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

The small but mighty power that is the Transformational Church

Robyn and I spent the weekend with two churches. Both congregations were in the transformational quadrant of the energy-satisfaction map.  Both have created vital worship experiences for their congregations. Both are flexible to change so they can be more effective in their missions.  Their congregations have developed meaningful relationships with each other and there is trust in the decision-making and the leadership.  There is a commitment to learning and quality educational programing – meeting their congregations in all stages of their life.   They are both out in the community teaching, clothing, and feeding their neighbors. The difference between the two? One church has a weekly church attendance of just under 500 people. The other church has a weekly church attendance of 50 people.

We often hear from congregations that they feel challenged by their smallness.  They do not have enough people, enough resources, enough hands to help.  And there is truth in this. The challenge is real and it can be overwhelming.  But this weekend reminded me that even the smallest of us can have enormous impact.  We can share meals with each other. We can teach each other.  We can heal.  We can minister to the broken. We can sit with each other in times of great sorrow and share great joy. Whether there are 500 of us or 10, we can do all of these things.

In our work with all congregations, large or small, our charge is to help them on their journey to becoming the vibrant church that Jesus spoke of when he started with just twelve.   The small and mighty can do amazing things.

Blessings as we all grow together,

Emily Swanson

President of Holy Cow! Consulting

Organizational Intelligence and Community Impact

 Most contemporary observers agree that a shift from membership to discipleship is now taking place. Younger generations in particular want to know how to impact the world, not simply maintain an

Holy Cow! Consulting has been examining the organizational intelligence generated by churches that have added the Flow Module to their standard Church Assessment Tool. The Flow Module was developed in collaboration with the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta to measure the degree to which the impact of discipleship was “flowing” out into the world. Here are some of the findings from a “typical” church.

In response to the statement On the whole, I would say that my current level of engagement to impact the world as an expression of my Christian discipleship is…  About 40% of respondents indicate it is “lower than I would like it to be,” and about 10% indicate it is “much lower than I would like it to be.” Roughly half indicate it is “about right.”

In addition, one in two respondents indicates that they do not volunteer any time each month serving the community or world. The fact that about 50% of respondents indicate they make no contribution to the community or world at all combined with their admitted dissatisfaction with their level of impact suggests significant untapped potential.

In spite of the theological affirmation that work in the world is vocation, that is a calling to serve God, almost half of respondents indicate that their work is “just” or “mostly” a way of making a living.

What are the factors that have the biggest impact on whether a person decides to engage an opportunity of service? In the typical church, the top two are:

  1. The degree to which opportunities are a good fit for the person’s gifts and interests.
  2. The effectiveness of the opportunity in making a real difference in the person’s life and in the lives of others.

However, these vary somewhat from one church to another. For example, in one church, How well opportunities fit into my schedule and lifestyle is a top priority. The only way to know how a particular church is doing in equipping disciples versus developing members is through Organizational Intelligence (OI).

However, churches cannot simply decide to shift all their energy to external ministry. The OI is very clear: equipping members to serve in the world is no substitute for quality internal ministries such as worship, pastoral leadership, participatory decision-making, hospitality, and spiritual formation. As in baseball, you cannot skip the bases no matter how well you are hitting the ball out of the park.

Organizational Intelligence and Letting Go of Our Ego – Why assessment is important


After more than 25 years of working with organizational intelligence, it has become clear that lay leaders are more open to its benefits than clergy. Roughly 70% of the assessments we conduct are with churches or middle judicatories with no installed or “settled” leader in place. Only after a clergy person leaves do leaders feel free to conduct an assessment. Once a new clergy leader is in place, it is very likely that a church will not run another comprehensive assessment until the next ordained leader moves on. The rare exception usually occurs when a middle judicatory strongly encourages it as a matter of policy.

Why should pastors and executives support a periodic assessment of the faith communities they lead? Here are six reasons.

·      First, assessment provides opportunities to celebrate. The outfield wall of a baseball field may seem intimidating, but without it you don’t know when to cheer.

·      Second, assessment can help clergy identify the “levers” in a faith community where small amounts of applied energy can make big differences.

·      Third, refusing to face issues does not make them go away, it only roots them deeper. What we resist, persists. A non-defensive, non-anxious engagement of issues is healthy and often positive for everyone.

·      Fourth, an assessment can bring clarity to areas where the clergy leader is a good fit, but also areas where other members of the leadership team would make a better contribution.

·      Fifth, many issues are not problems with the pastor; they are problems with the system. When a clergy person resists an assessment process because he/she takes everything personally, the “system” is robbed of an opportunity to learn and grow.

·      Finally, fear of assessment can be a signal that a leader’s ego is getting in the way, Edging God Out, as they say. For the Christian leader, listening is not an option. It is no accident that the same Epistle that issues a sober admonition to those who teach also counsels us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak.”

For more on assessments and to get in touch with us to make this happen for your organization please visit our website at