Coming this Summer: The State of the PCUSA by J. Russell Crabtree

We have shared before, our mission (or our why) at Holy Cow! Consulting, is to help regional associations and congregations, through an evidence-based discernment process, become vital, healthy organizations that better serve the Kingdom of God. As our database continues to grow, it is a part of our mission to use what we learn to help those regional associations and congregations that we have the opportunity to serve.


This Summer, we will be publishing our fourth book about individual denominations – The State of the PCUSA.

The congregations included in the study participated for a wide variety of reasons: strategic planning, pastoral transitions, financial campaigns, to better understand their organizational health, to track progress, or as part of an effort their particular presbytery has undertaken to become more evidence- based in their ministries to and with congregations. These congregations all administered the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT)™.  Our sample is broad enough to be representative of all Presbyterian congregations within a confidence interval of ±5%.

This book represents our findings from 287 congregations with 40,000 responses from the members of those congregations.  It also includes every size, from smaller churches with under 100 in worship attendance to churches with over 1,000 persons in worship. While mega- churches and family sized churches possess significantly different cha
racteristics, they share this fact in common: member experience matters.

Because the Presbyterian Church is a denominational system, this book will include  an assessment of the relationship between local church members and their presbytery. It will also explore those perspectives, experiences, and aspirations using a separate instrument called Landscape™. This is one of the larger studies of its kind in the PCUSA, and perhaps unique in its scope which encompasses both local congregations and presbyteries.  This will include 13 different presbyteries with over 3,000 leaders reflecting on the work of their presbytery.

We look forward to sharing what we have learned in our work.  And as always, we are grateful for all of the people, the congregations and the regional associations that have contributed so greatly to our work and have touched our lives along the way.




Clergy-Focus, the Critical Clergy System and how the Middle Judicatory can help

Clergy:  Power and Vulnerability

With the exception of family-sized congregations, clergy are generally the individuals who hold the most power in a local parish.  Depending upon the polity, this includes the political, relational, moral, and platform dimensions of power.  The introduction of organizational intelligence (OI) into a system has the consequence of making the clergy person one of the most vulnerable, because he or she is the only person in the system where perceptions are individually focused.  This combination of power and vulnerability merits sensitivity on the part of OI interpretive and application consultants.

Since most middle judicatories are charged with particular oversight of their clergy, it is desirable for these bodies to prepare resources for clergy in congregations that are utilizing OI, especially if they are using OI systematically as an information system.  This is particularly true for clergy-focused systems.

The technical definition of a clergy-focused system can be found elsewhere.  Here it will suffice to say that a clergy-focused system is one where members tend to evaluate the vitality of the church through the lens of perceived clergy performance.  A clergy-critical system is one where members perceive that an improvement in the pastor-congregation relationship is the decisive factor in improving the vitality of the church.

Implications for a Clergy-Focused System

The fact that a system is clergy-focused can have a number of different implications and possible trajectories:

  • A “front and center” clergy person who can parley his/her relational capital into ministry and is a good fit for the congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership manage any narcissistic risks.
  • An overfunctioning clergy person who is paying a psychic price for success. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership manage tendencies to burn-out or flame-out.

Implications for a Clergy-Critical System

A clergy-critical system is essentially a clergy-focused system where things are not going well.  Again, there are a number of different implications and possible trajectories:

  • A pastor who is exercising the necessary leadership to shift the culture of a congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership by publicly and privately standing with them.  This usually occurs within the first several years of clergy tenure.
  • A pastor who is no longer, or never was a good fit for the congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership in a process of discernment regarding the pastoral relationship.
  • A leadership team that is beginning to engage in a project (strategic planning, leadership development, financial campaign) that avoids the clergy issue. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership avoid the costs of those failure paths by keeping the system focused on the primary issue.  Are they being led to (a) shift the church culture, (b) work on the pastoral relationship, or (c) dissolve the pastoral relationship?

In many cases, these will not be easy conversations.  However, many issues in clergy-
focused or clergy-critical systems will not improve with time.  Sometimes they will devolve into full-fledged crises of one kind or another in which no one wins and options are diminished.

Regimagesardless of where the congregation is, whether a clergy-focused or a clergy-critical system, there are important roles and conversations that the Middle Judicatory can be a part of – both in the short and long term.  Those early conversations on the part of middle judicatories can avoid painful, costly interventions down the road. These conversations and efforts can also aid clergy who may feel the weight of the congregation on their shoulders – before that weight becomes too much to bear alone.

From Holy Cow! Consulting and Crow’s Feet Consulting 


inSight©: Helping Regional Associations Help

In our work with Regional Associations and congregations, we have found the following things to be true:

  1. A transformational Regional Association is one that has focused on creating vital, growing congregations and is discovering effective ways of achieving that vision.
  2. Using Organization Intelligence (OI) is an important step towards determining an organization’s health and next steps needed. But OI is also only as good as its application.  Without applying OI systematically to move congregations towards becoming vital reflections of our good works in Christ, OI just becomes data.

As we head into Autumn, Holy Cow! Consulting will begin rolling out some new ways to help Regional Associations help congregations.  For the systemic application of OI, by the end of September we will finish completely rolling out our inSight webpages.  inSight is a system of information that empowers Regional Associations to serve a transformational role in their congregations.  It is designed especially for those Regional Associations whose primary goal is to develop healthy, vital congregations.

use this one.pngFor each Regional Association, with five or more congregations that have taken the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT), we will create a private webpage.  On that page, the leadership of the Regional Association will find dashboards of all of their congregations.  These dashboards will show the energy-satisfaction levels of the congregations, the education and motivation, conflict management and levels of trust in leadership, the cultures of the congregations, spiritual vitality, hospitality and worship scores combined with the level of involvement that is meaningful to congregations. The webpage will also include all of Vital Signs (CAT results) for each congregation so everything is in one place and easily accessible.

How Does this Help? 

Regional Associations have a lot of different tasks and roles to fill as they serve their congregations.  Our goal with inSight is to help get that job done in less time with more confidence.

inSight tells a story beyond each individual congregation.  inSight helps Regional Association leaders begin to see what support congregations might need overall.  From tconflct-for-bloghe chart on the right, you can see that this Regional Association has several congregations that could use some help with becoming more flexible. Because we know that organizational flexibility is vital, this Regional Association might want to look at creating some resources that help their congregations become and remain nimble – open to change so they can meet the needs of who they want to reach in the community and in their membership.

inSight helps Regional Leadership know what each congregation is focused on. Walking into a congregation, a Regional Association leader can have that particular congregation’s data in hand. This means they can immediately know what folks in the congregation are focused on for energy and satisfaction.  For example, you would work with a clergy-focused congregation a bit differently than a ministry-focused congregation.  The Leader will also know what the priorities are for that congregation and their theological diversity.  So as they preach, teach, or meet with folks they can keep all of that in mind to ensure what they are saying resonates with the congregation.

inSight helps Regional Leadership make decisions.  One of the hardest things the Regional Association is tasked with is triage.  Answering the questions of what needs immediate attention, what can be dealt with later and what cannot be fixed for now is a tough job.  inSight helps Regional Association have a clear way to measure what is happening in a congregation without solely relying on fiscal reports, attendance trends, and anecdotes.  With an accurate and holistic way to measure the health of a congregation, the Regional Association can begin answering those tough questions of where attention needs to be paid and what the potential of success will be.  

In October, once inSight is in place, we will begin offering Pastor Start-up packages which will help the Pastor in their work as they embark on a journey with a new congregation.  This will complete our three phase transition process, which also includes a Transition Plan and Vital Leader Profile.

We look forward to continuing on this path together.  If there are other ways we can help please let us know.

Emily Swanson
President of 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