Benchmarking – Why We Do things the Way We Do

To date, our team at Holy Cow! Consulting has worked with close to 3,000 congregations. We have worked with congregations in every U.S. state with the exception of Hawaii (unfortunately for us). We have been stuck in snow storms in Minnesota, lost in the woods in Wisconsin, seen Mount Rainer in the rearview mirror, found out how cool Omaha is, hung out with a seal in San Diego, forgotten to order unsweetened iced tea in South Carolina, and been gently heckled by congregations in Michigan because we have a lot of OSU allegiance in our office. We have covered a lot of ground over the years and have met a lot of amazing people.

If we are running a Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) within our current database, the data is benchmarked against around 1,800 congregations – this number grows every day.  Approximately 88% of those congregations within our current benchmarking have run their CAT in the last five years.

Just as overview, when we look at the database this is a general overview of its makeup:

  • 411 congregations are Evangelical Church in America (ELCA)
  • 412 congregations are Episcopal
  • 375 congregations are Presbyterian
  • 68 congregations are Methodist
  • 80 congregations are United Church of Christ
  • 25 congregations are Nondenominational
  • 24 congregations are Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
  • The remaining numbers include congregations that are Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal, ECO, LCMC, and various other mainstream denominations

So why do we benchmark? Benchmarking allows us to take the data from each congregation and remove the element of guesswork.  For example, when we look at hospitality within a congregation, one of the questions we ask people is whether “a friendly atmosphere prevails among the members of our church.” If 61% of the congregation clearly agree with that statement, just looking at the raw data, that appears to be pretty good level of hospitality. That is more than half of the people within the congregation saying that there is a friendly atmosphere. But when we compare the data within the benchmarking, we find that this only puts the responses to that question in the 12th percentile. So, 87% of the other congregations in the database had more people clearly agree with that statement. This significantly changes what we understand from the data. We are able to move from trying to guess “is this how it is supposed to feel” and we can see what is typical and what is exceptional about each congregation.

When we talk about benchmarking, one of the most frequent questions we get asked is ”why don’t you benchmark us against other churches in our denomination.”  The denomination question is usually followed by a general  statement about who they are as Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc.  Notably, here and there, the data can show some national denominational tendencies which we have noted in our denominational books. But generally, those statements about who each denomination claims to be has yet to play out meaningfully congregation to congregation in the data.

For example, if you look at the maps on the left, they include all of the ELCA congregations in our database. You can see that they range anywhere from very low energy and satisfaction to very high energy and satisfaction.  Likewise, these ELCA congregations are conservative and progressive, flexible and settled.

When we receive an order for the CAT from an ELCA church we cannot predict where that congregation will land in any one area.  Instead, the data tells us that each ELCA church could land anywhere in the benchmarking – and this is important.

But there is an even more important reason why we benchmark the way we do.  Both the Pew Research Center and the Cooperative Congregational Election Study (CCES) looked at mainstream denominations over a four-year period. The Pew’s study ended in 2016 and CCES ended their four-year study in 2015.  What they both found is that within that four-year period 16% of members in mainstream denominations changed denominational affiliations.  Methodists become Episcopalians, Presbyterians became Methodists, Lutherans in the ELCA moved to the LCMS.

What does this mean? Let’s break this down by year and attendance.  16% over four years, is 4% per year.  This means that if a congregation has a weekly attendance of 150 people, there is the potential that the congregation will lose 6 people per year.  By the end of four years, it is estimated that 24 people in that congregation will move to another denomination.

This type of movement indicates that benchmarking churches within their own denomination is not how the average member is looking at their experience within their congregation.  The average Presbyterian member is not looking at their experience and asking, “is this how I have felt in other Presbyterian churches?” they are instead asking “is this how I have felt in other churches” but also “is there a better place I fit regardless of denomination?”  As we posited in “Fly in the Ointment” several years ago, people no longer just buy Ford cars in allegiance to the Ford company. The same is true within our denominational life. People will find the church that fits them and what they need in their life, regardless of the denominational name on the sign out in the front yard.

It is our mission at Holy Cow! Consulting to help regional associations and congregations, through an evidence-based discernment process, become vital, healthy organizations that better serve Christ and our communities. We benchmark the way we do because the data shows that putting congregations in a greater context is essential to truly assess where they currently are in order to help move them to where they are called to be.  This is not just our mission, it is also our ministry.

We hope to see you in our travels.

– Emily Swanson, President

 

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

The Clergy-Focused Congregation

One of the things that we say about organizations is that focus trumps picture.  That is simply another way of saying that when people reflect on how they feel about an organization, they don’t look at the entire picture of what an organization does.  Instead, they focus on a few things that are important to them.  The few things they focus on are more decisive than everything else in the picture in determining how they feel about that organization overall.

We call those important areas where members focus drivers of satisfaction.

One of the patterns we observe in some faith communities is that members focus on the clergy person when they reflect on how they feel about the church overall.  We call these systems “clergy-focused.”  Generally, like the example below,  a system is clergy-focused when three or more of the top five drivers on a Vital Signs report concern the work of the clergy person…or two on the clergy person and one on worship.drivers for clergy focused.png

Sometimes, people confuse clergy-focused with clergy-driven.  When we say that a church is clergy-focused, it does not mean that the pastor is running everything.  A church can be clergy-focused where the pastor is leaving every decision to the lay people.

In a clergy-focused church, how people feel about the pastor is more important in their overall view of the church than other parts of the picture like Christian formation, hospitality, music, youth ministry, or how decisions are made.  In fact, members in a clergy focused church will often indicate dissatisfaction with areas of the church that arguably have nothing to do with the pastor.

To say that a church is clergy-focused tells you nothing about the strength or weakness of the church.  Some clergy-focused churches are transformational.  Other clergy-focused churches need reinvention.

In a clergy-focused church that is in need of reinvention, making changes in any area will have little impact on the how satisfied people are with the church unless the changes impact how they feel about the relationship with the pastor.  For these churches praiseworthy efforts like strategic planning will have little benefit to the church for the same reason.  I do not recommend strategic planning for a clergy-focused reinvention church.

Clergy-focused systems have some advantages.

First, positive changes can happen quickly in a clergy-focused system.  When a new pastor is brought on board who “clicks” with the congregation the mood of the congregation can change almost instantly.

Second, some pastors function well in a clergy-focused system.  They tend to be persons who enjoy center stage, have a bounded-ego, and who can parlay good will and resources into ministry and mission.

Third, clergy-focused systems can grow to become quite large since members may have lower expectations of their interactions with the congregation because the benefits of membership accrue to their relationship with the clergy…even if it is a distant, virtual relationship.

Clergy-focused systems have their downside as well.

First, clergy-focused systems tend to be anxious systems because success or failure hangs on one person.  The pressure of clergy-focused systems can lead to pastors who burnout or flameout.

Second, the conflicts in clergy-focused systems tend to get focused on the clergy person even if they have nothing to do with him or her.

Third, there are few remedies for clergy-focused systems that get themselves into trouble.  Once things goes south, it is difficult for the pastor-people relationship to be fixed.  When the church is clergy-focused and one or more critical success factors on the clergy person are above 30, steps should generally be taken to help the pastor move on. This is especially the case in clergy-focused, Hearth and Home church cultures.

Wherever a congregation finds itself, it is important  to know what the congregation is focused on so as we move forward we are mindful of what might be trumping the bigger picture.   It is also important to remember even if we can’t see the bigger picture, there is always someone who can. Unknown

 

Over the Years We have our Cows and CATs

We admit our name “Holy Cow! Consulting” is a bit different.  Originally coined by  baseball players in the early 1900s, it gained greater notoriety when Harry Caray used it in his years as a baseball announcer.  The phrase means “wow!” implying that there has just been an amazing event or that eureka moment – which we hope is the experience our clients have when they work with our tools.

That said, we know our name deserves as many cow jokes as our clients can send us.  Over the years, we have had such a fun time with clients who get creative in encouraging their congregations to take the CAT (Congregation Assessment Tool). Here are some of our favorite Cow/CAT ideas:

This cow was placed outside of the church on launch day with a sign saying “Take my survey!” photo 2.JPG

 

 The sign with this picture said “Get Ready the CAT is coming!” enhanced-buzz-11844-1397060009-22.jpg

These CAT caps were worn by everyone on the planning committee who introduced the CAT to the congregation – Unknown.jpeg

 

 “The Cow brings us the CAT” was this slogan: enhanced-buzz-8892-1397081147-11.jpg

 

 Perhaps my all time favorite (though not cow or cat themed), one music director had the children’s choir sing “Are You Ready for a Survey?” to the theme of “Do You want to Build a Snowman” from the movie Frozen. 

So keep sending us your creative ideas! We love cows and cats and working with your congregations.  Let us know how we can help and visit us at www.holycowconsulting.com.

Emily Swanson
President
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The Transition and Vital Leader Profile© -Help during Pastoral Transition

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but building the new.  – Socrates 

Congregations that find themselves in a period of pastoral transition are often faced with the extremely daunting task of trying to determine where the congregation is, where they need to be, and who can help them get there.

For more than 25 years, Holy Cow! Consulting has been offering the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) which provides an in-depth look at the experiences, perceptions and aspirations of a church’s congregation.  Once those things are determined, the congregation’s leadership and search committees use the information from the CAT to create a transition plan and pastor/parish profile.

In an effort to help congregations apply what they have learned from the CAT,  we offer the Transition Summary and Vital Leader Profile*.  This report is built from the CAT results (the Vital Signs Report) and the Transition module that is added to the CAT when the congregation places its order.

The Transition Summary gives the congregation a report on what steps should be taken during the time of transition including:

  • Identity and Direction
  • Remedial Issues that need addressed
  • Administrative Issues
  • Opportunities and Vulnerabilities of the Congregation

This report also creates a Vital Leader profile from the congregation’s data in the CAT to help begin the work of constructing the pastor or parish profile.  This profile includes:

  • Professional Interests that would be a good fit for your congregation
  • Context the next pastor/rector should feel comfortable working in
  • What abilities would be needed from the next pastor/rector to help the congregation become a more vital congregation
  • The best fit in terms of Leadership style

In our experience, this report is a much needed tool for a congregation’s leadership during times of transition, helping them make these important decisions in less time with more confidence.

*For more on this report and to see a sample here: Transition and Vital Leader Report Sample.

*To read more on pastoral transitions please order a copy of Transitions Apparitions here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing the Forest – The Family Tree™ Tool and how to use it

If you have ever carried a box of your possessions into your new office on your first day of work, you know how exciting and overwhelming that can be.   You have to figure out where to put that picture of your spouse, or what your computer login is, or where the coffee maker is, but perhaps the hardest task ahead of you is knowing how the organization’s relationships work.  As a new leader of any organization, that first few weeks of navigating those relationships can be crucial.  For those of you in that new leadership position, we offer Family Tree™
      Step back and Look at the View
imagesIt takes time for a new leader to meet all the members of their team or organization, and even longer to understand how they are connected to one another.  Family Tree familiarizes a new leader with those connections and helps him or her get to know the “family” more quickly.    Churches and other religious organizations find the information provided by the Family Tree© to be helpful whenever they are preparing to bring a new leader on board such as a Pastor, Bishop, or Executive.  Likewise, nonprofits and schools  find the information from this report helpful whenever they are preparing to bring on a new Executive Director or other new key leadership member.

The Family Tree is a two-question, online survey of a congregation, regional religious association, nonprofit, or other organization that is completed by its members and staff.  While most surveys ask evaluative questions of respondents, the Family Tree asks about the connections of members to one another. This enables us to generate a series of maps that show how the organization is relationally networked.

The Map of the Forest 

 The Family Tree report provides a map of the relationships within an organization, shows which ones are carrying a lot of information and which ones are connecting just a few people. Some relationships are one-way; others are reciprocal. Having these maps helps a leader know how to navigate the relational space of an organization.

The maps show a number of views of an organization. One view shows the Isolates, that is, the folks who are isolated.  Another view shows the Islands, the people who are connected to one another but not to the “trunk of the tree”. Still another view shows the Bridges. These people are the glue in an organization. Without the Bridges, the family would fragment into many disconnected clans. The final view shows the Key Figures. These are the major relational intersections in the congregation where a lot of information traffic is flowing. Key Figures are usually informal leaders.

Family Tree Map

Haven’t we been here before? 
Most organizations, religious and otherwise, already have an organizational chart.  These charts show what roles people have within the organization and who they report to in the chain of command.  In many situations, there are important informal leaders who do not sit in official positions. These are not discovered in a formal organizational chart, but often through trial and error.
Family Tree helps orient a new leader to the informal structure of a church or organization in the same way that an organizational chart orients a new leader to the formal structure.  These maps might be used by a new leader to reach out to those who are isolated. Or a new leader might try to find ways to connect the Islands to everyone else. A new leader could use the maps as a way of building consensus on important decisions rather than simply engaging in top down decision-making.
Hopefully, your new team members will help you find the coffee maker in your new office. But let us help you see the forest as you start your new journey.   For more information on Family Tree or to get started visit us at www.holycowconsulting.com.

Interim and Transitional Ministry Training Opportunities

We are excited to announce that January 20-23, 2016 the Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region will be offering a training for Transitional Ministries in Latham, N.Y.  Please see the description below.  To register or for more information and future trainings click here

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The face of interim ministry has changed drastically over the past 25 years. From short term, fill the pulpit situations to long term positions requiring system assessment skills and emotional intelligence, interim ministry has become TRANSITIONAL MINISTRY. Congregations need help transitioning between pastors and also in navigating the swiftly changing landscape of ministry in the 21st Century.

S.T.E.P. provides the only evidence based approach to the many transitions churches are encountering.

Why guess what is going on within a system? Is it safe to make an assessment from opinions within the system? Your own experience from working with churches is that no one person holds all the answers. Make evidence based,strategic interventions so the system can transition to new leadership, a new size, or a new situation.

How much energy is in the church you are working with?

How flexible is the church?

What are the core component of this church’s identity?

What, where, and who are the stressors?

How do you plan the transitional phase for the church? What elements are included if you are a short term, mid-term, or long term transitional minister?

Where is the best place to intervene in an already existing group?

What issues will bring the church together? Which ones will create a rift?

Program Description

Phase 1 – Core Competencies

The First Part of the training addresses the skill of accurately assessing a system. Without a good assessment of the system, no effective interventions can be designed. Learn how to determine who knows who, who influences who, and who’s who to how the system typically reacts to stress, where the covert power is, how the communication is controlled and everything in between. Phase 1 is a 4 day 3 night schedule that includes training each evening.

Phase 2 – Modules

The second part of the training is an array of modules addressing different topics. You can choose ala carte style the module(s) that will best suit your needs. Each of the modules offered by the Samaritan Counseling Center will be 4 hours. Two of the courses* are required if you wish to receive the Samaritan Counseling Center’s Endorsement of Transition Training Completion. Each of the modules offered by Samaritan Counseling Center costs $100. There are other modules offered by the CRTC (Capital Region Theological Center) which will vary in price and structure.

Modules will include but not be limited to:

  • *Boundary Awareness, David Olsen, PhD
  • *Emotional Intelligence, Keli Rugenstein, PhD
  • The Differentiated Leader, James Fenimore, PhD
  • Church Size Transitioning, Keli Rugenstein, PhD
  • Managing the Dangers of Leading, Keli Rugenstein, PhD
  • Use of Technology in Ministry
  • Translational Leadership Training
  • Lombard Mennonite Conflict Resolution, CRTC
  • Denomination Specific Polity and Theology
  • Ecumenical Polity and Theology, multiple presenters

Phase 3 – Coaching

The third part of the S.T.E.P. Training is one year of coaching while you are serving in transitional ministry. There is a coaching session each month. Your first coaching session will be individual. The remaining eleven sessions will be with a small group of no more than four. Coaching sessions will address issues that each person in the group is facing so each participant will benefit from the experiences of the others. This program ensures a minimum of 60 contact hours. The cost when beginning the training is $1300 and that includes both Phase 1 and Phase 3.

Organizational Intelligence and Four Kinds of Churches: Which One Are You?

This post is written by Nancy  Moore of NL Moore and Associate and was originally posted on her blog.  NL Moore & Associates is a strategic associate of HC!C.  They consult nationwide specializing in the areas of leadership search and selection, succession planning, pastoral coaching, team/board development and organizational culture/health assessment. For more on NL Moore and Associates please check out their website: http://nlmoore.com.

About eight years ago I was introduced to a gentleman named Russ Crabtree. Russ was a successful church consultant who had, a few years earlier, co-authored a book titled The Elephant in the Boardroomspeaking the unspoken about pastoral succession, which is often recognized as one of the best books ever written on the topic. That was the initial means to our introduction, but we quickly developed a personal rapport and friendship that led to a number of professional collaborations.

Russ is one of those truly special individuals – a rare gem in a sea of unique people. He is direct yet empathetic; both analytical and innovative; a brilliant thinker and an excellent communicator; a creative problem solver with the soul of an artist. He served as a pastor for more than 20 years before shifting to work as a consultant to churches and other non-profit organizations. He trained me in his methodology for succession planning, we worked on some projects together and he graciously coached me as I developed my consulting practice. The more we had an opportunity to work together, the more I felt like I won the “mentor lotto.”

Russ developed and introduced me to the “organizational intelligence” approach to consulting. Organizational intelligence (OI) offers a three-dimensional view of the church or organization. It is like taking the church to a doctor, a tailor and a travel agent. Leaders come away understanding the overall health and culture of the church, the specific areas where adjustments or changes are needed, and where the people want to go together in the future. I was hooked. I caught a vision for how these insights not only inform the succession process, but also form the foundation for every critical decision leaders make in the life of a church: pastoral transition, strategic planning, team development, growth and change management. We use it as a basis for the Candidate Profile in every senior leadership transition we serve.

For example, if the OI indicates the church is in chaos (where congregants indicate there is a lot of energy and activity, but very little of it is satisfying), the initial candidate profile might describe a leader who will work quickly to assess the state of the ministry – what is working and what isn’t working. It might depict a directional leader who will set clear strategy and develop organizational focus. This person will align ministries and ministry leaders, improve communication and links between the ministries and the people, and get the staff team pulling in the same direction. In essence, the chaos church requires a leader who will create order out of the chaos.

When the OI shows a church to be in recovery or in need of a turnaround (where congregants lack both energy and satisfaction with the current state of the church) the profile might describe a challenge-motivated change-agent who is not afraid of a little hard work. The right candidate for this kind of church is someone who can diagnose problems and then inspire and motivate people toward the right solutions. Since congregants in recovery generally understand that things are not working well, this leader can bring a faster pace and solutions can be implemented more quickly than in some other situations.

Churches that are stuck are, in OI terms, said to be in status quo (where energy levels of congregants are low but satisfaction is high, so there is no motivation to do anything differently). Stuck churches represent the greatest challenge to pastors. Churches that fit this description are at the greatest risk of organizational death. The candidate profile for a church in status quo might include a patient, gentle, shepherding, slow-paced change agent who can build trusting relationships with the people and gradually motivate and encourage them to increase their vision for the Kingdom so that they become more active and energized.

If the OI indicates the church is already in a transformational posture (a healthy outlook where congregants are simultaneously energized by their participation in the church and satisfied by it) the initial profile might describe a leader who is not a wholesale change agent, but an improvement agent. A transformational church does not need to change as much as it needs a well-paced, collaborative leader who can work with the existing team to build on the healthy foundation that was laid by another; someone who will build relationships and trust before moving forward to innovate, advance and replicate the good things that are already happening there.

These broad brushstrokes illustrate how four churches of a similar theology, size, demographic and worship style could have very different needs with regard to their leadership, strategy and/or development. One size does not fit all. Utilizing organizational intelligence tools provide the lens through which decision-makers gain the clarity needed to craft the right path forward and then to execute that plan with confidence.