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This is part three of a series inspired by The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. You can read part one by clicking here and part two by clicking here.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to change in any organization is people. The easiest thing to do when looking at a church from the outside is to strategize all the things you’d do if you were in charge. All the staffing changes you’d make, all the people who would just need to get over it when you started making necessary changes to worship and committee structures. Never mind that those folks were there before you were, and in many cases, will be there long after you’re gone. People don’t go along with change because they hate you or because they don’t recognize that’s what’s needed. They don’t go along with change because they have many different deeply held values and loyalties that are threatened change, even needed change.

Pulling the pews out of the sanctuary may be the right move to make, but those were the pews that Mrs. Smith sat with her children in every Sunday morning for decades. The church secretary you want to fire is the only source of income for her family. Getting Mr. Jones off of trustees means he no longer holds a position of responsibility at the church he helped build with his bare hands. Not so easy now, is it?

Then there’s the professional staff and ordained clergy, the stakeholders who are an integral part of the machine, that benefit greatly from machine. These are the folks who put roofs over their heads and feed their families by making sure the church is stable and growing. A missional pivot that might lead you to downsize staff or have bi-vocational clergy means real consequences for real people. Changing models and methods of ministry from ones that at one time made the machine successful, but are what people are comfortable with. Change creates high levels of fear, anxiety, and a scarcity mindset among stakeholders, all for understandable reasons.

How then do we go about bringing people along with us in the difficult work of adaptive change?

The authors of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership suggest that:

To mobilize stakeholders to engage with your change initiative, you have to identify their strongest values and think about how supporting your program would enable your stakeholders to serve those values. (Chapter 6)

To go deeper with this, let’s consider one group of stakeholders we too often overlook – the people who live and work in the surrounding community, who are not a part of our church. This might be people who will potentially become a part of our church, but also include those who will never become members or active participants (because they matter to God and therefore should matter to us, too). We too often act without care for, or with inaccurate assumptions, of the community’s needs and wants. When we’re under pressure to make the machine produce we don’t see people in the community as we’re called to see them. We see them as potential butts in seats and as giving units, instead as neighbors to be in loving relationship and community with.

What do you know about the people in your community? How do the people in your community perceive you? What are the positive and/or negative impacts you are having on your neighbors? Are you in relationship with them as neighbors and community partners? Or do you simply see them as potential widgets to be produced by the machine? If we see them as potential widgets, then we just become salespeople for the machine.

So if we’re going to move ourselves, staff, and church leaders, from being in the sales business to the business of being better neighbors, we need to change the way we view and interact with stakeholders in the community.

A good illustration of this comes from a recent article for pastors titled “The Wrong Way and the Right Way to Network at Your Local Coffee Shop (or Wherever).” In the article the author lays out the “wrong” and then what he believes to be more effective ways of hustling people for Jesus meeting potential new people at a coffee shop, who may then attend your church. The suggestions are mainly geared towards being better “bait” by not looking too distracted with work, but not looking too much like you’re trolling for converts, either. This includes not having a large and obvious bible out on the table, but placing a thinner book that’s about the bible, out instead. You know, so people will ask you about it and then you can reel them in.

These are the kinds of methods and tactics that are driven by the machine, which lead to a deep mistrust from community stakeholders (and seriously ruin the coffee shop experience for everyone). When we’re leading an adaptive organization that is responsive to the community coffee shop interactions still happen, but happen very differently. Instead of putting ourselves out there for the “bait and switch” we’re driven by the desire to meet our neighbors and learning how to be a good and loving neighbor. Out of this desire to know and listen to our neighbors, relationships and partnerships form that help meet the needs of both our congregations and the communities of which we are a part of. That’s not going to involve looking the right amount of busy or putting the proper book on the table. It’s going to involve being regularly present at the coffee shop (or wherever), being yourself, and building real relationships. This can lead to real transformation for individuals, your church, and the community. Shockingly, it’s even possible that your church might grow as a result of being a better neighbor in your community. It’s a difficult paradigm shift, however, when people’s livelihoods and comfort have been built on something like the bait and switch.

At the end of the day what really needs to happen is that all stakeholders and decision makers need be talking to one another so that we can understand what fears, anxieties, and loyalties are holding people back. And this isn’t just the occasional check-ins and surface level conversations, but real, open, honest, and raw, conversation that gets everything out on the table. Only then will real change occur. That’s the topic we’ll cover in the fourth and final part of this series.

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This is part two of a series inspired by The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. You can read part one by clicking here.

Yesterday’s adaptive pressures, problems, and opportunities generated creative and successful responses in the organization that evolved through trial and error into new and refined resources structures, cultural norms, and default processes and mind-sets. In other words, yesterday’s adaptations are today’s routines. Yesterday’s adaptive challenges are today’s technical problems. -The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (Chapter 4).

The other day someone paraphrased a successful pastor who compared church growth to Walmart. The gist of it was this: Churches have a in-door and an out-door, just like Walmart. People are coming and going, the goal is to get as many people in that door as possible. You know you’re going to ultimately lose some, but you’re also going to keep a certain percentage and convert them to repeat customers. That’s how you build a “successful” church.

I’ve been hearing more and more people lately refer to this model of church as “The Machine.” The Machine is a model of church that’s built to support itself and a professional staff. It’s built to maximize and increase income in the name of “impact” and “mission.” The new staff member or the new building isn’t about institution building, it’s capacity building to reach new people so we can expand the machine kingdom.

The machine begins with a funnel on Sunday morning where new visitors arrive, hopefully have a positive experience, become repeat customers, join a small group, become a widget disciple, then come out the other end ready to feed more people into the funnel.

When the machine is broken we usually look for a technical solution is needed to fix it. Technical solutions usually have clear, but not always easy, solutions. Visitors not sticking because your hospitality sucks? Find a book or some best practices related to hospitality and train your volunteers to be more hospitable. Staff person being dysfunctional? Help them work through their issues or make a personnel change. People complaining the carpet in the sanctuary is worn-out? Replace the carpet.

Recently, the Barna Group released a study which shows what type of worships spaces millennials prefer to worship in. The implication of the study is that re-designing your space to be more millennial friendly will solve a technical challenge, thereby attracting more millennials to your church and keeping them there. Here, while some may argue this is an adaptive challenge, Barna is trying to help address a technical challenge. This is information leaders love because it gives a concrete solution: you’ll attract more millennials if you get the seating arrangement and carpet color just right. It’s a solution that you can get your hands on and when the church divides over the issue of pulling out the pews to put chairs in, we can blame the side who refused the technical change for keeping young people away. This line of thinking and conflict is a typical byproduct of the machine whether it’s functional or dysfunctional.

The machine isn’t good or evil, it just is. At one point it was built as an adaptive system to best fulfill the mission of the church and the needs of people and communities. The machine became so successful, however, that we forgot that maintaining it wasn’t the purpose or the mission of the machine. So how do we fix it?

We don’t.

The machine doesn’t need to be fixed because the the machine is obsolete and needs to be carefully dismantled, keeping and re-purposing some parts, recycling others, and parting ways with the rest.

Our task has never been to build a bigger and better machine, or maintaining it past its usefulness, but that’s what our task became about. Our task is about offering people a better way to live. And it’s not just about offering something, it’s about creating transformation through living out the love and compassion of Jesus Christ in the world. We measure all kinds of attendance and financial numbers, but when’s the last time we actually measured our impact on people’s lives, the community, and the world?

Whether we want to believe it or not, we get some choice in regard to the world we want to live in. We can shop at Walmart or we can buy from locally owned small businesses that are interesting, unique, and adapted to their context. We can grab a 2 for $20 meal at Applebees, or we can gather with our neighbors and enjoy a long meal that’s been sourced from the community garden.

As church leaders, we have similar decisions to make: Are we going to be committed to building systems and institutions that are about producing widgets or are we going to be committed to creating something more interesting and transformative?

The challenge with choosing the later is there is no particular solution in a box. There’s no franchise model. That’s the adaptive challenge that is before us. That’s terrifying for some, but for others it’s extremely exciting.

The part that may be most difficult for us to comprehend about creating something new is that everything has to be on the table. When we’re visioning for something new we can’t start with any vestige of the machine or institutional sacred cows. We need to start with a blank slate and enter into a deep conversation with God about the communities we’re called to help create. Only then can we begin to dream and create something together that changes lives and communities.

This can all be very upsetting for those who benefit from the machine (of which, whether I like it or not, am a part of and benefit from) and inevitably means there will be conflict. Some people are going to get upset, and some people may leave. This can be addressed, however, by first spending time getting to know people and what’s at stake for them, because an adaptive approach takes into account people’s needs, wants, and feelings, and walks with them throughout the processes of change.

In part three we’ll look at understanding, and taking into account, the viewpoints and loyalties of stakeholders as we seek to make change.

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This is a series of reflections inspired by my reading of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World.

Starting a new business or organization is hard. Really hard. Really, really, hard. Like, probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

Earlier this month I was speaking on a panel at The LEAD Conference, a gathering for creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial ministry leaders. At one point the conversation turned to how to gain institutional backing for new ministry ventures. Part of my response was that you need a plan, that your potential backer will want to see that plan, will hopefully be compelled by the information in your plan to support your plan, and if they agree to support you based on your plan, you both then need to agree that your plan probably isn’t going to work.

My response was based on something I heard this past fall when I was at an event where Sam Calagione, the founder of the very successful Dogfish Head Brewery, was the keynote speaker.

Dogfish Head is one of the craft breweries that was able to break into, and be successful in, the commercial beer market, which in turn helped create a market for other craft breweries, throughout the United States.

Calagione had a lot of really great and inspiring things to say, but the line that smacked me upside the head was: “Every business plan is a work of fiction.”

The authors of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership similarly believe that in adaptive organizations “People view the latest strategic plan as a best guess rather than a sacred text. And they expect to constantly refine it as new information comes in” (chapter 7).

In my career I’ve written two major business/ministry plans then promoted and defended them vigorously. The first was for a faith-based residence hall at a major university, that was never built because if fell victim to the recession. I’m three years into the second, City Square Church, and the organization I’ve helped create has, in many ways, taken a markedly different path from the one that was outlined on paper years ago.

Business plans are great and necessary things. It’s important to get a strategy on paper and to set some goals and make some projections. It’s important to do the work to see what a path to sustainability looks like. It’s important to do the market research to see if you even have a shot at being successful. If you need any sort of investment in your venture, no one will give you money or resources unless you have a detailed plan.

So let’s say you’ve developed a well thought-out ministry plan and you get the funding to move forward. Now what? Follow the plan…until you’ve started to experience the reality on the ground. If the plan isn’t working anymore, and to Sam Calagione’s point, at some point it probably won’t, you have to figure out what to do when the numbers aren’t aligning the way you though they would. You have to be willing and able to adapt to real life. You have to figure out how to adapt when a core piece of your business plan turns out to be the very thing that’s making everything terrible.

The longer you stick with a plan for the sake of the plan, the bigger hole you’re going to dig for yourself. The longer you stick with a plan that isn’t working the more you’ll keep unrealistically comparing yourself to something that was just a best guess in the first place.

Sometimes you just have to push through a rough period, but most likely you’ll need to pivot. Remind yourself that you started this madness because you were passionate about something, because you had a vision for how you wanted to impact the world. The business plan was a set of predictions to get you on your way, but things were different when you got on the ground, or the landscape changed, or things are just taking longer than you thought they would. That’s all normal and that’s all okay. At the end of the day it’s about the reason for doing what your doing, it’s not about validating every detail of the business plan. This is a mindset both you and whoever is backing you must have.

This is an important learning when beginning something new because it will help create and set the DNA long-term for your organization. This will help create an adaptive culture at the core of your organization.

Many times when things aren’t going according to the plan we jut want to push harder or bring in an expert to help us solve some technical challenges. However, in an adaptive organization when things are going in a negative direction the response is to make new predictions, review the system and the structure, and change as necessary.

Adaptive organizations are able to change with the landscape, to not be held back by failure, and experiment without being paralyzed by fear. Adaptive organizations don’t have finish lines but a DNA that allows them to always be evolving and learning.

For churches, being adaptive is extremely difficult to do because we’re too focused on measuring the wrong things. We set goals based on what’s needed to be sustainable or “profitable,” not on fulfilling what we’re called by God to do. We need to recognize that we set goals based on maintaining and growing what I call “The Machine,” instead of setting goals, benchmarks, and predictions that actually help us accomplish our mission.

What exactly is The Machine? What’s the alternative to The Machine? More about that in part two.

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Remembering Paul Shultz

On Friday morning I was devastated to learn of the completely unexpected death of my dear friend and colleague, Rev. Paul Shultz.

I first met Paul in 2009, after I was elected to serve as a representative on the coordinating committee of the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association (UMCMA), an organization dedicated to support and advocacy for UM college pastors and chaplains, and campus ministry, in general. It was a situation where I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. This was an organization in crisis and in steep decline. It wasn’t even clear if I’d serve out my term because the organization probably wouldn’t be around much longer. At our first re-visioning meeting I quickly made friends with a few of the other members, including Paul. They were friendships that ended up being some of the relationships I cherish most, today.

Over the next few years I enjoyed being able to work with, and learn from Paul, as we worked diligently to re-vitalize UMCMA, put on a bi-annual training event, and draft, then advocate for General Conference legislation that strengthened campus ministry throughout The UMC. During this time, not only did UMCMA stabilize, it flourished, largely in part to the tireless commitment and dedication of Paul Shultz.

While we worked hard we also had many opportunities to relax and get to know one another better. Paul impacted my life in a number of ways: he introduced me to IPAs (to my knowledge he had yet to find a beer that was too “hoppy” for him), made me laugh (perhaps harder than any other human being ever has) counseled me through some difficult personal and professional situations, and much, much, more. I’ll always chuckle when I think about the time that he yelled at the doorman at a Nashville bar for insisting on carding author/theologian Peter Rollins. There was also the time he included the phrase, “we are but a humble group of campus ministers,” in an e-mail response to another major speaker/theologian’s agent, while trying to negotiate a large discount on the speaker’s fee… the agent never responded and we lost the opportunity to have the speaker at our event. I was so mad at him, at the time, but it quickly became one of our favorite things to laugh about.

One of the hardest parts about leaving campus ministry was leaving my role with UMCMA, because I knew it meant I wouldn’t get to see Paul, and other good friends/colleagues at planning meetings and events. Regardless, we all still kept in touch and we managed to have a reunion when I led a workshop at the UMCMA gathering in Denver, last July. I can’t believe that would turn out to be the last time I would see Paul, in person, but it was a great visit and I’m deeply grateful for that.

Paul could be very stubborn and he never backed-down from a challenge or a bully. It was a quality that actually served him fairly well, but it also kept him from seeking medical treatment for what is currently assumed to have been a severe case of the flu. I know I will eventually forgive him for that, but for now, I find myself angry with him for not going to the ER when his symptoms continued to get worse.

Paul was extremely generous. This past Christmas Eve I received a notification that Paul had made a generous online donation to the church I pastor. Our church had made a commitment to give away 100% of our Christmas Eve offering to local non-profits. However, when I thanked him for the donation he insisted that we put it towards the general church budget, because he knew it would help us. Sorry, Paul, we still gave it away to local non-profits.

I’ll remember Paul the most, though, for his advocacy for those whose voices were limited and marginalized.

He was deeply concerned about the growing trend of closing stand-alone UM campus ministries, believing they are key ministries and outposts for supporting young adults throughout their college careers. Much of the legislation he wrote and helped get passed at General Conference was related to protecting and strengthening our denomination’s campus ministries and chaplaincies. He also believed campus ministries were a vital prophetic voice and presence on our college campuses. Paul was a staunch advocate for an all-inclusive Church. He made sure The Wesley Foundation at The University of Iowa was an open and affirming place for LGBTQ students, despite criticism from others.

Paul, regrettably, I can’t make it to your funeral, but on Tuesday I’m going to raise a glass of the hoppiest craft beer I can find and offer this toast to you:

Here’s to great memories from Nashville, Tampa, and Denver. Here’s to the amazing work you contributed to The United Methodist Church, campus ministry, and the fight for justice and equality. Here’s to a great mentor and friend. Here’s to all the people you loved, the people who love you, and all the many lives you touched throughout your life. As we struggle through the tears, the anger, and the pain, may we remember your impact in our lives and on our world, each and every day.

I miss you.

I love you.

Rest well, friend.

Cheers and amen.

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Why do young clergy think they are so entitled?!

I mean, check out this kid, just who does he think he is? I bet it wasn’t even youth Sunday.

I don’t hear people complaining about how young clergy think they entitled, a lot, but I hear it enough. If I don’t hear that, I hear the opposite, about how young clergy are going to be the saviors of  the institutional church. Both of those things annoy me, greatly.

This blog has received some pushback because of it’s provocative title. More seasoned clergy believe the idea of electing a bishop in his/her thirties is simply par for the course of this “entitled” generation. Critics, though, miss the point. It’s not about electing a younger person for its own sake, it’s about not disqualifying someone because of their age. This blog is also about much more than one concept, it’s about thinking outside the box, blowing up the box, and getting rid of box analogies, all together, but I digress.

A recent article on the entitlement Generation Y and a NSFW rebuttal on how Millennials have been genuinely screwed by the economy, have been making the rounds over the past few days. Here’s the thing: both articles are partially right. There are a lot of young folks who just think success should be handed to them on a silver plater, and there are a lot of young folks who are fighting to maintain, even a basic living, following a global financial crisis.

Which brings me back to young UMC clergy.

Regardless of the criticism or expectations of young clergy, even with hard work, patience, and playing by the rules, the deck is stacked against young clergy as our denomination continues to fracture and is about to experience a massive wave of church closures and retirements.

What’s our way forward? Well, we can scream and yell about it or we can do something about it.

Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well, if you’re not quite ready to turn in your orders and go open that coffee shop you’ve always wanted to open (because you know, everything else will come with zero challenges and complete fairness), then here’s my unsolicited advice for young clergy  leaders and innovators:

Stop yelling at and stop trying to change the dead institution. It will not change. It doesn’t know how to change and it does not want to change. There are too many people who think they will lose whatever it is they are clinging on to, if it changes. Instead, be a part of a new life-giving and game changing movement, help create a future free of all the things you hate about the dead institution.

If you’re still reading, here’s the details of how to make that happen (also known as lessons Rob learned from countless failures):

  1. Avoid student loans and debt, as much as possible, if not all together. Don’t limit your opportunities and your mobility because your student loan payments are more than your mortgage payments.
  2. Never expect to get a raise. Yup it’s unfair, but in a scarcity minded system, the institution wants more work for less money. Remember how unfair you think this is when you’re in charge and are responsible for employees, then reward them when they do good work.
  3. Don’t look at the system as a corporate ladder. Sidestep the ladder altogether and be a disruptive innovator.
  4. Success speaks for itself. In an institution of mediocrity, the ability to rise above it is key.
  5. Success is hard work. Really hard work. It’s a slow burn and usually requires multiple failures.
  6. Never, ever, let failure stop you. Picking yourself up off the ground, hitting dead ends, getting sabotaged or undermined, and just flat out screwing up will make you stronger. Never give up. Always learn. Always adapt.
  7. Don’t expect anyone to pay for your “thing” because it’s awesome and they just should because, well, you’ll be sad if they don’t. Inspire people to support the vision and the work God has called you to do.
  8. Don’t be surprised when the institution tries to kill innovation (or change or anything new or different). Innovation challenges the status quo and if yours is perceived as not moving fast enough, or taking too many resources, or both, it may be in danger of being shut down. Communicate a strong vision and communicate success.
  9. When innovating, move as fast as you can (but don’t act out of desperation), maximize resources while you have them, and work on self-sustainability from day one. The clock is always ticking and the runway is always getting shorter.
  10. Build an unbreakable network of mentors, partners, and allies. You can’t do this on your own.
  11. Be supportive, offer resources, advice, and help whenever you’re asked by a colleague or partner in ministry. We’re better off working together and helping each other, no matter what.
  12. Fight injustice, hold others and the dead institution accountable (I forgot to mention that, yes, the institution already died, but it came back as a zombie, for one final stand), but keep innovating and keep building life-giving and inclusive community where you can.
  13. Create opportunities for and give opportunities to others who don’t have the same opportunities, privilege, and access you do. Kick down barriers for others every chance you get.
  14. Take care of yourself (spiritually, physically, and mentally) and your family, your ministry will be stronger for it. Your life will be better for it. I promise.

None of these are promises or guarantees of success, they’re the bare minimum of what it takes to accomplish the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The challenges are immense, but you’ve been called, you’ve been given a vision and a mission, and you have the passion and drive to live into what God has called you to do.

Your turn: Feel free to add to this list, in the comments, or criticize me for acting entitled or not entitled enough, or whatever.

This post originally appeared at Rethink Bishop.

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The big news out of the tech world, recently, is that Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, is retiring a few years earlier than expected. Many analysts aren’t surprised, though. Friend and colleague, Jeremy Smith, led me (through a conversation we were having on Facebook) to a great August 2012 Vanity Fair story about the decline of Microsoft and their “lost decade,” under Ballmer’s leadership. Particularly insightful was the part of the article Jeremy highlighted that deals with Microsoft’s culture of “Stack Management.”

What exactly is Stack Management, you ask?

Basically, after becoming hugely successful, Microsoft moved from a startup culture of creativity, talent, and innovation to one mired in bureaucracy and competition between employees. The culture had become so bad that employees stopped innovating and working with one another, because they were all fighting to be at the top of the “stack” when performance reviews came around. Those at the top were rewarded with raises and promotions and those at the bottom were demoted or let go. The worst part was that getting a good performance review wasn’t even achieved through hard and innovative work, it came down to those who cozied-up to the supervisors the most. This is the Microsoft that exists today.

During our online discussion, Jeremy’s concern was that if we lose guaranteed appointment, then this type of management system may quickly fall into place as a way to efficiently exit ineffective clergy.* I slightly disagree with him, however. I believe the system is already in place, and though it may be unintentional, is a reality and a byproduct of our dysfunctional institution. Ultimately, Jeremy’s bigger picture prediction is a realistic one: in our push for more “best practices” and a stronger corporate stack management-esque culture, we risk accelerating the cycle of decline until we’ve exhausted viable churches, competent clergy, and resources, because people will be afraid to take risks in starting new ministries and revitalizing existing ones. Those frustrated by a system that encourages mediocrity and playing it safe will simply leave.

You see, as “good” appointments become scarcer and scarcer, many clergy have developed a scarcity mentality. Why be connectional and why help out your colleague across town when you need to hold on to everything you have, and what you may potentially get, to show growth in worship and membership so you can get bumped up the ladder to a church that can pay you more?

To continue the parallel with Microsoft, think of those pastors that have been legitimately successful in the past or at least comparatively more successful than other pastors in their conference; many of them end up in management (conference staff, board/agency staff, or cabinet members) and push the same methods of achieving success that they had, and hold others to the same standards of success that they had (well this is how I did it in 1985, it should work for you too!).

We’re not that different from Microsoft, we’ve created a culture of distrust and non-connectionalism. Management stifles innovation at every turn and the rank and file works in competition against each another instead of cooperatively with one another.

We need a new paradigm: we need a system with incentives that reward cooperation, creativity, risk, and innovation. We need a system that rewards discipleship formation and world transformation. That’s what will drive long-term, sustainable, world changing growth. That’s what will help us to be the people who God has called us to be.

How do we begin to break down the stack management paradigm? How do we free-up our creatives and innovators to transform our denomination to look more like what God’s kingdom on Earth, fully realized, should look like?

*I’ve argued that before we start firing people (if we ever lost guaranteed appointment), we need to re-train all of our clergy. We’ve had a couple generations of clergy trained as administrators and managers, so most clergy are doing exactly what the system has trained them to do. We need clergy trained to be church planters, entrepreneurs, and missional evangelists.

This post originally appeared at Rethink Bishop.

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How Churches Can Innovate Like Google thumbnail

Recently, Fast Company shared “Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation,” giving us insight into what drives the Google organizational engine. After reading these I thought of parallels of how these innovation principles directly apply to churches, whether they be denominational structures or at the local level.

1. Innovation Comes From Anywhere

In declining mainline churches we tend to only be serious about ideas that come from the top down and/or those who have been “successful” in the past. Churches need to be open to soliciting innovation from the top down and the bottom up. Sometimes this is as simple as giving everyone in the organization a “permission slip” to take risks and innovate. Bishop Grant Hagiya, of The United Methodist Church, literally did this when he handed out actual “permission to innovate” certificates to his clergy at a recent training event.

2. Focus on the User

As leaders we tend to focus on what we want and what we think is the right thing to do. Yes, sometimes people can be overly picky or concerned about having their individual needs met, but it’s still important to focus on what others want and need, without putting aside the mission/vision or at the expense of others.

3. Aim to Be Ten Times Better

Too often we fall into the trap of “good enough” and become too comfortable with mediocrity. Making every area of your church better than what you can imagine it to be can be overwhelming, so focus on making one area better than anyone else’s. For example: develop a plan and work to have the best hospitality of any church in your city. You’ll find that this hyper focus on one area will bleed into other areas and eventually excellence will become contagious in all areas of your church.

4. Bet on Technical Insights

If you have a need that’s going unfulfilled, and you’re saying “I wish someone would come up with X so we could accomplish this easier and more successfully,” then that’s your cue to start innovating. Chances are you might end up helping others, as well as yourself. At City Square Church we always say that a deficit is an opportunity. Don’t know how to create what you need? Take the opportunity to meet new people by reaching out into the community to find new partners who can help you. When we needed to start a Sunday morning band, but wanted to avoid putting together a standard “praise and worship band,” we reached out to a non-churchy musician we had met very early on in our networking, but hadn’t interacted with much, since then. He wasn’t much interested in being in a church band, but he introduced us to another musician, who introduced us to the guy who is now our worship leader. Now, all of those musicians are part of our band and they’ve brought in other musicians, as well. All of them are currently some of our most dedicated members. They’ve developed their own unique sound gospel/roots sound and now write original music that has been a huge driver of growth for our Sunday services.

5. Ship and Iterate

How many times have you sat in a meeting where someone came up with a great idea that was quickly squashed with “that will never work” or “we don’t have the resources to do that?” If it’s a great idea, put it into action regardless of an initial ability to resource it, risk, or having a finished “product” or program. If it’s a solid idea it will eventually work out. Launch the initiative and put the wheels on the car, while rolling. Solicit critical feedback from participants, evaluate weekly, pivot when necessary, and refine it, as needed. When I launched my first Theology Pub with graduate students a few years ago, I didn’t really know how it would work, but I didn’t wait to figure it all out. I e-mailed some grad students, picked a venue, time, and topic and we got together the next week. It took some perfecting but that initial rough concept led to what is now a very successful monthly Theology Pub my current church hosts in downtown Phoenix.

6. Give Employees 20 Percent Time

Google’s “20 Percent Time” is famous for allowing employees to work on projects not directly related to their area or department, though this work still must seek to benefit Google.  This can be valuable to churches and pastors too, especially if you get stuck in the same old cycles and routines, and you just don’t know how to break out of them. Spend a few hours a week working on something that interests you, or that you are passionate about, that is indirectly related to your work. You’ll be amazed how working on different projects spurs ideas, creativity, and innovation for your primary work.

7. Default to Open Processes

Be open to ideas and influence from outside of your leadership circle and even your organization. You don’t have to accept or try every idea that is thrown at you, but just listening and inviting/accepting new people into a process sends a signal that you’re outward focused, and that will go a long way.

8. Fail Well

If you’re not taking risks and learning from your failures, then you’re doing it wrong. Failure opens the doors to new insights, learnings, and opportunities, so don’t be afraid of it. Don’t let the fear of repeated failure stop you. If you’re failing well, the amount of times you fail will decrease as you go.

9. Have a Mission That Matters

See these previous posts, from The Blue Yarn on mission and vision statements: “Making Church Mission Statements Matter” and “What’s the Vision.”

This post originally appeared at The Blue Yarn.

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Sticking With the Failure You Know

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One of the interesting phenomenons when it comes to innovating, within an established organization, is that even though the organization knows it needs to innovate, and even encourages and funds innovation, chances are that it will almost immediately seek to shut-down an innovative venture if it does not produce profitable results, overnight. Innovation is threatening to an existing organization, especially a failing one, because innovation uses coveted resources and threatens the status quo. However, even though innovation is risky and comes with many unknowns, it is still vital to the survival and the growth of an organization.

An organization in decline knows that if it keeps doing business as usual, it will fail. It knows it must innovate and reach new markets, however, it also terrified that the time and resources it puts in to any new venture, will speed up their demise. So, when something does not produce immediate results, even if it shows promise and a path to profitability, an organization will hedge its bets and work to preserve any remaining resources. This is an attitude of, “Well, if we’re going to fail, we might as well stick with the failure we know.”

For an example of this, let’s look at the case of former smartphone company, Palm. In 2007 Palm announced a new product called the “Foleo.” The “Foleo” was to be a netbook-like device that worked as a “mobile companion” to a Palm smartphone. The Foleo, however, turned out to be one of the biggest technological flops, ever. In fact, Palm canceled the project before a single device ever hit the consumer market. Following the cancelation, Palm’s CEO quickly retreated back to a sole focus on their smartphones, which were becoming more and more obsolete by the minute. A few years later, Palm would be acquired by HP, who ultimately retired the Palm product line. In the end, Palm decided it was better to stick to what they knew, even though they knew that their smartphones were getting killed by competitors.

I believe, however, that Palm was actually on to something with the Foleo. As the Wikepedia article points out, the Foleo would have been the first mainstream “netbook” to market and, sure enough, not long after the Foleo was canceled, computer companies introduced their own netbooks. For the most part netbooks ended up being flops, but the innovation of netbooks have led to the thinner, lighter, more compact laptop computers and tablets that now dominate the consumer computer market. In fact, looking back on it, the Foleo had many tablet-like features, a full three years before the iPad was released. The Foleo’s design was slimmed down and the hardware (which included flash memory) enabled quick boot-up and response times. It was designed to connect to the internet through wifi and your Palm’s cellular data connection. It was also had a custom slimed-down OS and custom software developed for it, including a number of “apps,” like a music player, web browser, e-mail program, etc.

Now, I’m not saying that the Foleo would have saved Palm from failure. However, it may have given them a shot to disrupt the notebook PC market and to build upon and improve the device, perhaps leading future generations of the device to become the first true tablet computer. Yet, Palm balked and instead chose the failure it was comfortable with.

In order to keep our organizations from going the way of Palm and the Foleo we have to be willing to be innovators and risk-takers, not haphazardly, but by constantly testing, adapting, and improving new ideas and innovations. We have to measure the things that matter, like the ability to reach and adapt to new markets, even if it’s not profitable at first. We have to be willing to push through the criticism, the finger pointers, the status quo, and the doubters, especially if we believe our innovation is going to change everything.

We have to ask ourselves: will we fail slowly, clinging on to what we know? Or, will we risk failure trying to change the world, one last time? With the former option, failure is guaranteed, with the latter, success and transformation are still possibilities.

Which will you choose?

Oh, and before you consider choosing to fail comfortably, imagine for a moment that you just read this article on the latest generation, and number one selling tablet, in the world: the Palm Foleo Air.

This post originally appeared at The Blue Yarn.

Image: Flickr User thomcochrane

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What’s The Vision?

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What do you do when an institution or an organization is in crisis and is on the verge of ceasing to exist? How long do you keep bailing water before deciding to abandon, or go down with, the ship?

I was recently a part of a conversation related to a last minute plan to save an organization from impending collapse and failure.

Much of the talk was about the process that would move forward to “save” the organization. First, a stopgap measure would be put in place, then a task force would spend a year developing a new vision for the organization and once that was decided upon, a mission detailing how that vision would be accomplished would be developed. With those things in place, fundraising would be next, along with the hiring of new executive director.

This sounded like a valiant effort to save the organization but there was just one problem I couldn’t get past. Was the plan to reorganize and get supporters and stakeholders excited about a new vision that had been put forth by its members and/or leaders? Or was the plan to create a new vision in order to save the organization? In other words, was this rescue plan based on renewing the current vision or a new vision that had been cast, or was it about preserving the organization for its own sake?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about resurrecting failing organizations and institutions, even against impossible odds. However, I’m only interested in doing so if the vision is in-tact or if there is a leader, supporter, or stakeholder that is passionate about a modified or new vision.

Sure, you can run a business or an organization without a vision, but it’s not going to last very long. You have to have a strong vision that tells the world the impact you are seeking to make.

Take for example the non-profit “Give Directly.” They are an innovative organization that gives money to people in Kenya, who are living in poverty. They’ve stirred a bit of controversy because the traditional approach for giving aid to those in African nations is for non-profit organizations to collect donations then provide training, or buy or build things for those in need, under the old philosophy of “give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish he’ll eat for a lifetime.” But Give Directly is showing that giving folks actual money instead of a cow or a new house, and letting them decide what to do with it, may be a better approach. But they couldn’t do this without a strong vision and people who are passionate about that vision. On their website they state:

“Our vision is a world in which direct giving to the poor is (a) a significant share of overall giving, and (b) the benchmark donors use to evaluate giving to organizations.”

Everything about their mission, then is aimed at making that vision a reality.

It’s bold, it’s compelling, it’s specific, and it’s an inspiring vision. It seeks to fulfill a need and a purpose. It seeks to positively impact the lives of others.

At this meeting I kept asking what this dying organization’s vision was. I was begging folks to inspire me with something, anything, that would help me get behind this final push. But no one could give an answer other than “we have to save the organization.” No one could tell me why the work was important, how their lives, and how the lives of others had been impacted.

Is your organization worth saving?

If you can talk about the vision, without hesitating, it’s an endeavor worth taking on.

If you have to think about it, then maybe it’s time to grieve, celebrate the work that has been done, and move on.

What’s your church’s or organization’s vision? How does accomplishing your mission help live into that vision?

This article was originally posted at The Blue Yarn

Photo Credit: DaveLawler via Compfight cc

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The New York Times paywall used to make me angry, however, I’ve grown to appreciate it and I think churches can learn to appreciate it, too.

First, a little history of how the NYT paywall came about.

When I was a teenager I devoured our local paper every morning before school and I subscribed to a print edition of a newspaper throughout college. As I got older, though, and more and more news was available, for free, on the internet, I stopped paying for a print subscription. Over time, as online consumption of news has went up and print subscriptions plummeted, even the big newspapers, like the New York Times, began to wonder about their future.

The NYT quickly realized that a “freemium” advertising-based model for their online content wasn’t going to cut it as a profitable model. They realized they still needed both advertisers AND subscribers. In search of a solution to this problem, The New York Times erected one of the first major “paywalls,” meaning that online-only readers (such as myself) would get to see a certain amount of articles for free, per month. However, once they hit the limit, they would need to pay for an online subscription to remove the “wall” that was blocking them from reading further content.

Seeing that they were getting close to a profitable model, NYT Digital recently announced that they were building a higher paywall – there would be less free articles, including those that were navigated to through social media.

When the new paywall went into effect, I noticed it in a few days, because I hit my article limit pretty quickly. But I also noticed that I wasn’t really a casual and occasional reader anymore. I had quite significantly increased the amount of content that I read from NYT. Honestly, the quality of the journalism and the breadth of content they covered was so good that it had drawn me in further and further into the NYT experience. This made the decision to pay an easy one and I am now a very happy digital subscriber to the NYT.

Everyone loves to get stuff for free, however, free still does come with a price. I think of a lot of free news and opinion sites and how awful the content is. I hate sifting through terrible content to find something intelligent and thoughtful. I don’t really care about celebrity gossip or cute pet photos, but since those things drive so much traffic, you see them prominently displayed on the home pages of news sites. They’re just gimmicks to get more clicks so advertisers will pay for more advertising. Under these models, hyperbole, partisanship, and shock value take precedence over good, solid, quality content.

What does this have to do with your church? Well, churches aren’t necessarily about what people will “pay” for, but about what people will commit to and immerse themselves in. Should churches seek growth through clicks and hits from flashy advertising campaigns, gimmicks, and shock value? Are people part of your congregation because of the latest advertising campaign, the gossip, and/or because it aligns with their politics? Or are they there because of they’ve been drawn into a deeper commitment through meaningful, quality, life-giving, transformational experiences?

If you want to offering something beyond Sunday morning, beyond the flashiness, beyond the gimmicks, you have to be ready to allow for space where God will create and curate something deeper. You have to be ready to connect people to discipleship formation groups, neighborhood engagement opportunities, opportunities to serve the community, opportunities for apprenticeship, leadership and mentoring, and opportunities for people to be creative. Are you ready to do the work to make these things so high quality and transformative that they bring people back over and over again and draw them deeper into the faith community and the community at large?

Some people will still just want to stop by for an hour on Sunday morning and they’ll be turned-off by invitations and challenges to go deeper, but if you commit to quality and breadth of content, you’ll see more and more long-term commitments and deeper engagement in the long-run.

They say people don’t want “memberships” to anything anymore. I think that’s true, for the most part, unless you create something that transforms people, something they can’t get enough of or live without, something that makes them better and helps them make the world better.

Sure, advertising and gimmicks have their place, but if that’s what your church lives and dies on, then it’s time to take a hard look at how deep your community goes and how people are engaging at every level below the surface. Don’t be afraid of the paywall, but only if you’re ready to allow for some amazing content and life changing experiences.

This article was originally posted at The Blue Yarn

Photo Credit: Robert Scoble via Compfight cc

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