On occasion, I have the privilege of sitting down with a pastor and helping them process a decision about the next steps for their church. I’m a strategist at heart. Talking through the nuts and blots of an organization, ideally with a whiteboard marker in hand, makes me happy.
Earlier this week I had lunch with a friend and we talked through a church system. After the conversation, I created some notes. I thought I would share them here in hopes they might help someone else.
First, a few disclaimers:
- None of this is original to me. It comes from multiple sources.
- It is not fail proof, nor is it “the only way to do things.” It’s just a way to process decisions.
- It’s ever evolving. Often I will read something, or talk to someone, and gain a different piece of the puzzle.
BUILDING A DECISION MATRIX
When faced with organizational changes (“Should we do this program or that one?” “How should we change this thing we do?” “Should we add this thing to what we do?”), the Hedgehog Concept provides you a way to evaluate the choice before you.
The idea behind this decision making system is that there are three qualifications a change must match before it is adopted into the organization:
- The change must match what “We offer something to the world.” This is why the organization exist. The new thing must be in line with this circle.
- The organization runs on something. Will the suggested change bring more fuel to the organizational engine?
- The organization has decided it will do one thing better than anyone else in the world. Does the change help the organization do that thing better?
When translated into church world, I re-framed the decision matrix a little:
The questions re-framed for a church environment become:
- Does it line up with who you are? (More on this in a minute.)
- Your church is one of a thousand volunteer fueled organizations with similar answers to #1 in your geographic region. Participation of volunteers fuels your engine (they stop coming and you no longer exist). It is important, therefore, to know why people are participating in your stuff over the other choices in front of them.
- Finally, it is unlikely you will be the best in the world at anything, especially if you are a small church. Instead as, “What is it we want to be known for?” When people say your name, you want them to say, “Oh yeah. That’s the church that _____________.” And don’t put a program in the blank. Put a personality/characteristic. “That’s the church that cares.” “That’s the church that serves.” “That’s the church that is fighting for the homeless.”
WHO ANSWERS THE QUESTIONS?
Before you can plug potential changes into our decision matrix, you need to know the answers to the three questions above, but “Who answers those questions?”
It’s different (but the same) for every church. In general:
“What inspires people to participate?” is easy to figure out. Just ask them. Run a survey of the people participating int he program you want to change, or run a survey of people you’d like to participate. Don’t assume you know the answer. People will surprise you.
“What do we do well that we want to be known for?” is a question that will need to be shaped for each area of ministry. For example, while the answer may be “provide dynamic teaching” for the organization as a whole. What “dynamic teaching” is for kids and adults may be different; therefore, the question needs to be a continuing conversation between core leadership and the leaders “on the ground.”
The first one question – the question of mission, vision, and core values – is the hard one. It’s the one most churches never define, or define too often, or halfway define, or think they’ve defined it when they really haven’t.
DEFINING THE FIRST CIRCLE – MISSION, VISION, CORE VALUES, BRANDING
The meaning of the words mission, vision, and core values change depending on who you are talking to. Here is how I am using them:
- Mission – This is who you are. It’s what you’re about. It’s the content of your organizations character. Ideally, over time this doesn’t change. It isn’t a statement. It’s a white paper detailing the dream of who you hope you will become and who you are striving to be.
- Vision – This is where you are going. At its best, it’s a numeric goal that gets you one step closer to the mission. You should achieve it and then set a new one.
- Core Values – These are the things that keep you centered. Ask yourself, “What will we not do?” On the flip side of that question is a core value.
There is a fourth word we need to throw into the mix because it is often confused with “mission.”
- Branding – This is a packaged, concise statement that expresses what the mission is. It is a teaching tool. It is your “Mission Statement.” It should be short and memorable so the congregation can digest the mission in a bite sized way.
For example, the common mission statement I love is: “Love God and Love People.” Many churches say this and think they are done defining their mission, but this is a brand. It tells us nothing of the desired character of the church. The mission is the short book the leadership could write on what that statement represents to them.
The reason we brand is because the mission, that book of dreams about who you will be, is not easy to share. The brand is there so you can express the mission in a simple way when someone asks in passing who you are.
“So what is your church all about?”
“Read this ten page paper. It’s a dissertation on who we are and who we hope to be.”
“What is your church all about?”
“Loving God and loving people.”
The important point is, for the branding to work, you need the dissertation behind it.
HOW THE BIG THREE WORK TOGETHER
Putting the elements in a picture helps us understand how they work together.
The mission and vision serve as the goal. The mission is the ideal. It’s who you hope to become. The vision is the difficult, but obtainable goal. It is how you are measuring your success. A good vision leads toward the mission.
The congregation is on a journey together. The leadership should be out in front, chasing the vision and mission faster than the rest of the people (it’s why we call them “leaders”). The people aren’t close behind, following the leaders examples.
The core values are the “out of bounds” lines. When you cross them, someone needs to blow the whistle and stop the game. There may be faster paths to obtain your vision, but the core values force you to stay on a certain course. They say to the organization, “No. Not that way. This way.”
In an ideal world, your visions will become road markers as you pursue becoming your mission. You should be able to look back on them as milestones of your journey.
COMMON MISTAKE #1 – NO MISSION
Most churches fail to ever define their mission, or they change it often, shifting with the most popular ministry flavor of the year.
There is no such thing as an absence of mission and vision. When we don’t give one to the people, they assume their own. Typically, they relax into their favorite program. It’s perpetuation becomes the mission. It’s growth the vision. Often this is Sunday morning worship.
“Describe your church to me?”
“We meet on Sunday morning for worship. It’s blend of contemporary and traditional styles.”
“How do you know the church is doing well?”
“When there is more people in the room this week than last.”
If the mission and vision aren’t clearly understood by the leadership, a tug of war begins, and in a tug of war, the weak (those with marginalized voices in the shouting match) get hurt first.
Often I’ve seen pastors trying to promote multiple visions at once. They run from group to group say, “Yay! Go and chase that!” Having empowered everyone, they are confused when there is no forward movement.
COMMON MISTAKE #2 – NO CORE VALUES
The second most common mistake is an absence of guiding core values.
Without the core values to guide you (those “We won’t do this, because we are this” statements), you end up wandering around like a chicken with your head cut off. You may accidentally stumble upon the mission, but more likely, you are going to get farther and farther away from it until the mission seems irrelevant.
WHEN YOU DO EVERYTHING RIGHT IT’S STILL MESSY
Things are rarely clean. Organizations never walk a straight line. The journey is a constant pattern of over-correction.
The ideal is to push toward the dream together, allowing your core values to guide when you need to blow the whistle, stop the game, and take a few steps back.
I hope someone out there in the world finds this helpful. As always, feel free to leave questions or push backs in the comments. If you’re near Baltimore and want to talk it through, send me a note. I like drinking coffee with people.