Churches of Christ in Decline: Silos, Politics and Turf Wars

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars is a business management book by Patrick Lencioni. I’m a huge fan of his The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, which should be required reading for every elder and minister in the Churches. I’m such a big fan of 5 Dysfunctions that I bought Silos several months ago, figuring it would be just as good.

And it is good, but I had trouble making the application to churches. So I never wrote a review. I just put it on my shelf, hoping one day the time I’d spent reading it would pay off. And then I was thinking about the decline in the Churches of Christ. And then it kind of all came together.

Any church of 100 or more struggles with silos, politics, and turf wars. A “silo” is an area of the church that pursues its own agenda without regard to the church as a whole. For example, if a campus minister treats the college work as a separate congregation, or simply refuses to help in any area other than his own, you have a silo.

Bill Hybels once wrote that his toughest challenge as a pastor was to get all parts of the Willow Creek church to work together on a single growth plan. The teen ministers wanted to pursue their own plan. Other ministers wanted to go their own way. He eventually had to fire several ministers to get everyone on the same page!

Politics arise any time the church is more concerned with a particular group of members rather than the church as a whole. If the young marrieds aren’t allowed to sing praise songs because the older members hate them, you have a bad case of politics. You see, in a political church, power and position are more important than love, submission, and mission.

Turf wars are much the same. When budget issues or classroom selection are based on infighting or who speaks to the elders first or who is married to an elder rather than the overall vision and health of the church, you have turf wars.

Lencioni’s book addresses how to deal with these. He makes his point by telling a “fable.” You really just need to read the book.

Even the most well-meaning, intelligent people get distracted and confused amid the endless list of tactical and administrative details tha come their way every day. Pulled in many directions without a compass, they pursue seemingly worthwhile agendas under the assumption that their efforts will be in teh best interest of the organization as a whole.

But as [members] notice their colleagues in other [ministries] repeatedly moving in different directions, they begin to wonder why they aren’t on board. Over time, their confusion turns into disappointment, which eventually becomes resentment — even hostility — toward their supposed teammates. And then the worst thing possible happens — they actually start working against those colleagues on purpose!

Lencioni suggests that the solution has four components —

* A “thematic goal”

* A set of “defining objectives”

* A set of ongoing “standard operating objectives”

* “Metrics”

Now, I really dislike this terminology. I have trouble remembering it even as I type. So let’s rephrase this in church-speak —

* A short-term vision

* A set of intermediate goals

* Eternal principles

* Measurements

Short-term vision

A “short-term vision’ is —

a single, qualitative focus that is shared by the entire leadership team — and ultimately, by the entire [congregation] — and that applies for only a specified period of time.

It’s not the mission or mission statement. Sometimes “vision” is used in the same sense, but only if the vision is a short-term goal. If our vision is to “seek and save the lost,” that’s not a short-term vision because that task lasts until Jesus returns. But if our vision is to “become just like a church plant,” it is. You see, the goal of taking on the features of a planted church can be accomplished over one to three years.

There can only be one short-term vision. It’s just the way people and organizations are. Pick two, and they’ll compete for resource and attention, and then you’ll have turf wars.

By “qualitative,” Lencioni means the vision isn’t a number so much as an idea. The vision is stated in terms of what the people are to do — change, improve, reduce, grow, etc.

“Time-bound” means it can actually be achieved and finished — and soon enough that people won’t get tired of waiting for success. In a business, he says it should last a year. But churches work on a different time frame. Two or three years is more likely right for a church (“A day is like a thousand years” is surely a reference to elder meetings!)

“Shared” means it’s a church-wide vision, not just a goal for the adults or ministers or elders. And it’s all the ministers, regardless of title.

Intermediate goals

Intermediate goals are the building blocks of the short-term vision. They also must be qualitative, shared, and time-bound.

In a church wanting to be like a planted church, the leadership would have to consider what that really means. Maybe it’s a list like —

* Each member participates in evangelistic training

* Worship is structured to be attractive to the unchurched

* Small groups are restructured to attract the lost

* The leadership agrees to be trained and coached in church planting methods

* All ministries that interfere with church plant behavior are eliminated

* Ministries are created to handle assimilation and training of new members

Notice that each goal can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time, and the goals cover a host of ministries, all of which must support the whole.

Eternal principles

These are permanent concerns of the institution. In a business, they relate to profit. In a church, they include things like —

* Being missionally effective

* Bringing new members to greater maturity in Christ

* Being good stewards, such as by operating within budget

They might be mundane or cosmically important, but they never go away. These cannot be a rallying cry, because people just can’t get excited about the same thing year after year after year. Rather, the short-term vision is about how we’re going to do these things for the next few years. We will get excited about something we can see finished.

Measurements

A “measurement” is simply a method of measuring whether something has been accomplished. It may be a number, such as a goal to double membership in 5 years. Or it may be a date, such as a 5-year deadline. It may simply be whether the task — establishing a ministry — has been accomplished.

Not everything is measurable. But most things are — or they result in something else measurable. Motivation of the membership is not directly measurable, but the number of volunteers or the number of visitors or the amount of the contribution is.

In every single congregation of believers, God gives us someone whose job is to say, “Numerical growth is not the only kind of growth.” And they are always right. But neither is numerical growth the only kind of growth than can (or should) be measured. If your congregation is growing missionally, for example, the result will be measurable in terms of volunteers, dollars donated, people helped, and people converted.

Meetings

Lencioni suggests an end to prepared agendas. Rather, he says we should start the meeting by having each person report for 30 seconds on his top three priorities for the coming week. Then review the team’s scorecard — the intermediate goal and eternal principles.

Let the ministers and elders grade themselves as green, yellow, or red. The group then discusses the grade to give.

The meeting is then turned over to the topics each member wants to discuss. The team gets to decide whether a given topic is sufficiently important to the short-term vision to take up the team’s time and energy. Don’t try to discuss each minister’s area equally. Discuss what’s most important.

Now that I think about it, this actually does make some sense in a church context. I’ve actually seen a silo or two. And maybe a turf war and some politics. Perhaps if we elders had been more clear about what the church’s goals were …

Setting the short-term vision

This may require the help of an outside consultant, but it always should be the result of a leadership meeting or retreat. The elders should not hand this down from “on high.” Nor should the ministers spend 6 months figuring it out, present it at an elders’ meeting, and get mad when the elders don’t buy it in 30 minutes! It’s got to be a joint effort from start to finish.

In the church world, inevitably the short-term vision will be taken from the hot new book on the Bible bookstore’s shelves. It’ll have the latest buzzwords and catch phrases. And it’ll seem like it came from God Almighty himself. And in 10 years, we’ll look back on it and wonder what on earth was wrong with us.

We mess up when we borrow someone else’s plan from a different city, different culture, and often very different leadership — which is what we nearly always do. In the next post, I’ll try to think of a solution, but I’m not sure I’ve figured it out yet myself. (Suggestions would be most welcome.)

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  1. We've been less formal than what you've described, but we do have some of those elements in place.

    For example, we've had a "thematic goal" each year. Last year was about "getting our house in order" — things like personal finances, marriage and parenting, and building family. We had events and messages around each of those areas, and had deacons and elders focused on helping the members implement what was being taught in each area. It's difficult to measure the effectiveness of that, but we can point to some dramatically improved situations.

    This year the theme is about outward focus, which involves "life talks" in our neighborhoods (covering some of the same topics we addressed internally last year, presented for our neighbors and friends outside the church).

    We have a short term goal for each "life talk" family group to find one man and one woman from outside the church to start studying to become a Christian by the end of June. That's a pretty decent measurable goal I think.

    We have monthly meetings with all the deacons. They bring up whatever they feel needs to be talked about. We also have a monthly meeting with the family group leaders (with more of a directed agenda for that meeting).

  2. Sadly Jay these truths you present are mostly the result of how we do church; Formal Organized religion. just think if we still met in homes like the first century folks did we would have much less of this stuff to have to deal with.
    I have come to believe that most of our root problems not just the symptoms are spiritual in nature. You asked me what methods we used with the church we helped plant. Well let me say this. There was no secret magical method. However I will tell you one thing the elders did that was the most important. Out of the five families that started the congregation four were shepherds (Elders). They committed that they would always divide the congregation amongst themselves and have each family in their respective group over to their house to eat on a constant rotating basis. This group was also their small group that met once a week. As the congregation grew and more elders were added and others resigned (of old age) this was something that remained constant. This something very simple and is probably the most effective tool for building relationships and community from the leadership to the congregation. When I suggested it to my father in law who is an elder and my Dad, they both said that they couldn't do it because they were already busy with other church duties.

    Jay if you and the other elders at your church would commit to do this, I promise it would reap deep rewards.

    So my thesis is, if people really loved others and understood the gospel and put that first we would not have to ask people to go do evangelism or other good works. If we gave a little more effort and ten times more perspective to loving others then we wouldn't have to worry so much about conversions.