This post stems out of a conversation regarding a church that had drivers which were highly focused on clergy and governance questions from the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT)*.  For those of you handling these types of interpretations or working in/with congregations we hope this is helpful.  It is important to note this is where the clergy profile comes into play even if you, as an interpreter, are not privy to the profile itself.  The clergy questions help you, as the interpreter, determine if you have a power or even a clergy focused congregation which is an important piece of the congregation’s data.  If you have further questions please comment below or email me at               –Emily Swanson, President of Holy Cow! Consulting 

One of the learnings gleaned from Organizational Intelligence is that focus trumps picture. When people reflect on how they are experiencing a particular congregation they can’t possibly consider everything the congregation does, or what we refer to as the picture. Instead, they focus on a relatively small number of factors that are having the largest impact on their own experience. What they focus on becomes more important than everything else in the larger picture. What people choose to focus on varies from one congregation to another and becomes that congregation’s fingerprint.

One of the types of congregations we see when interpreting the data from the CAT is the Power-focused congregation. Power-focused congregations are congregations where members gauge their overall experience based on:

  • How decisions are made.
    • Example: whether the board or the congregation should approve the budget
  • How they feel about persons in power.
    • Example: whether the persons in power represent their constituency within the congregation
  • How they feel about a particular issue.
    • Example: A political or larger societal issue.

On a Vital Signs* report, a power-focused church is indicated by strong drivers that are usually a combination of questions from the Governance Index and questions regarding the clergy person.

The following is an example of drivers that indicate a power-focused congregation – note that the first is from the Governance index while Drivers #3, 4 and 5 are focused on the clergy:Drivers for Power Focused.png

When working with a power-focused congregation, here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Sometimes power-focused congregations can be helped by developing an external,
    missional focus. This is especially true when the issue is internal. However, it takes time for a congregation to shift its focus from power to purpose.
  • Sometimes power–focused congregations can be helped by realizing that there are alternatives ways of dealing with conflict, such as negotiation, mediation, or, when necessary, appeal to higher authority. Avoidance strategies such as clamping down on behavior may simply drive the conflict underground.images-2.jpeg
  • Power-focused congregations can be some of the most difficult congregations to help because they tend to set up in a “win-lose”
  • In larger power-focused congregations, polarization can occur around staff issues, particularly when a staff member with a significant constituency is fired or disciplined.
  • Power-focused congregations are almost always congregations with significant conflict as reflected in low conflict management scores. When conflict scores are higher than or equivalent to governance scores, it generally m
    eans the conflict is active, whether overt or passive.

Unfortunately, there are some power-focused congregations that will not recover unless one faction yields to the other for the sake of the mission of the church, or finds a faith community that is more resonant with its core values.

-Russ Crabtree, Founder
Holy Cow! Consulting


*The Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) and Vital Signs reports are trademarked, copyrighted and owned solely by Holy Cow! Consulting.

4 thoughts on “The Smaller Picture – The Power Focused Congregation

  1. I actually think it is an important distinction. It becomes a bit of a congregation-by-congregation analysis. I would say “follow the driver signs.” If a power-focus is generally when there is a combination of clergy and leadership drivers (I noted the “at times” for just leadership questions above because there is the instance of the congregation in long transition without clergy), I would say the focus is essentially on all decision makers and it will be important to look at how both the clergy and leadership are working in that context. If the drivers are singularly leader-focused then it is likely there is a story there specifically between the leadership and the congregation. In that context you might have to dig a bit deeper to find out what is happening for the purposes of further consulting. Either way, the focus is internal which will need some discussion and long-term goal setting for direction and change.

    Thank you for the discussion!


  2. Thank you that does help to clarify the difference. And my “gut” says that framing it as a focus on “power” is significant as compared to referring to it as a focus on leadership. Which raises another question for me: Might there be signs in the report that help to distinguish between a “power” issue–with all that may entail–a “leadership” issue? Is this too fine a distinction?

  3. Hi David:
    Thank you for the questions. A clergy-focused congregation is one that has 3 of their 5 drivers about the clergy. A power-focused congregation is one that has a combination of a couple of the drivers and a couple of drivers from questions in the governance (leadership) index. Or, at times, it can be 3 of the 5 drivers are questions from the governance index. They are different because one is a very heavy focus on the clergy and one is a heavy focus on the decision-makers (leaders and clergy or just leaders).

    Power-focused congregations can be unhealthy, not always, but still there is a big potential for problems. Anytime a congregation is focused on the decision-makers, the rise and fall of the congregation rests heavily on the leaders’ shoulders.

    Apart from the conflict management index, there should be other signs within the report if the power-focused congregation is struggling. It is likely satisfaction and energy will be lower than we want to see. The critical success factors will also signal what is happening. For example the congregation with the drivers above had 5 clergy critical success factors at the level of important to discuss, and two about governance at the significant level. The leadership index may also tell a story. Do folks feel that the leadership is representative? Is it open to other approaches in decision-making?

    We also need to think while preparing for the interpretation about this in the context of how flexible the congregation is – are they open to change? How easy is it for decision-makers to help move the congregation in the direction that they are saying they want/need to go? This will help the leaders you are working with understand not just what the congregation is focused on but what it will take to make change happen.

    I hope this helps!

    Emily Swanson

  4. How do we distinguish between a clergy-focused congregation and a power-focused congregation? Are these the same? It sounds like being a power-focused congregation is not healthy, as we define a healthy congregation. In addition to increased conflict what other factors suggest that a power-focused congregation may not be healthy?

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