lower priorities see to conflict with the higher priorities but if we take a closer look there are some explanations.

While this under 35 group does not rate the general growth of the church the same as other groups, they do rank the priority of “make necessary changes to attract families with children and youth to our church” as important as the other age demographics. This seems to indicate that they want to seem more people in the church who are their age, not just general growth.

According to the data, this age demographic is more interested in the hands on approach to ministry and not necessarily interested in leaving it to the pastor to do this work. They instead want the specific opportunities we see in their top priorities and aren’t as concerned with being reminded that the work is meaningful.  They seem to already know that it is.

Through our research, Holy Cow! Consulting has discovered that congregations that are building solid relationships with each other and who are externally focused are often the healthiest and the most vital congregations.  It is interesting and telling that the 35 and younger demographic find those relationships and external focus compelling as well.

Emily Swanson
President of Holy Cow! Consulting

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