Organizational Intelligence and Bearing Much Fruit

Jesus said that every tree is known by its own fruit.

William James captures the profundity of this simple statement: “fruit-tree1The roots of a man’s virtue are inaccessible to us. Our practice is the only sure evidence.”

At the corporate level, organizational intelligence is indifferent to the internal processes, structures, and beliefs of a particular congregation or faith-based ministry. While we recognize that denominational distinctives, styles of worship, and congregational qualities are important to members, they are in many ways inaccessible to us as outsiders beyond the scribbles on our flip charts.

The focus of organizational intelligence is on the fruit of the ministry, not as we would judge it, but as members bear witness to it. What we are asking members to identify is the quality of shared life, in the most literal terms, the “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

We don’t use these exact words in OI because they are value-laden and subject to what is known as “idealistic distortion.” Idealistic distortion is the tendency to see one’s behavior in an overly positive manner. For example, when surveyed about whether they are good drivers, the great majority of respondents indicate they are “better than average.” Outside of Lake Wobegon, this is mathematically impossible!

When we speak of “satisfaction” we have good reason to believe that we are actually measuring aspects of love and peace. When we speak of “energy” we believe we are measuring aspects of joy and goodness. The hospitality that members offer to others (kindness), the capacity to manage conflicting differences (forbearance), and the willingness to follow leaders in a governance structure (faithfulness and self-control) are all expressions of this spiritual fruit.

Jesus indicated this to be the ultimate test of discipleship: “that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Notice that it is addressed corporately to disciples, that is, how we live in community. In this sense, engaging organizational intelligence is an act of corporate discipleship, looking beyond all the necessary processes at the roots to discover what is actually being produced as fruit.

Russ Crabtree

Founder 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 institution.th

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.