Sharpening your Organizational Focus: Why Focus Groups Alone are Not Enough

Focus groups are essential in any organization, particularly congregations. We know these groups are important for seeking creative input, needing to generate buy-in, or to drill down into the meaning of a broader organizational assessment process. But like a doctor trying to determine where the injury is without an x-ray, we find that focus groups alone do not show an adequate picture of the health of your organization.  Here is a list of the reasons why you need more than focus groups:

Reason #1: Focus groups typically involve too few persons to provide reliable information for the entire organization.

The number of folks willing to attend a focus group is generally a small fraction—often less than a quarter of the persons actually involved in the organization. After talking with 20 persons from an organization with 100 members, about one in five of your conclusions about the entire organization is likely to be wrong. In addition, focus groups tend to favor the perspectives of those who are more involved in the organization over those who are less involved since they are less likely to attend a focus group meeting. This works fine if an organization is only interested in maintaining the status quo; it works less well if there is concern about deepening the involvement of its more marginal members. Organization-wide surveys require much less time investment per participant (about 15 minutes), have a higher response rate, and produce more reliable results.

Reason #2: The information collected from focus groups is skewed toward the opinions of those who are more outspoken and extraverted.

Members of focus groups vary in their level of comfort with speaking their thoughts. Some are more extraverted and speak easily. Others need more time to process information internally before they speak. By the time these more reflective members know what they want to say, the agenda of the meeting has often moved on to the next question. Over time, members begin to recognize the voices within the organization that are the most influential and tend to defer to those voices even when they hold a different view. Organization-wide surveys are indifferent to power and personality type. The opinion of each person has equal weight.

Reason #3: Cultivating candid conversations in focus groups requires a high degree of trust that may not exist in the organization.

Focus groups assume that there is enough trust in the organization for people to speak candidly about their experiences and perspectives. Their effectiveness plummets when the level of trust is part of what needs to be assessed. People walk up to the facilitator after the meeting and whisper “I didn’t feel that I could say this in the meeting but…” Organization-wide surveys can not only assess the level of trust, but also get a more accurate read on other issues when trust is low.

Reason #4: Focus groups do not permit a comprehensive assessment of the health of an organization.

It is impossible to explore a large variety of issues in a focus group. If the facilitator allows each person in a group of twelve to speak for one minute in response to a particular question, only six questions can be addressed in a 72-minute session. Setting aside ten minutes at the beginning of the session for describing the process followed by introductions and five minutes at the end for questions and next steps fills most of a 90-minute time slot. Organization-wide surveys typically register the respondent’s views on up to ninety questions and also allow for open-ended responses of indefinite length. It is the difference between going to the doctor for a specific concern and getting a comprehensive physical that checks out every aspect of your health.

Reason #5: Focus groups do not provide a way to know if the information collected indicates a relative strength or a weakness compared to other, similar organizations.

There are few surprises that come out of focus group information because they are internally focused. After you summarize all the comments from a focus group in a particular question, you still do not know if you are dealing with a relative strength or weakness because you have no way of benchmarking the information. For example, we often hear in focus groups that a few people are doing most of the work. But this is true in almost every volunteer organization. What people perceive as a weakness may, in fact, be a strength compared to other, similar organizations…and vice versa. Organization-wide surveys allow leaders to do a better job identifying the real issues, both strengths and work areas.

Reason #6: For the amount of information collected, focus groups are labor intensive and often expensive.

Designing a focus group process requires a considerable effort, even if it is standardized with set questions. Participants can only offer their input at a limited number of times. They must travel to and from the focus group site and invest one to two hours in the process. The logistics of managing the PR effort, invitations, RSVP’s, group size, room set-up, supplies, refreshments, and attendance list are significant. Securing the services of a skilled facilitator who is trusted and objective is crucial. At the end of the process, all the information must be transcribed, coded, sorted, and counted. The cost of doing this well is literally hundreds of hours and often thousands of dollars. There are short cuts at every stage (like one large “town-hall” meeting with subgroups) but these significantly reduce the quality of the information for all the reasons discussed above.

On the other hand, today’s organization-wide surveys are logistically simple and can be taken by the respondent in about fifteen minutes 24-7. Thousands of respondents can participate with no need for travel, room-setup, or refreshments. They do not require the services of a skilled facilitator and the information does not need to be transcribed.

While focus groups will continue to be useful for collecting certain kinds of information, resourceful leaders increasingly will discover that there is a need for more precision and will look for a better, cost effective way of assessing the perspectives of those they are serving. The results of this resourcefulness will be vital and flourishing organizations, poised to do good works.

“We are not called to shine our own light; we are called to reflect his”   – Unknown

 

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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The Leadership Vacuum

Recently, I spent some time with a church in the South.  Their pastor of 21 years left in April and they used the Congregation Assessment Tool to come up with a pastoral profile as they go through a transition period.  This congregation has a long and illustrious history in the community but their attendance has been dropping for some time. Three years ago their average Sunday attendance was 326 people, at last count they had 261 in attendance.  The data tells me over and over again that something has been going on for awhile.

When interpreting a Vital Signs report, it is always important to note the relationship between the Conflict Management Index and the Governance Index.  Often, if the congregation has a higher index on Conflict Management, signaling that conflict to some degree is being managed, than Governance, we are looking at a congregation where trouble is brewing.  If the Governance index is higher than the Conflict Management index, then the congregation is coming out of conflict with a leadership that can leverage their trust from their congregation to help.

The None of the Above Scenarios

But sometimes there is more than these two scenarios – it goes deeper.

Here we have a congregation that has average Conflict Management scores but very low Governance scores.  When we see this kind of Governance score the data tells us a story and that story comes from a possible three scenarios: there is a leadership vacuum created by a strong leader; a personnel decision had to be made and the leadership could not share the details with the congregation; or there is a decision that was made on some large issue that has caused distrust.

For this congregation, the previous Pastor was a strong leader, who made most of the decisions and when he didn’t make the decisions he was involved in the decision making process.  On the one hand, this can be good. Decisions can be made fast – the group of me, myself, and I can come to a consensus fairly quickly.  But what happens to the rest of the leadership?

This kind of literal single-minded decision making can be crippling for leadership.  There is no room to develop and grow as leaders. It is a marriage without balance or accountability. It leaves the congregation feeling like the leaders are not showing genuine concern in what others are thinking when decisions are made.  But, in fact, the leaders are not making decisions. This role of sitting, listening  and waiting often leaves those in leadership feeling powerless and ineffective. Meanwhile, the congregation can’t understand why there is so much shoulder shrugging and it is frustrating.

What can we say to these leaders? 

Leadership can be a thankless job. It is time consuming, overwhelming and involves a delicate balance of listening and acting.  For a leadership 557ef22a7dd3b107f4bb3cb4304fc9dethat is being told that their trust from the congregation is so low, they need to hear truth but they also need to hear hope.

As interpreters in this situation, we need to say the following:

  1. You have been faithful.
  2. This feeling of powerlessness and this lack of trust from the congregation will not last forever.
  3. Understand, you are in a vulnerable position and any issue that comes along that has any element of conflict could be risky.
  4. You will need to begin making clear, consistent, transparent decisions.
  5. You will need to communicate those clear, consistent, transparent decisions in a way that reaches the congregation.
  6. It is time to begin healing.
  7. It is time to lead.

When I went through this with the leadership of this particular congregation, they were able to move past feeling deflated and wondering why they were viewed this way.  They began asking questions about how to start leading with this report.   The discussion became focused on transparency and what steps were needed to get there. They started leading.

I always say to those I work with “I know your data but I don’t know your story.”  It is our job to help the data become a part of the congregation’s story.  By working through this conversation with the leadership, we can help them own their story and start writing it themselves.

 

Emily Swanson
President of Holy Cow! Consulting

 

 

 

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.

 

Now Available- Don’t Lead Another Pastoral Transition Before Reading this Book!

This latest book from Holy Cow! Consulting studies the data from nearly a thousand churches and makes some startling discoveries regarding what happens to churches during a pastoral transition.  In a relatively brief number of pages, Russ Crabtree provides answers to questions like:

  • What happens to the morale of a typical church as it moves through a
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    Order your copy here!

    pastoral transition?

  • Why do conflict levels in a typical church tend to intensify during a pastoral transition rather than improve?
  • Why does the trajectory of a church through a pastoral transition not track what we might expect with a grief reaction?
  • What are the typical losses in attendance and giving during a pastoral transition and what are the impacts of those upon the congregation?
  • Do interim pastors typically help congregations become more flexible as they prepare to welcome a new pastor or not?

The book ends by proposing an entirely new way of thinking about pastoral transitions and suggests a transformation in the way we train interim pastors.

Reviews of Transition Apparitions: 

The myth of the grieving congregation in transition has finally been challenged with sufficient evidence to allow for “site specific” plans to emerge.    – Reverend Rebecca L. McClain

This book beautifully articulates what astute consultants have noted for years. Fear of the unknown and its uncertainty is a basic human characteristic that is the source of poor decisions, then wandering in the desert, and finally feelings of resignation.                                                                 – Dr. Keli Rugenstein, PhD, Director of Clergy and Congregation Care

Intrigued by the proposition that interim ministry is “overdue for some rethinking,” Russ began poking around in the Holy Cow! database and then turned (as he always does) to careful, systematic analysis of the data.  He began rethinking his own thinking about pastoral transitions and came away absolutely convinced, as he said to me, “we need a new model.”  So he designed it.    – Dr. James Pence, PhD, Walkalong Consulting

Holy Cow! Consulting is excited to announce the upcoming publication of “Transition Apparitions: Why Much of What We Know about Pastoral Transitions is Wrong”

This latest book from Holy Cow! Consulting studies the data from over 900 churches and makes some startling discoveries regarding what happens to churches during a pastoral transition.  In a relatively brief number of pages, Russ Crabtree provides answers to questions like

  • What happens to the morale of a typical church as it moves through a pastoral transition?
  • Why do conflict levels in a typical church tend to intensify during a pastoral transition rather than improve?
  • Why does the trajectory of a church through a pastoral transition not track what we might expect with a grief reaction?
  • What are the typical losses in attendance and giving during a pastoral transition and what are the impacts of those upon the congregation?
  • Do interim pastors typically help congregations become more flexible as they prepare to welcome a new pastor or not?

The book ends by proposing an entirely new way of thinking about pastoral transitions and suggests a transformation in the way we train interim pastors.

Available Fall of 2015

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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

Bridging the gap between Symbol and Story

I was on a phone call a few years ago with three colleagues when I articulated my frequently stated belief that we “over-teach and under-train” in faith communities. The President of CareNet in Winston-Salem responded “And I would add that we under-experience.” Adding a few of my own words, I would say that faith communities tend to over-think and under-experience.

One indicator that we have fallen prey to these temptations is an excess of symbols that have not been imagesconverted into stories. Words are symbols of experiences; they are not the experiences themselves. I have a friend who used to say “Going to church is like checking into a cheap hotel room. There are lots of menu around but very few meals.” Talking about grace, peace, or salvation is quite different from experiencing grace, receiving peace, or finding that one has been saved in a real and substantial way.

I remember talking to a young Christian who said to me, “I keep hearing in church that we should listen to God. God never speaks to me.” I took note and kept listening. A few minutes later, he described a situation where he was driving down a rural roadway when a thought popped into his head. I simply said to him “Maybe that was God speaking to you.” He sat in silence for a moment, then smiled broadly as he exclaimed, “Wait a minute! Maybe you are right!” The words “God speaks to us” had moved off the menu to the meal, from symbol to story.

People are hungry for stories but faith communities are ready to tell far too few of them. On average, only 17% of members clearly agree that they feel comfortable telling faith stories. Yet those stories abound. If you ask a general audience to indicate by a raised hand (with closed eyes) if they have had a powerful experience of a divine presence either through nature, a near-death experience, a mystical encounter, a synchronicity, etc. the great majority would raise their hands.

The New York Times recently ran an article in the sports section on “Memorable Sports Apologies through the Years.” When you read through them (and do a little bit of self-reflection as you do), you realize that most of us do not know how offer, request, or receive forgiveness in any real life situation even though we have confessed our sins in hundreds of worship services. This is because we forget that “passing the peace” is a sign of the peace of Christ that needs to be given substance in real life. Only then does it move from menu to meal, from symbol to story.

People hearing about organizational intelligence for the first time often react to the perception that numbers have nothing to do with real life. In fact, they are little different from any other symbol in the church that has not been converted into story. Religious sounding words can be just as discarnate as numbers and decimal points.

Questions that begin with the words “Tell me about a time…” are good for converting symbols to stories. We “tell” stories. “Tell me about a time when you felt like there was excitement in the church and you weren’t simply going through the motions.” “Tell me about a time when you walked out of your church and felt a deep sense of wholeness and peace.”

Russ Crabtree

Founder, Holy Cow! Consulting

The Fear of Looking and Organizational Intelligence

imagesEvery winter, with just the right amount of cabin fever,  I seem to muster up the courage to try to watch some kind of scary movie.  Predictably each time, I am crunched down in my seat in the middle of some horrifying scene, hands over my face, listening, but not really listening, to what is happening. When the scene is over, I will then, without fail, turn to my husband and say “what happened?”

Perhaps one of the most common things in working with churches that we hear is trepidation about what the Organizational Intelligence will find.   This fear can lead the church and its leadership to miss key pieces of its ministry and what is happening.   One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in litigation is to find my case’s weakest part – then take that weakest part head on and address it.  Do it before the opposing counsel gets to it or the judge notices it.    As an attorney this helps you control the narrative, and, hopefully, set the course for how your client’s story will play out.

It is simple advice really, but it is not instinctive.  It takes the old adage “find their weakness and exploit it” and turns it on its head.  It instead forces you to know your weakness, face it, and grow from there.   Perhaps most surprisingly, in my experience, acknowledging the weakness and calling it what it is can help focus move onto what is strong and where the greatest potential lies.

As someone new to this work, to me, this is what Organization Intelligence does. It takes out all of the guesswork. It removes the hands from the eyes and makes you watch the entire movie.  With this new whole vision, Organizational Intelligence places the control for the course of action back in the hands of the congregation and its leadership.  It helps churches discover what their weaknesses are and gives them an opportunity to turn those weakness with their strengths into instruments for change.   And what can come out of this intelligence and this new direction is something we, at Holy Cow! Consulting, get to see everyday.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6.

Emily Swanson

President, Holy Cow! Consulting

Organizational Intelligence and Saving the Precious Commodity of Time

2079960b97301271e7872ccda5be2072A transformational regional association is one that has focused on creating vital, growing congregations and is discovering effective ways of achieving that vision.  One of the obstacles to this vision that is frequently mentioned is finding the time required for regional association staff and volunteers from local churches to undertake the work involved in that enterprise. In this article, I explore the four ways that OI addresses the time issue.

Time Saver #1: Abandoning Failure Paths

Anyone who has ever undertaken a road trip has first hand experience with the relationship between information and time. Maps, a graphic form of information, save time by eliminating failure paths, that is, routes that do not lead to the destination.

If the destination is vital, growing churches, organizational intelligence can help identify the paths that will not get us there. I will not present a comprehensive list of well-documented failure paths here. Instead, I will focus on one: low missional flexibility. I define missional flexibility as “the capacity of a church as a whole to make changes that are necessary to effectively fulfill its mission in a particular context without investing large amounts of internal energy managing conflict.” With rare exceptions, churches with low missional flexibility indicate the desire to grow, but do not have adequate flexibility to accommodate their aspirations.

Churches with low missional flexibility will stagnate and decline regardless of the financial resources that are invested in their renewal. This is also true of less tangible resources including the time and energy of a regional association staff. No amount of coaching, training, or facilitation can compensate for a lack of missional flexibility. For this reason, regional associations should direct their energy toward congregations that are more adaptive and move inflexible congregations to the bottom of their list. Organizational intelligence provides the information that enables leaders to make these kinds of tough decisions.  The result is a more productive use of time.

Time Saver #2: Closing Black Hole Conversations

Black hole conversations occur when individuals seek to monopolize the time of a leader by advocating a perspective that is not fact-based. When I was a pastor, I could count on an annual visit of the president of the women’s association complaining that younger women were not supporting their work by attending their (daytime) meetings. Finally, I did a little research. In a church with 800 members, only four “younger” women did not work daytime jobs. That ended the long series of (black hole) conversations.

In a healthy congregation, about 70% of members are going to be satisfied. Even so, 3% of the members are still going to be dissatisfied. For churches in crisis, 20% of the members may be dissatisfied. Even in the strongest of churches, 10% of members indicate there is a disturbing level of conflict. This means that complaints to regional association leaders are inevitable. A phone call from a disgruntled member of a vital congregation may be just as intense and time-consuming as a phone call from a disgruntled member of a church in crisis, but the two require very different responses. One is a black hole conversation that needs to be closed and the other is a crisis that requires an intervention. How does a regional association leader know which is which?

Organizational intelligence provides the information that enables leaders to do a better job distinguishing one from the other. By pulling up the Vital Signs report on the screen in real time while talking with a church member, the leader can place the conversation into a factual context. In some cases, this enables the leader to shift the conversation in a pastoral direction, which will likely be more fruitful. In other cases, it will enable the leader to know what conversations can be abbreviated or spaced, all with a good measure of integrity. That not only saves time, it reduces stress.

Time Saver #3: Focusing on Motivated Moments

Local church leaders are often oblivious to the activities of regional associations, and church members even less so. Regional association leaders often spend a lot of time trying to market programs to local churches and are frequently frustrated by the lack of response. Marketing regional association offerings that are unaligned with the priorities of local church leaders absorbs an inordinate amount of time.

For example, stewardship programs are often a major focus of regional associations in spite of the fact that organizational intelligence consistently indicates that stewardship is a relatively low priority to local church leaders, far behind priorities related to church growth, disciple-making, and creating vital congregations. Getting focused in areas where congregations are motivated saves time otherwise wasted on a small number of people. Organizational intelligence can save time by identifying those priorities.

The greater time-saver of organizational intelligence is in creating motivated moments when churches are asking for a connection to the regional association that require no marketing at all. When local church leaders review their organizational intelligence, they inevitably turn to the regional association representative (assuming he/she is in the room) and ask for help. If regional association leaders were simply present to local church leaders as they review their organizational intelligence, they could probably eliminate half their marketing budget and save all the time they invest in trying to get people to come to events.

Time Saver #4: Moving from Interventions to Interactions

Churches in crisis require climate-based interventions. I define a climate-based intervention as process in which a regional association must step into a local church to deal with a crisis situation where the morale has deteriorated to the point that the church is now in a recovery mode. (I distinguish this from a conduct-based intervention where allegations have been made against a leader.) As any regional association leader can testify, interventions are stressful and time-consuming.

In contract to churches in crisis are churches in descent. Churches in descent require an interaction. I define an interaction as a purposeful conversation among local church and regional association leaders. Interactions address issues before they reach the crisis level. For example, a healthy church that calls a pastor will rarely go into crisis in the first year of the new pastorate. However, there can be a significant erosion in energy and satisfaction, a trend, if sustained, is likely to lead to a crisis within five years. Interactions with churches in descent are much less stressful, are more likely to have positive outcomes, but also require far less time.

Churches in crisis are relatively easy to spot but hard to treat. Churches in descent is easier to treat, but harder to spot. For that reason, regional associations usually do not become engaged until churches reach the crisis level and require a time consuming intervention.

Organizational intelligence, when gathered systematically over time, can reverse this pattern. Regional association leaders can begin to spot churches in descent when purposeful conversations (interactions) are more like to have a positive outcome which preserves the vitality of the church, the esteem of the leader, and, most importantly for this article, saves time for the regional association leader.

Russ Crabtree