Blind Spots for the Local Church

 
I visited a church a while back that had a BIG blind spot. At least, it seemed like a blind spot to me. I could see the problem, but none of the leaders seemed to realize it was there. The problem was that they really believed they were a friendly church, but in reality they weren’t . . . unless you were an insider. I was greeted at the door, which was nice; but from that point forward I became invisible. People actually seemed to work hard at avoiding eye contact with me! This ‘Blind Spot’ is really hurting them – mostly because they are blind to the problem, while it’s painfully obvious to every guest who darkens their door.

Last week I wrote a post entitled, ‘Blind Spots for the Christian Leader‘. This simple matrix does a great job of defining the various areas of self awareness each of us possess. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you jump back & check it out.

Today, I’d like to explore how the Johari Window applies to the local church (rather than just the pastor or a leader within the church). Here’s a review of how the Johari Window works. 

Johari-Window3

In the above image you’ll note the four quadrants.  Each section represents knowledge or lack of knowledge regarding various character traits, weaknesses, etc. for the individual, or for today’s discussion, the local church. Because we are dealing with a group of people instead of just one person, each quadrant gets a little more complicated. With the exception of the ‘Unknown’ section, there end up being different groups of people for each area. So far as I can tell, here are the different groups of people we should keep in mind:

  • Leaders: This includes the pastor, key staff, elders and any other leaders who are on the front lines in ministry at the church.
  • Members/Attendees: This includes everyone else who attends regularly and are the recipients of most of the ministry at the church.
  • Guests: This includes anyone who attends a service, activity, or event for the first time as well as those who come back to visit two or more times. A ‘guest’ is anyone who considers themselves a visitor at the church, regardless of how long they have been attending.
  • Community: This includes anyone in your community who has never attended your church. 

Let’s take a look at each quadrant in relation to the local church:

Open Self – Known To Everyone

For the local church, this is the smallest quadrant of all. There is very little about a local church that everyone knows about, especially when you add in the community – some of whom may not even know the church exists. Depending on the community, the ‘Arena’ quadrant may include things like the church name, location and/or pastor.
 

Hidden Self – Known Only To Us

Leaders are aware of things that members, guests, and the community are unaware of. Examples might include sensitive information like giving records, individual’s unique circumstances, people problems, etc. It may also include a clearer understanding of the bigger picture for the church. For instance, leaders are most likely to know where the church has been and where it’s going.

On the down-side, leaders are often guilty of unintentionally holding their cards too closely to the chest. As a result, sometimes other leaders, volunteers, and/or members can be stuck serving without fully comprehending what they are doing, how they should do it, or why it’s important.

Members are usually ‘in the know’ in some areas, at least in comparison to guests and the community. Where church life can get messy is when members are aware of sensitive information that doesn’t include the whole story or bigger picture. This is a feeding frenzy for satan to reek havoc in the church. Lack of communication or miscommunication will often lead to false conclusions, wrong expectations, and misguided assumptions.

To make matters even more complex, many times members are privy to situations and needs in the church that leaders are unaware of and don’t take the ownership to communicate what’s going on with them. Again, this disables whatever care those leaders may be able to exert in the situation.

Finally, leaders often fail to realize that many members are exactly what they need to solve certain problems, lead certain ministries, or fund new initiatives. God has placed the right people in ‘the house’ for the ministry He wants to initiate. This means many members have the skills, experience or funds to fulfill those purposes, if leaders would just invite them to participate.
 

Blind Self – Known to Others, Unknown to Us

Leaders are often the ones in the dark in this quadrant. There’s an old saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” It may be true for the church leader & pastor. Many would rather not know what they don’t know, but ultimately it isn’t healthy or helpful to the success of the church.

Blind Spots for leaders will include what people really think about the services, events, and activities in the church. For instance, the pastor may believe the weekly bible study is important, relevant and impacting to those who attend while the attendees may simply come because they believe they are supposed to, not because it is helpful to them. Other leadership Blind Spots might include genuine needs that members, guests and the community has, but which have never been communicated to them.

(Remember, we are focusing on the organization, not the individual – there are more blind spots that the pastor or a leader may have personally which I’ve discussed in the post ‘Johari Window for the Christian Leader‘.)

Members often have blind spots in their overall effectiveness or involvement in ministry in the church. Additionally, they may not reflect the values and culture the leadership is expecting or hoping for. This is usually due to a lack of communication, mentoring and regular leadership development.

Guests are blind to nearly everything going on around them. Often, their perceptions do not fully reflect reality. They may perceive the church as a warm, friendly place at the start but discover later on that it’s very difficult to connect with people. Conversely, their first impression may be that the church is unfriendly and irrelevant when in reality the opposite is true, were they to stick around. They may be blind to conflict or organizational dysfunction until they’ve been around for a few months or even years. Research says that 96% of people who have a bad experience never complain. This means your guests may know things about your church that you are completely clueless about; in particular, their first impressions and experiences.

The Community is usually completely clueless. If they are even aware your church exists, what they do think about the church and those in the church rarely reflects reality. Unfortunately, this may also contribute to their unwillingness to visit. That said the community may also have important information about your church that you are unaware of. In particular, they know what they think about the church, even if it’s not true. For example, perhaps they ‘heard’ about a guest’s bad experience or a member was rude or insensitive to someone they know. Maybe that community event the church hosted ten years ago that didn’t go very well is still resident in many people’s minds. Individuals in the community will almost never share these thoughts with church leaders, unless they somehow find their way into the life of the church first and reflect back on their original perceptions.
 

UNKNOWN – Known to No One but God

There are things about your church that nobody knows, but God. Some of those things don’t really matter, like where the cool Christmas lights went that were bought two years ago. However, sometimes there are important aspects of ministry that, if revealed, would stimulate personal and numerical growth over time. This is why it is so critical that church leaders remain humble, are voracious learners and readers, and are willing to allow others outside their church (and often inside their church) provide ongoing coaching to them both personally and organizationally.

As a ministry coach, I might be able to play a role in helping you unveil some of the ‘Unknown’ in your ministry. If you’re interested, please contact me and we’ll start a conversation about it.

 

Blind Spots for the Christian Leader

Back in 1955 a couple of men came up with this great model to help people discuss various aspects of self-awareness. The word ‘JoHari’ is a combination of the two people’s first names (Joseph & Harry). In the Johari Window you see four quadrants expressing personal knowledge or lack of knowledge regarding various character traits, weaknesses, etc. The below chart shows each of these quadrants.

Johari-Window3

Open Self: Known to self and others.

This is what we usually communicate to others or is obvious to nearly everyone. It may be something physical, like a blemish or your weight; or it could include things like your education, number of children in your family, a hobby or your job.

Hidden Self: Known to self, but unknown to others.

This is what we conceal from others about ourselves. Sometimes there is a good reason for holding something back, ex. computer passwords or confidential information about others. At other times it may include information you know would not be appropriate to share, ex. a special moment with a spouse or with God. The rest of the time this quadrant will include secrets – most of which we are embarrassed or afraid to share with others.

Blind Self: Unknown to self, but known to others.

Also known as ‘Blind Spots’. This is where our ignorance can truly hurt us. Others see a weakness, flaw, or even a strength and assume you already know about it or choose not to tell you. You’re left in the dark and don’t even know it. For example, perhaps you tend to have strong B.O., often seem angry, rarely smile, or just can’t preach (wait, I meant ‘sing’). On the positive side, it’s very possible others see a gift in you that would be great to strengthen and develop, but nobody ever says anything, e.g. hospitality. Blind Spot’s may run much deeper and darker as well. This is where people have bought into lies earlier in life that they are completely unaware of. Lies may include pride, insecurity, an addiction, stubbornness, insensitivity, and more.

Unknown Self: Unknown to either self or others.

This final quadrant is disclosed to God alone. It will include the inner workings of your life, personality, character, history, sin nature, etc. that may never fully be disclosed to anyone else. That doesn’t mean it won’t one day be revealed. It’s possible God is waiting for the opportune time to reveal an Unknown strength or weakness. David’s prayers were often requests for God to reveal the unknown to him, like in Psalm 139: 23-24.
 


 
If this is your first time seeing this matrix, I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t wait to teach this on a Sunday morning!” or “I should share this with {fill in the blank} – since they have so many blind spots!”

Let’s hold the phone for a while. I’d like to pose a question to YOU first. Here it is.

What are you doing to shrink the “Blind Spot” quadrant in your life?

It’s folly to assume that we don’t have blind spots. Proverbs regularly reminds us to remain humble before both God and man. For example, “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” Pr. 28:26, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” Pr. 19:20, and “rebuke a discerning man, and he will gain knowledge.” Pr. 19:25.

There’s an age-old way for you to begin shrinking that window in your life; but it takes great courage to do it. Find some trusted people and ask them to share what they know or think about you. I’m not just talking about your best friend. Select several people who see you in different venues and who you trust implicitly to be open, honest, and loving with you. 

You might think the courageous part is sitting them down to ask them self-disclosing questions, but the really brave moment is when they begin telling you what you don’t know. That is the moment of truth. It’s the moment when you choose between foolishness or wisdom. I have one word of advice. Assume they are telling you the truth. To do otherwise is to be presumptuous – and dishonoring to them.

After all, how can you judge if they are right if it’s a blind spot? At the very least, admit that their commentary about you reflects a real perception, if not reality. 

A few questions to get you started:

  • What do you view as my primary strengths?
  • What do you consider to be my primary weaknesses?
  • Do I seem approachable to you?
  • Do you think people are afraid to confront me about anything?
  • Is there anything you notice in my personal life/family that concerns you?
  • Have you ever been aware of an ‘elephant in the room’ when I have been leading meetings or sharing a sermon? 
  • On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate my effectiveness as a communicator?
  • If I hired you as a personal life coach, what would you want us to work on first in my life?
  • Is it possible that I believe I’m good at something that others probably wouldn’t necessarily agree with?

Knowledge Empowers Leaders To Make Wise Choices

knowledge-empowers-leaders

A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers. Proverbs 24:5-6

There is very little that will frustrate a true leader more than lack of knowledge. Knowledge, when wielded by the right individual, is like a sharp sword that is capable of cutting through confusion to find truth and wisdom. Lack of knowledge leaves us whacking away at ghosts in the darkness, hoping we will stumble upon the right path. Empires have fallen because of lack of knowledge. Relationships have come to ruin. Bank accounts have run dry. Employment opportunities have passed people by. All because someone didn’t have the information needed to make a wise choice.

The church world is not exempt from this truth. When leaders have access to the right information, it empowers them to make wise choices. Those wise choices ultimately lead to transformation in the lives of the broken and hurting people in that community.

Proverbs 24 (quoted above), reminds us that leaders can have ‘great power’ and ‘increased strength’, which can lead to ‘guidance’ when facing battles. In other words, we have a greater chance of victory than we did without them (wisdom & knowledge); we are ’empowered.’

If wisdom were a fire keeping us warm and giving us light, knowledge would be the wood and fuel feeding that fire. Of course, knowledge must be given to the right person, a wise person, in order for it to make a difference. Otherwise, it is simply wood sitting in a pile on the floor. 

Charles Spurgeon said it this way: “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”

Knowledge is not our ONLY source of wisdom. There are other sources as well, the most important Source being God Himself, who promises to give wisdom to all who ask it (James 1:5.) But I suspect that knowledge is one of the primary tools God gives us to make wise choices.

How does this apply to you today? What area of your life or ministry are you struggling with? What challenge are you facing that seems overwhelming and insurmountable? I recommend you start with prayer and then begin asking lots of questions. Go on a treasure hunt. Look for answers and don’t stop until you’ve found them. 

Image from istockphoto.com.

The Art of Inviting Feedback

feedbackI’m a big fan of feedback. Not the kind you get on Sunday mornings when the microphone goes haywire and everybody goes deaf. The kind you get when people share their thoughts & opinions regarding something you’re trying to do with excellence.

Inviting feedback is a bittersweet activity. But when I swallow my pride and listen closely to other’s thoughts, it increases my effectiveness and impact in ministry.

Yesterday I listened to this two-part podcast from the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast series entitled, “The Art of Inviting Feedback“. One of the big takeaways was learning how to ask your leaders, co-workers and team-mates this one question:

“If you were me, what would you do differently?”

 I strongly urge you to ask your entire team to listen to these two podcasts. They have the potential to, over time, make a big difference in your ministry’s leadership culture.

The Art of Inviting Feedback – Part 1 (Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast)

The Art of Inviting Feedback – Part 2 (Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast)

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

Thursday Quote: Who – The A Method for Hiring

This is a guest post by Pastor Doug Cowburn II. Pastor Doug serves as the Executive Pastor at Elim Gospel Church in Lima, NY. Recently, while sharing lunch together, Doug told me about this book and readily agreed to writing this Thursday Quote about it for your benefit. Enjoy.

 
 

 
Recently, two different people I know recommended that I read, Who: The A Method to Hiring. I found that this book was not only a great resource for when you need to hire someone, but also a great way to look at writing your own job description. If you’re like me, you want to know when you are being successful at your job. The problem is that many who are in ministry are either working without a job description or the one they have is all activity based. Activity based job descriptions say things like:
  • Connects with volunteers
  • Teaches on a regular basis
  • Leads the deacon team

Someone could follow an activity based job description for years and never actually move the needle on the church’s mission. I want to be an “A Player” who delivers his best and contributes toward the church’s vision and mission. In order to do this I need a job description, or as this book suggests, I need a scorecard that gives me some targets to hit.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“We define an ‘A Player’ this way: a candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.”

“The scorecard is composed of three parts: the job’s mission, outcomes and competencies. Together, these three pieces describe ‘A’ performance in the role—what a person must accomplish and how. They provide a clear linkage between the people you hire and your strategy.”

“While typical job descriptions break down because they focus on activities, or a list of things a person will be doing (calling on customers, selling), scorecards succeed because they focus on outcomes, or what a person must get done (grow revenue from $25 million to $50 million by the end of year three). Do you see the distinction?”

“Scorecards: • Set expectations with new hires • Monitor employee progress over time • Objectify your annual review system • Allow you to rate your team annually as part of a talent review process.”

As you can see, this book was written primarily for the business world, but it has huge implications for ministry related job descriptions as well.  What would your scorecard look like?

Feedback, The Breakfast of Champions

 

I definitely don’t have the stomach to be a boxing champion. I’m not talking about my amazing abs of steel (stop laughing and keep reading). I’m talking about the diet some athletes insist on for breakfast. RAW EGGS. Evidently, eggs lose a lot of their nutritional value when cooked. Setting aside the obvious health risks, I just don’t think I could do it. Putting a cold, slimy, egg down my throat would probably make me gag, perhaps throw up.

Unfortunately, many church leaders feel the same about a critical ingredient for a thriving church and growing leaders. Ken Blanchard once said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” And like raw eggs, feedback can be tough to swallow. In the closing paragraph of last week’s post entitled, “Johari Window for the Local Church” I promised to share some thoughts on how to deal with our Blind Spots. I would like to suggest that getting great feedback can be a big key. 

Why Feedback is Tough to Swallow
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are a few reasons why we prefer our eggs cooked rather than raw.

  • People Can Be Rude.
    You know what I mean. Sometimes people will give you feedback and by the time they are done you feel like a squashed bug. Who wants that?
  • People Don’t Get It.
    Many times, when people share feedback they don’t have the bigger picture in mind. This can sometimes make their input seem irrelevant. What’s the point?
  • People Won’t Tell The Truth
    We know there are things we are doing that could use some adjusting, but we don’t know what they are (they aren’t called ‘blind spots’ for nothing). The problem is, nobody wants to tell us either. They know that raw eggs are yucky and really don’t want to be the ones feeding them to you!
  • We Don’t Want People To Think About It.
    We don’t want to ask people to focus on the negatives. It seems like we will just get them into the habit of criticizing things – in fact, we might sort of be ‘authorizing’ them to do so. Who wants yet another self-proclaimed critic?
  • It’s Emotional.
    It can be very draining to receive feedback. Even when the feedback is helpful, it usually requires some self-evaluation, internal arguments, and eventually a commitment to do things different – which also means more work. Ugh. 
  • The Truth Can Hurt.
    Just because the Bible says, ‘The truth will set you free’, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Often it’s painful and difficult walking through the valley between ‘truth’ and ‘free’. 
  • We Are Too Overwhelmed.
    Feedback usually results in more work. Since we already have several stacks of ‘things to do’ on our desks, there doesn’t seem much of a point to add to the stack.
  • We Think We Are Doing Great.
    Sometimes we don’t look for feedback because we are ‘blind’ to our need for it. Again, just read the post mentioned above. So we fail to seriously look for feedback. Why do I need people to tell me what I already know?
  • We Know We Are Doing Good.
    Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great reminds us that the reason we have ‘good’ hospitals, governments, businesses and churches is simply because we’re comfortable with ‘good enough’ and won’t pursue ‘great’. Because we are doing a ‘good’ job, there’s really no reason to rock the boat and try to do something great.

Why We Need Feedback
After reading the above list, no wonder we don’t pursue feedback very often! Again, referring to Jim Collin’s book, gaining and properly responding to good feedback will pave the road for us to (chapter 4) “Confront the Brutal Facts – Yet Never Lose Faith”.

As church leaders, you understand more than most how important it is for Christians to understand the Truth of the Gospel. Paul talks quite a bit about making sure people aren’t hearing lies and distortions of the Truth. You are passionate about communicating the Truth to your congregations! You know that long-lasting change is very difficult to find without Truth being revealed first. When you equip them with what they need to know, you empower them to become who God has called them to be.

The same holds true for your church. Until you are ‘in the know’ about every aspect of your ministry, you can’t effectively plan to improve and become all God intends for you. Example: If I were your tennis coach and I noticed that you swing the tennis racket wrong, you will probably never play in the big leagues until I share that feedback (truth) – which then empowers you to make a change.

So why do we need feedback? Answer – to EMPOWER us to pursue meaningful, long lasting change.

In an upcoming post I will summarize my ideas on how to ask for, receive, and utilize feedback. Stay tuned!

Image from jsmith on istockphoto.com


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Finding Your Sacred Cow

This week I suggested that your church may have a ‘sacred cow‘ or two that you’ve been holding onto. I haven’t been entirely fair in my blunt and vague references to the ‘cow’. Today, I will attempt to be more clear and practical.

 

Definitions:

  • Wikipedia defines a ‘sacred cow’ as something considered (perhaps unreasonably) immune from question or criticism. 
  • Dictionary.com proclaims it as an individual, organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning. 
  • Miriam Webster’s Learners Dictionary says it best from my perspective though: someone or something that has been accepted or respected for a long time and that people are afraid or unwilling to criticize or question.
A Real Example:
Several years ago I was leading a Strategic Meeting at Elim Gospel Church. We were discussing the number of programs, events, and activities that were potentially sideways energy and not centered around our primary mission as a church. The reality was that some of these activities were stealing our best people and resources – and they weren’t strategically helping our church and it’s people grow. We had just read Andy Stanley’s book, Seven Practices for Effective Ministry (required reading at our church) and decided we needed to “Narrow the Focus”.
 
So far, so good. We all acknowledged that we needed to streamline our church programs to maximize effectiveness and make room for focused growth. Our next step was when the sacred cows stepped into the room (Note: cows don’t mix with elephants very well!). We wrote down on a white board all of the church related activities that could be counted as something that should be evaluated. Once we built our list we systematically began discussing each activity to decide what to do with them. At the end of the meeting we had decided to cut exactly ZERO things.
 
Here’s what the conversation sort of sounded like, 

Wayne: “So how about VBS? Is that something we should consider ending?”

Team Member: “No. We can’t lose that. We have hundreds of children attend that each year and it’s attracting a lot of families from the community.”

Wayne: “OK. Well, let’s consider the ‘Women’s Community Bible Study’.”

Team Member: “No, no. I feel we would really be making a big mistake there. A lot of women from the other churches attend that event. It’s a great way to serve those other churches and it’s very well attended.”

Wayne: “Umm. Our Easter Production?”

Team Member: “Wow. You really think we should consider doing a normal service? Besides Christmas Eve services that Sunday service is our highest attending service of the year!”

Suffice it to say, that was not one of our funnest meetings. I left that meeting feeling deflated and as if we had wasted several hours of everybody’s time. What we realized was that although we wanted to do the right thing and cut back, none of us were committed to really questioning these and other events. They had become sacred cows for us. (Note: I specifically used those three examples from our discussion for a reason. We have since successfully ‘killed the cow’ in each of those cases. If you’re interested in how we did it, shoot me an email or post a comment.)
 
Three Disclaimers:
  1. Before you look at the final section below, please be reminded that IF one of these have become a ‘sacred cow’ it’s possible you either don’t know it or aren’t willing to admit it. I talk about that in my post entitled, “The Smelly Cow“.
  2. I am NOT trying to say that the below examples shouldn’t be happening in your church. It’s quite probable that many of them should. However, what may be very appropriate, strategic, and anointed by God in one church may in fact become the opposite in another.
  3. If you look closely at the above definitions you will note that a sacred cow is NOT NECESSARILY something that you shouldn’t be doing. It can also include something that you should be doing, but that you ARE NOT willing to question. So here it is, “Are you willing to question any or all of the below examples in your church ministry?”
Sacred Cow Examples:
Following are a few examples of activities, events, etc. that COULD end up becoming ‘sacred cows’ for your church. I’d love to listen to your internal dialog as you read them. Hopefully, they won’t sound that meeting we had many years ago!
  • A Program or Ministry.
    It is possible your church supports a ministry that happens every week or month that isn’t really an integral part of your church’s mission. This may include a men’s or women’s program, a children’s program, a class, perhaps even your mid-week service {gasp}
  • An Event.
    Of course, there may be many events that you host occasionally or even annually that really need to be questioned and evaluated. Understand, you shouldn’t really be checking to see if the event is successful based on how many people attend or even how effective the event is. Rather, you want to know, “Is it strategic and fulfilling our mission as a church?” An event may include a special service like an Easter or Christmas service, a youth overnight retreat, a seminar or conference that you host, maybe even your Vacation Bible School.
  • A Service Element.
    A service element may include ANYTHING you do immediately before, during, or after a Sunday service. Often, churches get so used to doing the same things every week that they become sacred and untouchable. This is how church services can become ineffective and irrelevant in reaching their communities. Your members who have been around for years don’t even question what happens each week, but your guests sure do! Examples of service elements include your style of worship, how you receive the offering, the volume of the service, the temperature in the room, how you give the announcements, how you host communion, whether Aunt Edith should play the piano and possibly even how you preach every single week! Ouch.
  • Your Language.
    Sometimes the words you use every week are inappropriate and unhelpful to your listeners – and in particular to your guests. This will include the obvious words like “sanctification”, “justification” and what-not. However, it may also include words like “visitor”, “heathens”, and “secular”. (Example: We no longer refer to new people each Sunday as ‘visitors’ – it sounds like they won’t be staying long. We now call them our guests.) Finally, your language will also include the many assumptions you may make from the pulpit about your listeners, like ‘everyone here already knows all the stories/people in the Bible’ and ‘everyone here understands our church’s history and culture’.
  • Your Things.
    What would happen if you walked down the hall and removed that picture of the founding pastor from 50 years ago? What things does your church possess and most often display that have become sacred cows? How about the seats in the sanctuary? The offering baskets? The stained glass windows? I’m not suggesting you clean house this Saturday – if you do so, you may end up with a church split. I AM suggesting that you may have some sacred cow ‘things’ kicking around that should be identified. What to do with them is another topic entirely.
  • Your Building.
    Every pastor and leader understands intellectually that the ‘church’ is the people, not the building. However, we can often be guilty of giving our building more ‘sacred value’ than our people. Nowhere in your mission statement is there a reference to your building (I hope). How have you preferred your building over your people? Additionally, parts of the building can become sacred cows – like the color of the carpet or walls or the wall that divides two rooms which could really serve your church better as one big room.
  • Your People.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling your people cows. However, sometimes we can have people in positions of influence or ministry in the church and nobody is willing to question whether they are really serving the church well in that role. Just because someone has been on the worship team, an elder, or a greeter for the last 20 years does not mean they should be today and tomorrow.
  • Your Systems.
    You may not realize it, but you have systems. They are the procedures that you either officially or unofficially utilize to get things done. Here’s the deal with systems: rarely do the same systems serve the church forever. In fact, just like the parts of your car, systems can get old and wear-out. A growing church will always be evaluating how decisions are made, how the bulletins are produced, how guests are followed up on, etc. to ensure those systems are still serving the ministry of the church as best as possible. If you ever hear someone respond to the question, ‘Why do you do it this way?’ with ‘Because that’s how we’ve always done it.’ then I submit that you may have a system that has run it’s course.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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Thursday Quote: Shutting Down Low Performing Ministries

Will Mancini

My Thursday quote this week is from Will Mancini’s blog entitled, “3 Strategic Alternatives to Shutting Down a Low Performing Ministry“. If you’ve been following the thread of this week’s series about ‘The Sacred Cow‘ then you’ll also discover this article particularly helpful.

Here’s a teaser from Will’s post:

“Is it time to close a program in your church? Many leaders will tell you, “When the horse is dead, dismount.” But this classic advice rolls of the tongue much easier than it plays in real life.

As a leader in ministry you have no doubt faced ministries that just ought to go. Like sour milk, they live past their shelf-life. But for various reasons, you just can’t do it. Maybe there is still a group of precious saints being served by the program. Or maybe the decision-making culture of the church just requires more time to process.”

Want to read more? Check it out RIGHT HERE.

 

The Smelly Cow

Every once in a while I have the privilege to lead all day meetings at Elim Gospel Church where I serve as Executive Pastor. After a couple hours of intense discussions we’ll take a break. Everyone will stand up, leave the room, go to the bathroom, get a new cup of coffee, etc. Ten minutes later, I’ll walk back in the room and be inundated with an odor I hadn’t noticed before. Ugh. We’ll all notice it. The windows get opened and we valiantly attempt to air it out. All those bodies stuffed into that room add up to some serious BO. Here’s the deal. Most of us didn’t notice it until we left and came back.

 
Two days ago I told you my sad story about a cow I cared about and then had to kill. I also suggested that some of our churches have cows as well. They are most often referred to and known as sacred cows.
 
Their not. They are only treated like sacred cows. They are really smelly cows. You know what it’s like to get used to a smell. You’ve been in numerous situations where the odor is mildly unbearable for most people – but surprisingly not to you.
 
By now you’re wondering what in the world my point is. Simply this. The ‘cows’ in your church aren’t very obvious to you and your members. They may be staring you in the face. You just might be gently patting one on the back while reading this article.

However, sacred cows are usually quite obvious to your guests. Ouch. Is it possible that’s one of the reason some of them don’t come back?

 
Do you have any sacred cows at your church? Not sure? I have a suggestion for you. Try sniffing them out. Here are a few ideas on how to get started…
  • Draft a few questions that are designed specifically to sniff out sacred (smelly) cows. Here are a couple to consider: 
    Was there anything that made you feel uncomfortable when you first arrived at our church? Was there anything about the Sunday service that was confusing to you or that didn’t seem to have a real point that you could tell? Is there anything anyone did or said that made you feel like an outsider? Is there anything about the facility that seems out of place? What can you think of about this church that has always been confusing to you? If you have attended other churches before, what would you say is really different compared to your other church experiences – good or bad?
  • Ask key people who might have some measure of authority to answer these questions. This could include:
    Any new members of your church within the past year. First time guests within the past 2 months (give them a call). First time guests each Sunday (make a feedback card or form). Guest speakers who have spoken in the past year. Trusted family members of attendees who visited from out of town.
  • Select four people who you trust know how to think critically to spend two weeks asking the question, “why?” to anything and everything. 
    I recommend you give them a notebook and have them journal all of their ‘why’ questions in the notebook. I also suggest they not share their ‘why’ questions with you or anyone else until the two weeks are over. Anytime they have a ‘why’ question that they can’t reasonably answer themselves, have them highlight them for further consideration after the two weeks are over.
  • Hire a mystery guest to come to your church. 
    Check out my post about mystery guests right here. 
If you find some cows, I’d love it if you’d let me know.
 

Attributes of a Church in Decline

Tony Morgan grabbed my attention again this week in his blog entitled, “5 Attributes of a Church in Decline”. He shared what he and a fellow blogger felt could be five key attributes of a church in decline. What strikes me as so interesting is simply that all five attributes are indicative of a church that isn’t led by someone who thinks strategically for the future. For instance, as I’ll share in a future entry, a clear mission and vision is a very basic and key first step in strategic planning. What do you think?

In case you have a difficult time reading this chart, the five attributes are:

  • Lack of mission and vision clarity.
  • Failure to define a concise strategy to help newcomers become fully-devoted followers of Christ.
  • Complex structure.
  • Inward-focused with little connection to the surrounding community.
  • Weak leadership especially in the senior pastor role.