SOURCE NOTES: The material on this subpage was previously published on my Futuristguy’s Field Guides blog, in a section giving Case Studies in Systems Analysis, Practical Solutions, and Accountability. Severity of Problems: Stage 2 – Renovate/Shore Up.
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Stage 2 – Renovate / Hope on the Line
If Stage 1 Repair deals mostly with minor (but not merely cosmetic) system issues, then the advance to Stage 2 Renovate involves the organizational equivalent of major surgery that requires some substantive time to recover and then recuperate.
Here, hope is on the line, but has relatively more chance to thrive than it does in Stage 3.
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System Solutions Case #1
A Timely Merger with Drastic Changes in Constituencies
How to extend the life of our institutions beyond two more generations has become a major problem as our population ages and our culture changes. Using the metaphor of a house, do you build on an addition, sell it to others and move out, renovate the space together, or something else? In the past 20 years, an increasing number of churches have been coasting toward closure because they are missing the involvement of younger generations. One response has been for an established church to merge with a church plant. One of the particular problems experienced in mergers lies with approaches to mixing people from what typically are two vastly different social cultures and ministry methodologies. Do you go with the traditional, the emerging, or some combination? Put another way, is this a symbiotic new relationship that helps both, a parasitic attachment that helps one and harms the other, or something else?
The root renovation issue for mergers is this: When you merge two such different entities, you do not merely birth something new, you simultaneously “kill” the trajectories and probable futures of both of the original entities. You’re not dealing with just one birth, but also with two deaths. How do you allow for both sides to mourn the grief of loss of what they had, so they can appropriately celebrate together a new joint start and singular future?
A friend of mine heard the most amazing account of how a church merger managed this process with a visual timeline and oral history project. The established church had a building, the church plant did not. So they used the wall in the main meeting room to post timelines. Week by week, the older congregation worked through their history a decade at a time. People posted pictures and news articles, and shared their recollections of what happened with their church during that decade. When they got closer to the present time, people from the church plant did likewise, recounting their history. They started from the opposite side of that wall. And when the two timelines met in the middle, the two congregations celebrated their official merging of a new entity with a new name and a new corporate future together. Their process had taken less than a year.
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System Solutions Case #2
Chaos and Consequences
Conventional wisdom holds that for every year a particular pastor has led a church, when that pastor is gone, it takes the congregation one month to recalibrate who they are without that person in charge and transition before they are ready to find a new leader. So, when a leader’s been in charge for 10 years, it takes almost a year to reset before there’s deep readiness to start a search for a new lead pastor – despite any growing sense of antsy desperation to get moving on it.
What if your previous pastor had not so much led the church, but let chaos reign in the church? And had done so for 25 or 30 years? What would have to happen in the two to three years needed to get ready for the next leader? As it turns out in one consultation I did in this kind of situation, the organizational infrastructure alone took about that long to renovate.
“Leading” by chaos didn’t mean things were any more creative in the church. It was just as control-oriented as one infused with legalism and overburdened with rules and regulations – but it was just not as predictable. In consequence of this, there were no minutes from staff meetings. Which meant no records of decision-making or to-do lists. And there was no common understanding among staff members of what the official mission statement of the church was. Which meant if you asked three different staffers, you’d get three different answers, meaning know one really knew where this ship was headed in the ocean of supposed ministry.
An organization run that way is vulnerable to certain kinds of problems that non-profits are prone to. The biggest problem is that when you decide based on whim instead of with plans, you can easily end up expending the organization’s assets in ways that benefit insider individuals and not the public interest. Maybe you hire friends who turn out to be inept instead of experts to do needed jobs. And there may be lack of tracking fund usage, and therefore lack of transparency and accountability in financial dealings. The biggest problem created is a lack of trustworthiness. And that’s something you cannot fix directly; you need to renovate the systems in ways that earn (or re-earn) trust. As it turned out, the next pastor was mostly an administrator and he got the fractured infrastructures straightened out. That was his major accomplishment before he moved on. That process took about three years.
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System Solutions Case #3
Men’s “Non-Movement” — Failure to Share Leadership/Shift Power Base
One church plant I was in had been going for several years. The congregation numbers were expanding. And with more people, there were more diverse needs to serve, but still just one full-time pastor and one part-time. These leaders were getting burned out. So the pastor invited all the men of the church to a weekend to spend time together, reflect on the state of the church, and help the pastors brainstorm ways to move forward.
That seemed like a great stride forward – this opening up of input to a larger number of participants. It was obvious already that this pastor had problems with control, an overly competitive spirit, anger, and intimidating behaviors – for which he regularly apologized and told people to hold him accountable. So, giving away control would be good.
But it didn’t exactly come as a surprise to the men in the group when they’d suggest a new project or a different way of doing things, and the pastor would almost immediately shut them down. “No, we’re not going to do that.” “We’re not strong enough for that.” “Not in my church.” Those were early warnings signs of an as-yet-unseen problem lurking beneath the surface, but already embedded in the strategies and structures. This pastor was the founder of this church plant, and he would increasingly act like he owned it as an entity, rather than served the people in it. But he continued to hide that reality under the premise that the church was young and needed to be protected.
The kind of shutdown of participation at the men’s meeting stood as just another early point in what became a long line of acts of control. I don’t leave a situation until I sense that I’m released from it and free to go. Because of that, I was at this plant long enough to observe that most singles, couples, and families only stayed about a year and a half, and then they disappeared. Other pastors likewise came and went – most burned out or fired by the founding pastor.
A decade or so later, I heard that the people of this church had eventually told the pastor he needed to leave, because he’d never really dealt with his anger issues, and they would have no more of it. The remnant of that church eventually merged with another church – one that with a long-time ministry of healing for the people who spiritually staggered away from several toxic churches in the area. No renovation really was possible in the original organization, because the man who claimed ownership of it never would allow it.