We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.
Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.
More than any of the other questions, answering this one will have the most immediate and tangible impact on an organization, probably because it addresses two of the most maddening day-to-day challenges companies face: organizational A.D.D. and silos.
Most organizations I’ve worked with have too many top priorities to achieve the level of focus they need to succeed. Wanting to cover all their bases, they establish a long list of disparate objectives and spread their scarce time, energy, and resources across them all. The result is almost always a lot of initiatives being done in a mediocre way and a failure to accomplish what matters most.
There is nothing more typical of churches — especially big churches — than silos. In management vernacular, a “silo” is part of the church that operates without regard to the entire church.
A classic example is a youth ministry. Youth ministers often make themselves into pastors of their own sub-congregations, setting their own visions and priorities. The result may be great Christian service by children — who think that adults do not care about Jesus. After all, while the kids were traveling around the world serving Jesus, the adults stayed home or else just hung around to cook lasagna.
Therefore, the teens learn that Jesus is for teens and children but not really for adults. They go on mission trips for just the teens, where adults are only there to serve the teens. The teens become the focus of the ministry, the adults only serve their own children, and the teens see a very distorted vision of the church and Christianity.
Indeed, when the elders announce that they want the entire church to become mission oriented, the teen minister may sniff that his program is already mission oriented, and he may recruit adults away from key adult mission efforts, so that the teens get the best volunteers and the adult ministries are starved of recruits. He may even schedule his events in conflict with adult ministries.
Lencioni suggests that the leadership adopt a single thematic goal for the entire congregation. A “thematic goal” has these features —
* There’s just one. The members cannot unite around two or three things. There is surely one most important thing for right now. It can and will change, but it’s one thing at a time.
* It’s a qualitative goal, not quantitative. It’s not “baptize 100 people in 2012!” But it might be “dramatically increase our number of baptisms!”
* It should be temporary, that is, achievable within a year or two. This rules out, “Take Tuscaloosa for Jesus!” Too big.
* It has to be shared by all leaders. It can’t be merely “Increase adult Bible class attendance.” It should church-wide.
[T]he primary purpose of the thematic goal is not necessarily to rally all the troops within the organization, as helpful as that may seem. More than anything else, it is to provide the leadership team itself with clarity around how to spend its time, energy, and resources.
If the leadership (including the youth minister) is united, the church will follow. The key is to get the elders, ministers, and other key ministry leaders to focus on one thing — as a church-wide thing bigger than their individual ministries.
Let’s pause a moment and get away from the book. What’s the biggest complaint with most churches? Where do we most often go wrong? Well, one answer is that we content ourselves with housekeeping. We just do today what we did yesterday because it’s easy and won’t create any complaints.
That attitude is, of course, death for a church. Churches with no ambition, no goals, no direction soon have no members. They die.
What’s the solution? Well, to pick a direction. And how many directions can you go at once? Pretty much, one — right?
Obviously, churches can and do accomplish many things at once, but most of those are housekeeping. We typically staff the nursery and conduct worship and hold classes and do all the minimal church stuff just fine.
But when real change is needed (and it always is), you can’t move a church but one direction at once. You might need all of more evangelism and more compassion for the needy and better teaching about Jesus and more foreign missions support, but ordinary people need a singular, sharply focused goal that they can buy into and get excited about.
Change is hard for most people, even change they recognize as needed and healthy. Push the church to be more evangelistic while also pushing daily Bible reading, and most people will resolve the conflict by reading their Bibles daily and not being evangelistic. They may even prefer to read their Bibles three times a day! No, to get real, important change, it’s one change at a time. It’s just the way people are.
Now, you can see why this approach is so very different from the old mission-statement approach. A mission statement is too broad, too long-term, too encompassing to actually induce much change. They can help, but they will rarely produce much in the way of real change.