The velocity of social and cultural change that our generation now faces has profound implications for the church. In the time of our grandparents’ youth, travel of more than 20 miles was a major event. A college education was rare. Disposable income (that is, money remaining after paying for essentials) was a very small percentage of the total. Shopping malls, mass customization, ubiquitous marketing messages and easily available credit were unknown. The church was the center of community life, and one’s social life. One’s faith background affected one’s choice of neighborhood, friends and activities.
Today, of course, the world is very different. The velocity of change is increasing exponentially. A study done by Priority Management estimates that we meet more people and process more information in one year than our grand parents did in their lifetimes.
How do we respond to the social, demographic, economic, legal and governmental changes that will continue at increasing velocity? The Metro Chicago Synod (MCS) Council and staff began to wrestle with the question: “Ten years after its creation, what are the best ways for the MCS to do ministry in the Chicago area?” In these dynamic times ten years is a very long time.
In the summer of 1996 we began a process of study and dialog to answer that question. In September, 1996, the Council, Synod staff and conference deans participated in a weekend retreat with Dr. Jim Wind of the Alban Institute. At the September Council meeting we narrowed our discussion to three issues:
What is the value of the Synod to congregations?
What are the constitutional requirements of the Synod Council?
What operational structure best supports our mission?
Three work groups were created to develop more detail. Surveys were sent to congregation leaders. More discussion ensued. November of 1996 the Council concluded that the Synod needed to revise its Mission Statement, which had served for 10 years and now needed to be re-examined; create a vision narrative of a desirable future state for the Synod; decide on key initiatives that would support the mission and vision; and create goals to help focus decision making and resource allocation.
In addition, the constitution and by-laws were examined to determine what was required of different organizations that make up the Synod; and a commitment was made to do a complete operations review. The result of the latter two efforts has been an on-going dialog about what is required to bring the constitution, by-laws and office organization into alignment with the mission and vision of the Synod.
As a result of this process a Mission Statement and Key Initiative was created. The Synod Council and Synod Assembly affirmed both during the spring of 1997. They are:
In Jesus’ Name
Proclaim the Gospel – Make Disciples – Do Justice
Key Initiative: support faith development in the Synod.
The purpose of the Mission Statement is to answer the question: “What do we do here, and why?” A common reaction I hear about mission statements is that they are a waste of time because they don’t ever seem to affect the organization. They are seen to be the modern equivalent of “taking in a camel, straining out a gnat.” For 14 years I have worked with individuals, teams and organizations, enabling them to change. The effectiveness of a mission statement at any organizational scale comes down to one essential: does the leadership of the organization focus on the mission statement. If “yes” the organization will align itself with it. If “no” its creation will have been an object lesson in futility.
he emergence of the key initiative, “support faith development in the Synod.” was an interesting experience. One of the challenges organizations face when they try to change is that they try to start with a clean sheet of paper (which, by the way, is virtually impossible for most groups to accomplish on their own) and come up with goals that “support the mission.” In reality what happens is that new names are given tostatus quo activities, the whole thing is packaged as a “new thing,” but the daily functioning, and the results, are the same as before.
The word “initiative” means, among other things, “first thing.” The question the Council kept asking is: “What is the ‘first thing’ we have to do?” All of the goals and initiatives that were identified, and there were many, were reduced to one issue: faith development. In the absence of deliberate, on-going faith development, the other things we envisioned would not happen or would be severely limited. Rather than try to re-package the past, or create a grab-bag of activities, the Council decided to focus on “first things.”
At the present time the Council, with the participation of people in a variety of positions in the MCS, is at work creating a strategic plan that will guide decision-making and resource allocation for the coming years. Without a plan, decision making gets mired in the past or becomes opportunistic. Neither is desirable in a period of change increasing in velocity.
A business person of national prominence observed: “If there is more change going on outside your company than inside, the end is near.” The same can be said for any organization regardless of its size or nature. Failure to adapt while maintaining identity is a formula for failure in the future. The Synod Council and staff is committed to aligning the work of MCS with its mission so that we can do more than survive. We will, by God’s grace, have a greater impact on the metropolitan Chicago area as a result of proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples and doing justice.
Annotated Bibliography About Change
Following is a list of books and periodicals I believe to be fundamental in understanding three things: the effects of global changes on organizations, strategies for responding to those changes, and nurturing the people in the organization to accomplish the purpose and mission of the organization in dynamic circumstances. All of these books can provide guidance and insight to individuals and organizations that want to accomplish their purpose in chaotic times.
The Popcorn Report. Faith Popcorn. Harper Business, 1992. Ms. Popcorn and her colleagues are retained by companies to study trends and make recommendations for future action based on those trends. She has identified 10 trends that will define how individuals and organizations will act in the future. Her thesis: If an organization isn’t aligned with at least 7 of these trends, it will be increasingly irrelevant in the lives of people as society evolves.
The Tom Peter Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations. Tom Peters. Vintage, 1994. Mr. Peters had been an influential thinker and analyzer of the business world since the late ‘70s and the publication of this book, In Search of Excellence. In the early ‘90s he removed himself from the bulk of that work to spend more time with his family. In between he left a collection of (increasingly long) books, seminars, lectures and articles about how to thrive in the chaotic times we face. This book is by far his shortest and most accessible. In it he describes the world of “beyonds”: beyond change, beyond decentralization, and so on. This is an excellent primer for individuals and organizations to continue to make an impact in the ‘90s and beyond.
Discovering the Future. Joel Arthur Barker. I.L.I. Press, 1989. Mr. Barker popularized the word “paradigm” in the mid-80s. In this short volume, now out of print, he elegantly describes what paradigms are, why they matter, how they change, and how we can use this information to cause profound change. The point of the book: paradigm shifts occur when the weight of problems the current paradigm can’t solve cause it to “break.” When a new paradigm is established, everyone “goes back to zero.” This simple concept has profound implications for the church.
Managing in a Time of Great Change. Peter F. Drucker. Dutton, 1995. Dr. Drucker is amazing in his depth and breadth of knowledge, and the manner in which he gets to the heart of issues. This volume is a collection of interviews, articles and new work that revolve around the subject of making an impact in a period of great change.
The Fifth Discipline. Peter M. Senge. Currency Doubleday, 1990.
The Fifth Discipline Field Book. Peter M. Senge, et al. Currency Doubleday, 1994. A friend of mine commented that The Fifth Discipline is “a great 160 page book buried in 360 pages.” In one sense this is true. One way to read this book is to look up topics of interest in the index and then read the article. In a larger sense this book is a long, intricate argument about a structure of interactions, and the rules that inform those interactions, that lead to flexible, responsive and humane organizations. The field book is a collection of case studies and tools to put into practice the fundamentals from the original book.
Customers for Life: How to Turn That One-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer. Carl Sewell and Paul B. Brown. Doubleday Currency, 1990. There are three strikes against this book for many church professionals. Strike one: Sewell sells cars. Strike two: Its about “customers.” Strike three: Its also about making money. To view this book through these three filters is to completely miss, completely obscure, the value of the book. The thesis of the book is simple: If you or your organization depend on having people come back after their first visit, there are fundamentals that can increase the number that do so. To put it differently, this is a primer in viewing things from the point of view of the public you are trying to reach with your message and ministry.
Fast Forward: The Best Ideas on Managing Business Change. Edited by James Champy and Nitin Nohria. Harvard Business School Press, 1996. This is a collection of articles from the Harvard Business Review that relate to change. It is divided into three parts: “The future state: where we are heading.” “The process of change.” “The new role of management.” An outstanding collection of articles united around the theme of continuing to have an impact in the midst of fundamental change.
How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie. Simon and Schuster, 1934, with numerous revisions. When asked if the material in the book is really new, Mr. Carnegie is reputed to have answered: “Its all in the Bible.” The contents of this book make it clear that the gap between knowing and doing can be immense, and that the gap between doing and mastery is equally large. Three key terms to watch for: honest, sincere and genuine. The absence of these three, according to Mr. Carnegie, reduce human interaction to crass manipulation. Relationships built on these three can be enriching and meaningful beyond measure.
This is a quick list of personal favorites. It isn’t intended to be nearly complete. All of them are useful in their own way to help navigate the changes in the world.
Wired Magazine. The layout makes me crazy. The editorial is often opposite my values, beliefs and world view. Its audience is the techno-hip 18-30 year olds who are making the world. Look in particular at the advertisements, content, layout, offer. Then look at the materials your organization puts out to attract the attention (a.k.a.: marketing and promotion materials) of this same age group. Is there a difference? I don’t like it but I pay attention to it.
The Wall Street Journal. Still the best written, best researched, most focused information source delivered to our doors.
The Harvard Business Review. There are at least a dozen other publications that intend to provide the thought leadership offered in the HBR. Noone does it better. It is well written, tightly argued, with plenty of variety. It is a terrific resource for people who have to get things done with and through others in an organization.