The Advantage: Overcommunicate Clarity, Part 2

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.

Lencioni writes,

Many executives ask if they can communicate the results of a meeting using e-mail or even voice mail. The answer is no. Although these tools are certainly more efficient than having to communicate live, they are drastically less effective. For one, employees don’t have a chance to ask questions for clarification. Moreover, when employees read an e-mail or listen to a voice mail, they can’t help but wonder how the message was edited, and they try to read between the lines to discern the underlying meaning. The best way to do cascading communication is face-to-face and live. Seeing a leader and hearing the tone of his or her voice is critical for employees, as is being able to ask a question or two. Having said that, the realities of virtual teams and geographically dispersed employees sometimes make face-to-face communication impossible.

In other words, if you want the church to hear the message, deliver it in person, preferably in a context where there can be questions and answers.

In a small congregation, where everyone can meet in a single classroom, this is no problem. The elders needs to stand up, present the vision, and take questions. The preacher can reinforce and emphasize through sermons, but it starts with the elders.

In a larger church, it can be harder. Perhaps the elders split up among the Bible classes. Or maybe they present to the church as a whole and then meet with the classes for follow up questions. Or maybe they take the time to visit all the small groups in their homes.

One obvious problem is that, depending on the numbers, it may not be possible to meet with everyone in a single week, meaning some members will have gotten to ask their questions before others. You just do the best you can with the numbers as they are.

And yet timeliness  matters. People talk, and those who have to wait a month for the presentation will feel left out — and frustrated with second-hand information from their friends.

Another approach would be to meet with various ministry leaders and class teachers, and to then ask the leaders and teachers to help you spread the word. If you take this approach (which may be the only realistic approach in a large church), be sure to spend enough time with the leaders so that they are very well prepared to answer questions and explain the concept thoroughly.

One advantage of bringing in ministry leaders is that they will likely be more inclined to support the initiative if they are trusted with the task of helping to shape and to communicate it. They become defenders of the idea at the outset, and so the elders can begin with a substantial base of well-respected advocates.

Just as importantly, the ministry leaders will add a perspective that the elders and ministers won’t have. They’ll represent a wider range of opinions. They’ll likely be older and younger, richer and poorer, and more racially diverse than the ministers and elders. And so they can help shape the initiative in healthy ways before it’s brought to the church as a whole.

You see, especially in an ad-saturated world, person to person communication is rare and very appreciated. We’re so used to emails and text messages and video, that for someone to take the time to be in our immediate presence to take the time to listen and answer questions can be a remarkably powerful motivator.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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One Response to The Advantage: Overcommunicate Clarity, Part 2

  1. “One advantage of bringing in ministry leaders is that they will likely be more inclined to support the initiative if they are trusted with the task of helping to shape and to communicate it.”

    In fact, if they did not already help shape the initiative, the question would be, “Why not?” I think we often fall into the “brain trust” trap, taking our idea and trying to build a constituency for it with certain influential persons before we really let the main group even know what we are doing. This allows us to pre-empt and outflank our opponents before we go public. This is good political strategy, but bad church polity.

    It is often messy and disorienting for leaders to admit to what they are discussing or considering or praying about. As Jay points out elsewhere, elders are conflict-averse in the extreme, so they willingly do nothing to unnecessarily stir the pot. But this also puts leaders on the opposite side of the fence of distrust from the congregation as a whole. We don’t tell ‘em what we are up to, because somebody will get mad; they won’t follow us because we won’t admit what we are really up to. This is management business-as-usual in a corporate world, but ought not to be in the church.

    This is one of the intrinsic problems in a large local congregation. Size keeps people at a shallow level of attachment, because there is little direct connection between deciders and abiders. (We even encourage that sort of attachment.) It can be ameliorated somewhat if you have lots of small group leaders who are PART OF THE CONGREGATIONAL LEADERSHIP. Capital letters because this is a big idea. In almost all big congregations with small groups, the small group leaders are de facto shepherds in function, but are not considered such as far as their input into the direction of the congregation. This is a major disconnect. In Jerusalem we read of a counsel of “the apostles and elders” when a major theological issue came up. I do not believe this was just “the staff and the board”. If your small group leaders are not your shepherds, what are they? If they ARE the shepherds, why are they not in the elders’ meetings?

    Most modern church leadership in this context is nothing like leading sheep. It is, rather, like the coupling of cars to a train. The effort is to get the members to “get on board”, because the train is leaving the station. That family in a small group has little if any connection to the engine and its engineer. All they can do is read the train schedule and get off at the next stop if they want. I believe that such things can be addressed effectively, that no one model need be tossed out in search of the perfect one. But saving a model means subjugating its structure to what the church is to be about.

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