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
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.
In a study published in Nature, scientists showed that over the past 50 years the numbers of emperor penguins in Antarctica have dropped by more than 50 percent. The problem: The current climate cannot support penguin populations, and emperor penguins in particular are having trouble adapting to the change.
Eight thousand miles to the north, a similar problem is devastating populations of Protestants where, over the past 50 years, membership in most mainline churches has dropped by more than half. The problem: like their penguin cousins, the current climate in most churches does not offer a compelling reason to belong, and members are having trouble adapting to the change.
Members realize that something must be done. When nearly 200,000 members from over 1,300 churches were asked where they would like the church to invest additional energy, they prioritized “develop a comprehensive plan to reach new members” as the first or second priority 92% of the time. With an average age over 53 years, the members of the typical mainline church are significantly older than the general population. Conscious of the demographic hole for younger cohorts in their congregations, 72% of churches ranked “make necessary changes to reach families with children and youth” as first or second as well.
The concern for numeric growth is undoubtedly a response to nearly 50 years of membership decline in mainline denominational churches. A review of the last ten years of data from the churches in the Holy Cow! Consulting database reveals that this decline continues, and is universal across all denominations. (See Figure 1)
Figure 1 Decline in Attendance Universal for Mainline Churches
Congregational leaders are looking for resources that can help them address these priorities. When 20,000 leaders were asked where they wanted their middle judicatory to invest additional energy, “equipping leaders to reach new members” was the first or second priority 100% of the time. Given the opportunity, it is reasonable to assume that leaders would prioritize services from church consultants in a similar order.
Over the years, leaders have adopted a number of different perspectives on this decline as they guide churches.
In some quarters, it has been treated as a non-issue. From this perspective, churches are called to be faithful. Numeric growth or decline is in God’s hands. The advantage of this approach is that it frees leaders from the complexities involved in making new disciples and allows them to focus solely on issues bubbling up in the corporate consciousness.
A related approach has been to treat numeric decline as beneficial. The thought here is that many persons who joined the church in the 50’s and 60’s were members in name only. Their departure from the church has left a core of more committed members who can now be about a ministry unhampered by the inertia of half-heartedness.
A third approach has been to treat numeric growth as a bi-product of church vitality. If a church is healthy, it will automatically grow. If a church is not growing, it is a sign that something is internally amiss. This approach allows members to simply focus on the health of the church with the assumption that numeric growth will follow.
A fourth approach has been to engage the issue of church growth directly through programs that have a proven track record in other faith communities. What one church can do, another can do. The advantage of this approach is that it offers clarity through a set of programmatic blueprints.
An alternative approach is what I call an intelligent system growth strategy. In contrast to the perspectives above it is built on four core affirmations.
Church growth is the result of a core commitment to making disciples, whether understood as individual salvation or incorporation into a soul-saving community.
Church growth is ecological in nature. An unhealthy church environment tends to foster a decline in numbers rather than growth. The churches that are losing members at the fastest rates are those that are the least healthy.
Church growth occurs when strategies are employed that are tailored to a particular context. Programs adopted from other churches without consideration of climate and culture will generally fail.
Church growth strategies benefit from organizational intelligence, made possible by information technology, which provides valuable insights that can clarify factors that impede or enhance church growth.
I will say more about what I mean by an intelligent system in the next chapter.
This book is written for leaders at every level.
This book is for church leaders serving on planning teams of various kinds, most of whom serve churches with members who indicate that reaching new people is their highest priority.
This book is for the regional association leaders, conferences, dioceses, synods, presbyteries, and districts who are being asked by local leaders to make “equipping leaders to reach new members” their highest priority.
This book is for professional church consultants who shoulder the responsibility of guiding churches in directions that are both faithful and fruitful.
One of the things I get asked a lot is where are Holy Cow! Consulting’s offices? We started as a small company in Columbus, Ohio but, as we have grown, we have gotten the opportunity to work with close to 3,000 congregations all over the country. So, our office is wherever you invite us into your congregations and use our assessments for the important work you are doing. This is a snapshot of where we were in 2015. We look forward to being a part of the important work you do in 2016.
The Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) is an instrument that assesses the perspectives, experiences, and aspirations of members. We consistently emphasize that when the CAT is used in a planning process, it needs to be supplemented by intelligence from the environment. In our consulting work, we collect this intelligence through community demographic data as well as interviews, focus groups, and town meetings with community members and leaders.
In what sense is the CAT a “missional” assessment?
First, a positive climate in a church is prerequisite to missional initiatives. Few things are more disturbing in a church’s organizational intelligence (OI)
than to see that only a third of the members are satisfied, but their highest priority is reaching others. Creating more dissatisfied members is counter-missional.
Second, the CAT gives us a reliable read on the missional flexibility of a church, that is, its ability to fulfill its mission without having to invest inordinate amounts of energy to manage conflict.
Third, the CAT gives us insight intowhere members are focusing their attention, on persons, power, or ministry.
Fourth, the Missional Church Module of the CAT assesses whether members are more attractional or more missional in orientation. For example, we know that in a typical mainline church only 17% of members are comfortable telling faith stories.
Finally, the Flow Module of the CAT gets a direct read on how members view their discipleship in the world. In the typical church, two thirds of
members indicate that their engagement to impact the world as an expression of Christian discipleship is lower or much lower than they would like. This reveals an important opportunity for churches with a missional orientation.
In these senses the CAT is not simply an internally focused instrument. From a missional perspective, it measures the spiritual/emotional capacity of a congregation to be missionally engaged, the readiness of a church to enfold people into a healthy system, the level of flexibility required to engage missional initiatives, the degree of orientation of members to a missional rather than attractional approach, and the dissatisfaction of members with their current level of discipleship in the world.
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
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
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.