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.
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.