Strategy: How You Do What You Do

Remember the last time you sat down to do a jigsaw puzzle? The work proceeds in two basic steps. First, you put the edges together. Finding all of the little pieces with straight edges is the easiest way to begin. As you piece together the top and bottom and sides, the puzzle is framed up within a relatively short period of time.

The second part of the process is now ready to begin, because you have defined the basic shape and outline of the puzzle. Before building the frame, it would have been exceedingly difficult to put many of the middle pieces together. But now, all of those elusive jigsaw shapes and unclear image fragments have perspective and boundaries.

Even though the frame makes the puzzle-building project easier, more work remains. You pick up awkward shape after awkward shape, twisting and turning them and turning again, until you get just the right fit and-snap-the image develops, one piece at a time. After a long journey that may take days or even months, the final image emerges.

Articulating your church’s vision is like working on a jigsaw puzzle.

Auxano co-founder Will Mancini developed the Vision Frame concept to show you how to articulate your vision the same way you would build a puzzle: in two basic steps.

This excerpt of SUMS Remix continues to introduce the Vision Frame, guiding you to first think about the four outer edges – the components of your church’s identity that frame everything else you do. These edges anchor the second part of the process (a future SUMS Remix), which involves the direction of living and articulating the dynamic vision of your Church Unique through the daily work of turning and twisting the pieces of the organization. The edges of the frame are definitive, but the middle of the puzzle is dynamic. The fixed nature of step one, building the frame, anchors the fluid nature of step two, where your vision picture slowly develops into the better intermediate future God has entrusted to you.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Move by Patty Azzarello

Move is your guide to mobilizing your whole organization to take your business forward. Whatever your needed transformation may be: a new initiative, a new market, a new product, your fresh strategy is up against a powerful foe: an organization’s tendency to stay very busy and completely engaged  with what it’s already doing. This book shows you how to cut through resistance and get your team engaged and proactively doing the new thing!

Author Patty Azzarello draws on over twenty-five years of international business management experience to identify the chronic challenges that keep organizations from decisively executing strategy, and to give you a practical game plan for breaking through. Leaders tend to assume that stalls in execution are inevitable, unchanging parts of the workplace—but things can change. At the heart of every execution problem is the fact that there simply are not enough people doing what the business needs. This guide shows you how to get your entire organization on board—remove the fear, excuses, and hurdles—and uphold the new pursuit against distractions and dissent.

No transformation can succeed without suitable engagement from the whole organization, but building engagement can be difficult, uncomfortable, and tentative. This book shows you how to get it done.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

The absence of strategy, as Will Mancini defines it, is the number one cause of ineffectiveness in a healthy church. By healthy, he means that there is some foundation of spiritual unity in the church and trust among the leaders.

Unfortunately, many churches think that being more effective is simply a matter of trying harder, being more obedient, or praying more. The battle belongs to the Lord, but the Lord also asks us to prepare the horse for battle. In other words, kingdom effectiveness and missional movement require more than spiritual unity; they require strategic clarity.

The strategy is the piece of the Vision Frame that brings this crucial dimension. This map, or strategy picture, is like a container that holds all church activities in one meaningful whole. Without this orientation, individuals within the organization will forget how each major component or ministry activity fits into the mission. 

Strategies are often stated in end goals. An end goal, no matter how inspiring it is, is not enough. The “Middle” is the important part.

It’s easy to get excited at the beginning and define long-term goals at the end. It’s the “Middle” that’s the problem. It’s hard to keep an organization focused on doing something new and difficult for a long time. Since real transformation takes time, you need a strategy to maintain execution and momentum through the Middle.

A good strategy defines what you will do. What you will do describes what happens in the Middle. While you are in the Middle, without the right measures that define your strategy in a concrete way, you can’t know if you are making progress. And if you can’t see that you are making progress, you will most likely not keep going. Everyone will stay busy with what they are already doing, and your transformation will stall. The leaders and the team need to get fiercely aligned on the specific, clearly defined, resourced, and sponsored outcomes that need to happen through the Middle to bring about the long-term success of your strategy.

A big reason for the stalls that too often occur in the Middle is that many organizations mistake listing end goals as a strategy. You become excited about the wonderful achievement at the end, but there is nothing in the definition of that end goal that tells you specifically what to do, which way to go about it, what problems you need to solve, or what you need to fix, change, stop, or invent to get there – these are all things that need to happen in the Middle.

A strategy must describe what you will do, including how you will measure and resource it. Strategy must clarify specific action.

Patty Azzarello, Move

A NEXT STEP

Strategy Defined

Strategy is the picture or process that demonstrates how the church will accomplish its mission on the broadest level. Strategy answers the question, “How do we do what we do?” It is a flashlight that shows new people clear next steps. It also sets the expectation of involvement for all members.

The strategy is like a container that holds all of your church activities into one meaningful whole. Without this picture individuals within the church will forget how each component fits into the mission. They will be lost in a programmatic soup of good but random activity.

Think of strategy as a pattern of participation. It reveals places and rhythms of being involved. It is the church’s operational logic. It shows how every major environment (time and place at church) is a part of a discipleship pathway. Strategy is the missional map or “where Joe goes” at the church.

Strategy Reminders

  • The strategy defines your unique church model
  • Without strategy, programs are not “vertically related” to the mission
  • Without strategy, programs are not “horizontally related” to one another
  • In most churches, 50% of worshipers do nothing other than worship
  • The two greatest barriers to involvement are, “I don’t know how” and “No one invited me.” Clear strategy removes these barriers.
  • Generally speaking, churches with fewer higher quality ministries have better results
  • Strive for simplicity with strategy – good programs are enemy to great programs
  • Over-programmed churches should chart a 1-3 year alignment journey
  • The vision team should be able to draw the strategy on a napkin
  • Use a visual strategy icon in all church communications 

Gather your team and give everyone a large napkin and a pen. Ask them to pretend that they are having coffee with a key leader in their ministry. Give them 90 seconds to draw a picture of how your church is called to help people mature in their faith as disciples, using as few words as possible. Don’t let them look at each other’s napkin until everyone else is finished, then tape them next to each other on a wall.

Discuss together: How close are they to the same picture? Are the words used the same or different? What steps are needed to clarify a shared strategy among your team?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 115-3, released March 2019.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

On the way to pick up a take-out lunch from my neighborhood diner yesterday, the warm sunny day found me with the sunroof open and the windows down. I came across a field that had freshly cut and baled hay in it – the old style small bales. The aroma of the hay took me back to my teenage years, when my buddies and I helped nearby farmers as they would bring in hay for their cattle. My usual job was to stack hay bales on a wagon pulled by a tractor – sometimes tossing them from the field, sometimes stacking them on the wagon. Hard work, but good exercise and fun for a bunch of teenagers.

My instantaneous trip down memory lane was shattered when I rounded the corner and saw one man, driving a tractor pulling a machine that picked up the bales, stacked them in neat rows, and when a row was complete lifting the whole thing onto a trailer. The work was quicker, neater, and in the long run more economically advantageous for the farmer.

On the way back from the diner, going down the same road, but on the other side, I saw an elderly gentleman driving a tractor cutting a small field around his house – but with an identical International Harvester tractor and mower to that I used in the early 70s. Now, the tractor I used then was old – that made this one really ancient. But it seemed to be doing the job just fine, and the farmer was moving right along in his work.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The season and needs of both farmers dictated their actions. Each was using tools at his disposal to accomplish a task. Each was satisfied that they were doing the right thing, and they achieved their desired result.

Change, even as regular as the seasonal changes (at least in NC) is a constant. I’ve been a student and practitioner of change for a long time. One of the best resources for understanding change is William Bridges’ Managing Transitions.

Don’t let the title fool you: the first sentence explains the premise of the rest of the book: It isn’t the changes that do you in; it’s the transitions. Bridges sees change as situational – the new job, new boss, new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.

I think Bridges would translate the old French saying above to: There can be any number of changes, but unless there are transitions, nothing will be different when the dust clears.

Situational change hinges on the new thing, but psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you had before the change took place. Nothing so undermines organizational change as the failure to think through who will have to let go of what when change occurs.

Got Change, anyone?

 

How to Harness the Power of TNT

Positive Learning from Negative Feedback

Leaders in all sizes and types of organizations often face negative feedback and criticism – and many have problems dealing with it.

Maybe it’s time to blow criticism away with “TNT”.

Recently I was reading HBR.org and came across a great article by John Butman entitled “The Benefits of Negative Feedback.”

I recently gave a lunchtime “author’s talk” at Children’s Hospital in Boston and, although I thought the talk went well, somebody in the audience didn’t like it at all. On the evaluation form, the person in question wrote a single word in the comment box: CONFUSING.

Thank you, whoever you are. While everybody else gave me good marks and said nice things, which I appreciated, my critic forced me into self-examination. Was he the only one forthright enough to speak up, or was he the only one not paying enough attention to get it? What was confusing? The ideas? The presentation?

His thoughtful suggestions contained in the article on dealing with negative feedback reminded me of a simple but powerful tool that I use whenever I receive criticism.

It’s called TNT, and I learned it over twenty years ago from Sue Mallory, a training instructor for the Leadership Network. I’ve been using it in every shape and form since then.

Are you ready?

The Next Time.

That’s right – once something has been said or done, you can’t do anything about it – for good or bad! Why should you beat yourself up and let it drag you down?

But you can learn from it and apply that learning to The Next Time the situation presents itself.

Here’s a great example: A presentation I gave at a national conference in Dallas TX. I was no stranger to the conference – I’ve been speaking at it for over ten years. The topic was not new to me even though it was the first time I had presented it in its current form. I had prepared adequately – or at least I thought.

As it turns out, I had mistakenly assumed that the attendees of this year’s conference attending my session would be the same as in prior years, and I neglected to gauge the makeup of the audience before I launched into the presentation.

Over half of the session’s attendees were from a technical background, when I had expected most of them to be from a church ministry staff background. The presentation was only 5 minutes old before the quizzical looks and a few responses to my questions made me realize a mid-course correction was required!

Fortunately, I have a background (albeit several decades ago) in the technical production aspect of church ministry, and I was able to shift on the fly to orient the presentation more in that direction. The formal evaluations I received backed up the comments from several attendees following the session, indicating the midstream switch was a success.

Looking back, I could have avoided the situation by noting what other sessions were being offered at the same time (and thus gauging potential attendance) as well as taking a quick audience poll to see who was present (to adjust the presentation at the beginning).

But it happened, and I couldn’t change a thing.

There’s always The Next Time.

What about in your leadership position? How will you use the power of TNT in evaluating an event or lesson or sermon that got some negative feedback in order to provide a positive launching point for improvement in the future?

Don’t let the negatives get you down – instead, blow them away with TNT.

How to Communicate Your Vision Through Stories

When Thomas Davenport and John Beck wrote the book The Attention Economy, they brought a very important message to church leaders. The book argues that information and talent are no longer your most important resource but rather attention itself. People cannot hear the vision unless we cut through the clutter.

The principle of attention requires church leaders to be bold and relevant as they integrate vision into the internal communication of the church. According to Davenport and Beck, these are the most important characteristics to get attention:

  • The communication is personalized.
  • The communication comes from a trustworthy source.
  • The communication is brief.
  • The communication is emotional.

In other words, your communication should be telling stories.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Laws of Brand Storytelling by Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio

We have been sharing stories from the beginning of human civilization―for good reason. Stories captivate our attention and build communities by bringing ideas, emotions, and experiences to life in a memorable way. This is proving to be an increasingly potent strategy in the era of the connected digital consumer. With consumers more empowered than ever before, your brand isn’t what you say it is anymore, it is what consumers say it is. As a result, capturing customers’ hearts and minds today requires businesses to prioritize emotional connections with customers, to be in the moment, having authentic conversations, to share relevant, inspiring stories that move and motivate people to take action. 

Packed with inspiring tips, strategies, and stories from two leading marketing innovators, The Laws of Brand Storytelling shows business leaders and marketing professionals the power storytelling has to positively impact and differentiate your business, attract new customers, and inspire new levels of brand advocacy. The authors lay down the law―literally―for readers through a compelling step-by-step process of defining who you are as a brand, setting a clear strategy, sourcing the best stories for your business, and crafting and delivering compelling narratives for maximum effect. Win your customers’ hearts and minds, and you win their business and their loyalty.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

In SUMS Remix 109, “brand” was defined as the perception of your organization that lives in the minds of your audience.

The authors of Brand Storytelling remind us of that: “It’s not about you; it’s about them. Create stories that your audience can relate to. Make your customer the hero. Be human in everything you do.”

Brand storytelling isn’t just about the content you create. Brand storytelling is who you are. Every story adds to a person’s perception of your brand.

Brand storytelling is the art of shaping a company’s identity through the use of narratives and storytelling techniques that facilitate an emotional response and establish meaningful connections.

Brand storytelling done right is never self-absorbed; it is a dialog. It’s human and real and relatable. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or even funny, but it unites, sparks conversations, and puts people first.

Storytelling can take the form of a video, a tweet, a conversation, a surprise-and-delight act, great customer service, or a brand taking a stand on a specific issue. The list is long. A company’s every interaction with the world matters in shaping its story (both at the macro and micro level).

Macro stories are at the core of your organization’s DNA. They highlight your company’s story, its founding myth. They can do so through a logo, a brand identity guide, and the story of the founder(s). What drove the founder(s) to risk everything and start an enterprise? Why was it important? What challenges had to be overcome? How was the ultimate mission statement shaped? Macro stories are the why, the foundation of and the reason for everything the company does.

Micro stories are the lifeblood of your storytelling strategy. They are an “always-on” approach to continue building your macro story. They are the moments in time that allow us to keep our brand at the forefront of everyone’s mind in a relevant way.

Micro stories can come in any shape or form: websites updates, social content, blog posts, press releases, co-marketing and partner messaging, packaging, events , customer stories, employee stories, influencer stories, internal communications, newsletters, e-mail campaigns, product deliver, and so on.

Your micro stories cannot contradict your macro story. They are designed to support and extend it.

Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio, The Laws of Brand Storytelling

A NEXT STEP

According to authors of “The Laws of Brand Storytelling, “Great marketing isn’t just about grabbing attention with catchy taglines and click bait headlines anymore, but holding that attention and building lasting and meaningful connections. Brands can no longer rely on slogans and jingles but must learn to tell stories.”

Set aside some time in your next leadership team meeting to review the concepts of “macro” and “micro” stories as listed in the excerpt above. Write the words “macro” and “micro” on two chart tablets.

For no more than five minutes, list all stories in each of those two categories by name or a brief description. For example, “founding story,” “relocation,” “Sam Smith revival,” etc.

After listing the stories on the two chart tablets, go back and review each one as follows:

Macro stories – Talk through the stories listed, using the questions posed in the excerpt above to guide the discussion. Discuss how these stories need to be woven more into the tapestry of your church’s conversations.

Micro stories – Review the list of micro stories and discuss how each supports the macro stories you previously discussed. If they do not support the macro story, discuss how you will adapt them, or stop doing them.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 118-1, released May 2019.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

Your VALUES Guide Why You Do What You Do

Remember the last time you sat down to do a jigsaw puzzle? The work proceeds in two basic steps. First, you put the edges together. Finding all of the little pieces with straight edges is the easiest way to begin. As you piece together the top and bottom and sides, the puzzle is framed up within a relatively short period of time.

The second part of the process is now ready to begin, because you have defined the basic shape and outline of the puzzle. Before building the frame, it would have been exceedingly difficult to put many of the middle pieces together. But now, all of those elusive jigsaw shapes and unclear image fragments have perspective and boundaries.

Even though the frame makes the puzzle-building project easier, more work remains. You pick up awkward shape after awkward shape, twisting and turning them and turning again, until you get just the right fit and-snap-the image develops, one piece at a time. After a long journey that may take days or even months, the final image emerges.

Articulating your church’s vision is like working on a jigsaw puzzle.

Auxano co-founder Will Mancini developed the Vision Frame concept to show you how to articulate your vision the same way you would build a puzzle: in two basic steps.

This SUMS Remix will introduce the Vision Frame, guiding you to first think about the four outer edges – the components of your church’s identity that frame everything else you do. These edges anchor the second part of the process (a future SUMS Remix), which involves the direction of living and articulating the dynamic vision of your Church Unique through the daily work of turning and twisting the pieces of the organization. The edges of the frame are definitive, but the middle of the puzzle is dynamic. The fixed nature of step one, building the frame, anchors the fluid nature of step two, where your vision picture slowly develops into the better intermediate future God has entrusted to you. 

THE QUICK SUMMARYThe Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

There is a competitive advantage out there, arguably more powerful than any other. Is it superior strategy? Faster innovation? Smarter employees? No, New York Times best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, argues that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre ones has little to do with what they know and how smart they are and more to do with how healthy they are.

In this book, Lencioni brings together his vast experience and many of the themes cultivated in his other best-selling books and delivers a first: a cohesive and comprehensive exploration of the unique advantage organizational health provides.

Simply put, an organization is healthy when it is whole, consistent, and complete, when its management, operations, and culture are unified. Healthy organizations outperform their counterparts, are free of politics and confusion, and provide an environment where star performers never want to leave.

Lencioni’s first non-fiction book provides leaders with a groundbreaking, approachable model for achieving organizational health complete with stories, tips, and anecdotes from his experiences consulting to some of the nation’s leading organizations. In this age of informational ubiquity and nano-second change, it is no longer enough to build a competitive advantage based on intelligence alone. The Advantage provides a foundational construct for conducting business in a new way, one that maximizes human potential and aligns the organization around a common set of principles.

A SIMPLE SOLUTIONValues: Why are we doing it?

A church without values is like a river without banks – just a large puddle. It is missing an opportunity for white-water movement. As with any organization, your church has a set of shared motives, or values, underneath the surface of everyday activity. The problem is that they stay weak because they are unidentified and unharnessed in guiding the future.

The role of the leader is to identify the most important values and pull them above the waterline of people’s perception. Once they are in clear view, the leader can nurture their development, enabling the church to do more of what it does best. Once your people know and own the values, it’s like creating the banks of a river to channel energy and momentum. 

As you clarify your deeply held values, they become tools for shaping culture only to the extent that they are captured and carried. 

If an organization is intolerant of everything it will stand for nothing.

The importance of creating clarity and enabling a company to become healthy cannot be overstated. More than anything else, values are critical because they define a company’s personality. They provide employees with clarity about how to behave, which reduces the need for inefficient and demoralizing micromanagement.

That alone makes values worthwhile. But beyond that, an organization that has properly identified its values and adheres to them will naturally attract the right employees and repel the wrong ones. This makes recruiting exponentially easier and more effective, and it drastically reduces turnover.

An important key to identifying the right, small set of behavioral values is understanding that there are different kinds of values. Among these, core values are by far the most important, and must not be confused with others.

Core values are the few – just two or three – behavioral traits that are inherent in an organization. Core values lie at the heart of the organization’s identity, do not change over time, and must already exist. In other words, they cannot be contrived.

An organization knows that it has identified its core values correctly when it will allow itself to be punished for living those values and when it accepts the fact that employees will sometimes take those values too far. Core values are not a matter of convenience. They cannot be extracted from an organization anymore than a human being’s conscience can be extracted from his or her person. As a result, they should be used to guide every aspect of an organization, from hiring and firing to strategy and performance management.

Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage

A NEXT STEP

Values Defined

Values are the motivational flame of the church. They are the shared convictions that guide your actions and reveal your strengths. Values answer, “Why do we do what we do at our church?” They are springboards for daily action and filters for decision-making. Values represent the conscience of the organization. They distinguish your philosophy of ministry and shape your culture and ethos.

While values are a leadership tool like the mission, they are not expressed verbally everywhere and all the time. Therefore, people coming to church will encounter the atmosphere that is shaped by values before they hear the values themselves. Ideally, values will define the experience for an attender before they are a conscious thought. Values are “what Joe feels” at the church.

Values Reminders

  • Anchor your values in reality (actual vs. aspirational is 3:1)
  • Consider not “what we do” but “what characterizes everything we do”
  • Remember “a river without banks is just a large puddle”
  • Avoid ideas of individual spiritual growth and think “organizational glue”
  • Do the organizational “checkbook test” – prove the value with church finances
  • Capture uniqueness and personality, be distinct
  • Think essence not event
  • Articulate at four levels: name, definition, “demonstrated by” statements, and scriptural support

Gather the team and ask this question: If a new guest was to report back after six months of consistent worship attendance, what would they saw we truly value based on their experience and observation? How does this influence our current values language or inspire us to create new values?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 115-2, released March 2019


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

If You Think Reading is Boring, You’re Doing It Wrong

They may be hand-drawn animation, or computer-generated imagery, or even real actors in a stage play or musical.

Whatever the media, there’s a powerful story – and life lessons – from the characters in Beauty and the Beast.

To Gaston, a book with no pictures might as well have blank pages.

To Belle, a good story doesn’t need pictures to be understood.

 

No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.

– Confucius


 

Need book ideas? How about trying SUMS Remix?

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Published since 2012, we have looked at over 480 books for solutions to common problems leaders face every day.

Each Wednesday on 27gen I typically take a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publish an excerpt.

>>Purchase an annual subscription to SUMS Remix here for only $48<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

 

Economics Principles at Your Church

My college experience included four years serving as a student assistant in the office of the chairman of our school’s economics professor. For 10 hours each week I got a healthy dose of Economics – everything from Econ 101 to advanced statistical analysis. Dr. Cho certainly knew his subject matter, and the quizzes, exams, and homework I graded made me appreciate the field of study, even to the point of taking extra classes and obtaining a minor in economics.

Over the 30 years since college, various economic concepts have popped up in my work on a church staff and as a church consultant. The most regular of these has been “The Pareto Principle,” first written about in 1906 by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.

You probably know it as the “80/20 Rule.”

John Maxwell recalls learning of it in a college business management course, calling it one of the most profound eureka moments in his life:

The professor was teaching the Pareto Principle, and as he explained its impact, my eyes were opened. He explained that:

  • 80 percent of traffic jams occur on 20 percent of the roads
  • 80 percent of classroom participation comes from 20 percent of students
  • 80 percent of the time you wear 20 percent of your clothes
  • 80 percent of the profits come from only 20 percent of the customers
  • 80 percent of problems are generated by 20 percent of the employees
  • 80 percent of all decisions can be made on 20 percent of the information

What an eye opener! It meant that the best 20 percent of my activities were sixteen times more productive than the remaining 80 percent. (from Leadership Gold, by John Maxwell)

Dozens of books in my Leadership Library refer to the 80/20 rule, most often in terms of resource and time efficiency. In this context, I think it is appropriate, and a very useful rule of thumb. Certain assumptions can follow from this idea – you should focus on your best customers, or your hardest working staff members, or your most profitable selling item – with these you reap the greatest results for the least effort.

In ChurchWorld, a handful of members typically account for most of the effort in the congregations. (A corollary to this principle is that a few members cause most of the headaches, but I’ll save that for another day.)

  • How can you shift more of your church members from sitting to serving, from being spectators to engaging more deeply?
  • Would doing so help more people to grow and develop spiritually?

A classic Leadership Network publication may just be what you are looking for to answer those questions. The Other 80 Percent is a practical guide for church leaders, written by respected researcher Scott Thumma and noted author Warren Bird. The authors draw upon research across a broad range of Protestant churches of all kinds.

I can almost hear Dr. Cho now: “the distribution of your sheep can be shown like this…”

Beginning tomorrow, I would like to invite you to look deeper into The Other 80 Percent and see how you might use it to help move your church forward.

Join Me on a Trip in the Yellow Time Machine

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 12 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


 

There are times when pictures are worth more than a thousand words…

My wife travels to Baltimore, MD at least once a month on business. Because I work for a virtual company (Auxano) with no “office,” my primary role of Vision Room Curator requires only an Internet connection to “set up shop.” Occasionally, I accompany her and we spend the evening or weekends visiting in the area. Recently we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare before leaving Washington DC to return home. We have a standing list of places to visit, and we agreed on the National Geographic Museum. Located in the heart of the city just a few blocks from the White House, the Museum had a surprise in store for me:

A literal wall of all the National Geographic magazine covers since the magazine’s launch in 1888.

NGwall1

A story I wrote a few years ago, and updated later, immediately came to mind:

The image below,  from the December 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine, once again stirred memories.

Giant sequoia

The following is an updated repost from 2009:

NGM Oct 2009

Images are often powerful reminders of our past. One of my boyhood memories is that of eagerly anticipating the monthly delivery of “National Geographic” magazine.

The familiar yellow border outlining an amazing photo was my ticket for travel around the country and the world. It’s a pleasure I enjoy to this day, as my mother continues give the magazine as a gift each year. Until recently, I kept them all – now going on 36 years, plus dozens of other pre-1979 issues I have picked up at occasional yard sales (but that’s another story!).

The October 2009 issue has a striking image of a redwood tree on it. As soon as I saw the magazine in its shrink-wrapped shipping bag, I was transported back to first grade show and tell: my crude drawing of a redwood tree, taken from a July 1964 NG story.

I filed that thought away, and not long afterwards, had the occasion to visit my boyhood home in Tennessee. I asked my dadNGM July 1964 (who was still living at the time) about that magazine, and sure enough, he had kept the magazines too! I pulled the issue off the shelf and thumbed through it, gazing again at living giants thousands of years old, comparing them to the same family of trees 45 years later. While I enjoyed that trip down memory lane, there was still something tugging at my thoughts.

When I returned home, I searched my library and found the answer: Growing Spiritual Redwoods by William Easum and Thomas Bandy. Published in 1997, it was a striking call for church leaders to understand the new paradigm the church was entering. They likened the healthy church to a redwood tree. I remember reading the text when it first came out, and my copy bore highlighted sections, Post-It© Notes, and scribbles throughout.

Using the metaphor of the redwood tree, the authors described the growing and healthy church as follows:

  • They stand taller than any other tree, but their visibility is less a function of the numbers of their adherents, and more the magnitude of their ministries
  • They hold aloft an enormous umbrella of intertwined branches, which shelter a huge diversity of life in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect
  • They are resistant to crisis from beyond and disease from within. Political winds do not break them, and ideological fires cannot burn them down
  • They put down strong, extensive root systems that intertwine with those of other Redwoods. They draw nutrition from unexpected sources, and reach out into unlikely places
  • They regenerate in abundance. Not only do seeds initiate new life across the forest floor, but they sprout vigorously even from the stumps of felled trees

What can your church learn from the redwood tree?

The Lesson of the Redwood Tree aside, I was again reminded of the power of the visual image in communicating. That visit gave me a sobering perspective on what it takes to deliver that image. Walking through the rest of the museum, I was struck by the lonely quest the NG photographers had embarked on: months of often-solitary work, shooting 50,000 to 90,000 images to get the few dozen that ultimately become a story.

That’s the price they willingly paid to bring their vision to fruition.

What price are you paying to bring your vision to reality?

 

How to Thrive in Turbulent Times

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


 

In the first and second centuries, the Christian church was communal, organic, and unstructured – a lot like the Internet today. Within the Roman Empire, the Christian church grew from a handful of believers in AD 40 to over 31 million adherents by AD 350, making it the world’s first viral organization. By contrast, today’s mainline churches are institutionally powerful, but spiritually weak.

What’s true for churches is true for other institutions: the more “organized” and tightly “managed” they are, the less adaptable they are. Not surprisingly, the most resilient thing on the planet, the Internet, is loosely organized and lightly managed, and so was the first century Christian Church. The lesson here? To thrive in turbulent times, organizations must become more disorganized and unmanaged – less structural, less hierarchical, and less routinized.

As institutions mature, the positive thrust of missions diminishes and the pull of habit strengthens – until one day, the organization can no longer escape the gravitational field of its own legacy.

No pastor would ever tell you that the goal of his or her church is to create a place where members can gather each week to be expertly entertained while congratulating themselves on their moral superiority. And yet this often seems to be the case.

Speaking to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit a few years ago, Hamel asked the crowd “Is there a difference between ‘doing church’ and ‘doing Jesus’?”

Following a positive response, he then asked, “So where do your loyalties lie? Is it with the mission of redemption and reconciliation, or with the traditional programs and policies of your church? And if it’s the first, how would people know? What would be the evidence? Wouldn’t it be your willingness to sacrifice some of these familiar practices on the altar of a bigger purpose?”

Silence.

I’ve never met a leader who swears allegiance to the status quo, and yet few organizations seem capable of proactive change.

Gary Hamel

It’s impossible to build adaptable organizations without adaptable people – individuals who are humble, honest, and inspired.

Are you adaptable?

 

inspired and adapted by What Matters Now, by Gary Hamel

What Account Do I Draw From to “Pay Attention”?

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


 

A few years ago, my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to plan and deliver The Adams Family Adventure – a week-long trip to Walt Disney World for my immediate family of fifteen: six children and nine adults.

All week long I had the most fun watching the rest of the family as they experienced Walt Disney World, most for the first time. We captured that trip in over 3,000 images, whose primary purpose was to bring up stories from our memory from that single image.

As we departed four different cities on the first day of our trip, we were texting and FaceTiming about our various experiences. It was the first airplane flight for four of the grandchildren (they did great). They left their homes early in the morning, took long flights, got on a big “magical” bus, and arrived at our resort.

To our grandchildren, it must have been a little strange. From the time they came running off the bus, throughout all of the fun adventures of the week, to the goodbyes at the end of the week, they were a little overwhelmed, maybe even overstimulated about the whole process – and I began to see all over again what it means to be curious.

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You can, and must, regain your lost curiosity. Learn to see again with eyes undimmed by precedent.   – Gary Hamel

My grandchildren’s curiosity was brought sharply into focus when I recently read the following:

In childhood, then, attention is brightened by two features: children’s neophilia (love of new things) and the fact that, as young people, they simply haven’t seen it all before.   – Alexandra Horowitz

On LookingAlexandra Horowitz’s brilliant On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes shows us how to see the spectacle of the ordinary – to practice, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle puts it, “the observation of trifles.”

On Looking is structured around a series of eleven walks the author takes, mostly in her Manhattan neighborhood, with experts on a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. She also walks with a child and a dog to see the world as they perceive it. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and the cognitive aspects of what it means to be an expert observer.

Here’s an illustrative example as Horowitz walks around the block with a naturalist who informs her she has missed seeing three different groups of birds in the last few minutes of their walk:

How had I missed these birds? It had to do with how I was looking. Part of what restricts us seeing things is that we have an expectation about what we will see, and we are actually perceptually restricted by that perception. In a sense, perception is a lost cousin of attention: both serve to reduce what we need to process of the world “out there.” Attention is the more charismatic member, packaged and sold more effectively, but expectation is also a crucial part of what we see. Together they allow us to be functional, reducing the sensory chaos of the world into unbothersome and understandable units.

Attention and expectation also work together to oblige our missing things right in front of our noses. There is a term for this: inattentional blindness. It is the missing of the literal elephant in the room, despite the overturned armchairs and plate-sized footprints. 

Horowitz’s On Looking should be required reading for ChurchWorld leaders. How often do we fly past the fascinating world around us? A world, mind you, that we have been called to serve.

How can we serve a neighborhood or community or a block of our subdivision if we haven’t paid attention to it?

To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro – walking down the street, traveling to work, heading to the store or a child’s school – is unremembered. It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens. It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with.

Will Mancini, co-founder of Auxano, the vision clarity-consulting group I serve on, has written eloquently on the subject. In his book Church Unique, he introduces a principle called “The Kingdom Concept” with references to artist Andrew Wyeth:

 Most artists look for something fresh to paint; frankly, I find that quite boring. For me it is much more exciting to find fresh meaning in something familiar.   – Andrew Wyeth

Mancini goes on:

What’s particularly interesting about Wyeth is that in more than fifty years of painting he never tried to capture a landscape outside of the immediate surroundings of his home in Chadds Ford Pennsylvania, and his family’s summerhouse in Maine.

 Ponder this starling fact for a moment: This man has touched the world with an ability he never exercised outside of his own backyard! His creative mind and brilliant skill, turned loose for ten hours a day and for years on end, can be forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

 It seemed to me that he was doing something inherently visionary, and critically important for ministry leaders to do as well: his ability to observe his immediate surrounding enables him to discover and express meaning in life that other miss.

The role of today’s leaders is to clarify what is already there and help people perceive what has gone unnoticed.  These are the skills needed to lead a Church Unique.

Questions to Ponder

  • How do you observe the all-too-familiar in order to discover new meaning and discern the activity of God that others miss?
  • What do you look for?
  • How can you learn to scrutinize the obvious?
  • What does it mean to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary?
  • How can you lead your church to find exponential impact through a simple and local focus?

A good place to start is simply looking…