Restore™: Our Conflict Management Consulting and Organizational Intelligence

Conflict is a part of life.  It is something we have in common; we’ve all experienced it.  And we have all developed individual patterns of response to conflict.  Some of those patterns are productive and lead to increased authenticity in relationships.  Some of those patterns are destructive and can lead to divisiveness.

Congregations, like all organizations, develop patterns for handling conflict as well.  Those patterns can deepen respect and love for those with different views or they can create an environment from which a disturbing amount of conflict emanates.  When the deeply conflicted environment is allowed to go unchecked over time, it has the power to distort facts, destroy relationships, divide communities, and deviate our course from our mission and vision. It can keep congregations from becoming what they are called to be in Christ.

The good news is that congregations can learn to manage conflict more effectively.  But getting there requires the first step of understanding WHY the congregation finds itself in conflict, dealing with the current reality (however harsh or hard to examine), learning new skills for getting to better solutions, and gaining genuine closure.  All of this must happen through an intentional process of seeking to understand, seeking forgiveness, and seeking restoration.


This requires a steady non-anxious look in the mirror.  It begins with organizational intelligence which allows the congregational leadership, in a systematic way, to look at the health of the church as an organization.  This is accomplished through soliciting input, using the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT),  from every voice in the body-none louder than another, none more influential than another.  And it requires an examination and understanding of the culture of the church.  All too often, it is the organizational culture that is at the root of conflict.

Through its work with close to 3,000 congregations across the country, Holy Cow! Consulting has a clear understanding of both the dead ends where congregations too often find themselves and best practices for congregations that can lead to vitality.   For a congregation in deep conflict, most often, nothing in the church is going to improve until that conflict is identified, mediated, and reconciled.  The conflicted congregation needs all of these steps in order to escape the cycle of poorly managed conflict that frequently depresses the whole system and leads to loss of morale, clarity of purpose and membership.

We can help and want to work with you.  If your Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) results indicate growing or significant conflict, we have the skills and processes to help move you to the other side through a customized but intentional process of education, practice, and reconciliation.

Would you like more information?

The Smaller Picture – The Power Focused Congregation

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.

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