This congregational assessment from Holy Cow Consulting provides benchmark data to inform decisions about identity, clergy search, strategic planning or a financial campaign.
Center for Congregations President Tim Shapiro spoke with Hayim Herring, consultant, nonprofit organizational futurist and author of Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose. Below are snippets of their conversation.
Tim: Thanks to you and your colleague Dr. Teri Elton for introducing us to the phrase “Foresight is 20/20.” In your CRG blog, you link foresight to agility. How far into the future do you think a congregational board can think strategically about programs and purpose?
Hayim: I think at least five years and here are some reasons. The further out we think, the less accurately we’re likely to forecast. Yet, we’re also in an age of accelerating velocity of change. For example, could we imagine how quickly we’re moving from electronic wearable fitness devices to wearable medical devices, like Apple’s newest watch that has an FDA approved heart monitor? Strategic issues that leaders estimate won’t surface until another five years are likely to happen much sooner. And as congregations are often slow at planning and executing on relatively simple changes, it feels like congregations must learn to accustom themselves to look out at least five years. That way, if a change comes sooner leaders will be prepared, and if it takes longer, they will be one of those congregations that will pioneer their desired future.
As a corollary to your question, I’d like to add, “How do we develop leaders who can stay rooted in the past, look deeply into the present, and anticipate and shape the kind of congregational community that they desire?” This is deep cultural change work for a congregation, even beyond compressed strategic planning that happens every three years. It calls for developing a culture that understands that exercising foresight is now a required leadership attribute and one that should also be fostered more broadly in the congregation.
Tim: The Center in Indiana worked with a congregation a few years ago that decided not to set an annual budget. This was during a time when the town, and members of the congregation, were experiencing economic hardships. It wasn’t just that household budgets were tight, people were losing their jobs. The board decided to vote on a budget every quarter, rather than annually because they couldn’t see far enough into the future to make firm plans. They called this flexible implementation. Is something like this what you mean by agility?
Hayim: It’s very easy to play armchair organizational analyst, especially because I am literally sitting in recliner responding and not in a congregation that is making quarterly budget decisions. Clearly, their commitment to meet and review finances reflects their tremendous love and concern for their congregation – this is not work that one volunteers for to receive accolades! But from my vantage point, their approach has the potential to unintentionally accelerate the demise of a congregation. Budgeting on a quarterly basis, especially as a response to financial duress, constrains longer-term creative thinking at the time it’s needed most. It fosters a mindset of the anxiety of existing from one budget quarter to the next and crowds out time to envision a completely different kind of congregational community.
A few alternatives: in a crisis, leaders lock themselves into a room and don’t emerge until they have drafted an emergency plan with milestones that they communicate transparently to the congregation. That plan may contain any number of outcomes. Leaders might determine how to gracefully merge with another congregation or keep the community but sell and lease back the building. They could think about renting other space or meeting in people’s homes. They could seek new sources of revenue through tasteful corporate sponsorships (in the way that corporations advertise on public radio or television). The congregation might repurpose and rent space in the building that stands empty much of the week to struggling startups whose values are consistent with those of a congregation, even if they are not “religious” startups.
This congregation was fiscally responsible and clearly wanted to do right as stewards of congregational funds. But was there was a parallel working group considering out-of-the-box options? I don’t mean impossible to achieve alternatives, but ones that are at least remotely possible. If a group of leaders had been cultivated to anticipate trends, it’s possible that they might have at least mitigated this dire situation. But a congregation under extreme financial duress cannot financially cut its way out of a crisis. Renewed congregational life may happen from seeing and seizing opportunities that add meaning and purpose unavailable from other congregations or organizations, from merging with another congregation or functioning as a semi-autonomous congregation within a larger congregation, or from a bold re-envisioning of the purpose of forming a congregational community.
Tim: Hard trends become future facts. In addition to generational differences and the handling of devices as if they were human (as you note in the blog), what is another hard trend which congregational leaders might want to track?
Hayim: The Pew Research Center recently developed new typologies for categorizing Americans by religion that include provocative categories like “Spiritually Awake,” “Sunday Stalwarts,” “Religion Resisters,” and “Solidly Secular.” It would be very helpful for congregations to use local resources at universities to help them understand the implications of these new typologies and possible impacts that they may have on congregational participation. Another trend is moving into a mobile future, where religious services, rituals, financial payments, and tracking one’s spiritual growth are ripe for development. Returning to a theme from my last blog post, I have many questions about the impact of immersive technologies on congregational life. When individuals can use smartphones to generate a holographic image of a congregation and watch their favorite pastor preach, what will that do to their relationship with physical space and community? Will we find holiness in holograms? Perhaps most important of all, it is no longer acceptable under any circumstance for congregational leaders to enable or to cover up the actions of those who verbally demean, sexually harass, or assault another individual. That obvious religious imperative of treating all individuals as inherently worthy of dignity cannot be taken for granted.
Tim: Many congregational leaders are exploring what innovation means. In your book Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World, innovation is defined as an act, and entrepreneurship as an organizational state. Many in the religious sphere, and the broader non-profit sphere, are trying to understand innovation. If a group is stuck trying to define innovation, how might a group try to act into, live into innovation?
Hayim: You’re right, congregational groups can become paralyzed even by the thought of becoming innovative. After all, innovations often occur in public and even with the best of planning, there will be some glitches and congregants can sometimes respond harshly to well-intentioned efforts that flop. Here are a few suggestions on how to get “unstuck”:
- Based on years of experience, my mantra on innovation is, “think big, start small, move fast, evaluate/modify, and determine whether to close down our scale up an innovation.” Cultivate a practice of ongoing pilot programs (or betas) that are designed for learning – from success and from failure.
- Don’t go for the “low hanging fruit” because that approach doesn’t satisfy either those who are interested in fundamental innovation, or those who like things as they are, don’t want to innovate, but also want to be good team players and put forth effort for some change that they don’t support in their hearts.
- Also, look toward other places in your local community that have successfully undertaken innovation – another nonprofit, an art museum or symphony that had to engage audiences differently than in the past, or some other organization that had to reinvent all or a part of itself. Don’t only look to other congregations, but outside of the congregational world to those who share similar struggles.
Tim: Give us a glimpse into a way of congregational life which you’d love to be a part.
Hayim: The congregations to which I belong and like to work with share some commonalities. They are places in which people are kind to one another, have a broad concern for their local community, and are much more concerned about their own authenticity than what others who belong elsewhere say about them. They balance spirituality with intellectual challenge. They trust that their members can handle big ideas and grapple with difficult issues. They hold on to a reliable core mission and experiment – although it’s difficult to find congregations that have spiritual incubators to complement their ongoing offerings. I also feel that aesthetics – the thought and attention that go into the flow of services and programs, music, art, and the performance of ritual – are critically important. So much of congregational life is about a reenactment of the past that reawakens the demands of my soul, or the momentary creation of a microcosm of a better reality that motivates me to work with others to make it permanent. That intentionality and forethought of experience are much-appreciated ingredients of a congregational community.
“Foresight is 20/20” is not a typographical error. Rather, it relates to a theme that Dr. Terri Elton and I wrote about in our recent book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose. Foresight is one capacity that will enable congregations to thrive in the future. The velocity of change is accelerating so swiftly that even being agile is insufficient insurance for future survival. Agility, which involves pivoting to a change, still places leaders in a reactive mode. But when leaders learn how to regularly exercise and act upon foresight, they’ll have a better chance to proactively shape the future of their congregations.
When do we invoke the phrase “20/20 hindsight?”
We do so to make sense of how we either missed an opportunity or threat. But 20/20 foresight suggests that we can turn knowledge of what is very likely to happen in the future into practices of what can be now. With 20/20 foresight, congregational leaders can focus more on igniting people’s spiritual sparks instead of “worrying about how to keep the lights on.” They’ll have a better chance at deepening and broadening their mission and positively influencing more people’s spiritual lives.
Hard trends and future facts
In our book, we described several processes that leaders can use to peer further over the horizon and anticipate potential issues, policies, and innovations. Since that time, I’ve become more familiar with Dr. Daniel Burrus, a global innovation expert and futurist, and his most recent book The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption And Change Into Opportunity And Advantage. Burrus introduces two interrelated concepts for getting smart about the future: “hard trends” and “future facts.” He writes, “A hard trend is a future fact that can provide something that is very empowering: certainty. Hard trends will happen, no matter who you are…. None of us can stop hard trends from occurring, but there are ways to see them coming.” Once you’ve become better at identifying “hard trends,” you can use “future facts” to your advantage because your congregation will already be where its existing and potential constituents are.
Here are two examples of hard trends that are future facts:
These two hard trends – six generations alive at one time and a VR world – are replete with spiritual implications that anticipatory leaders could be acting upon now. For example, how do we foster ongoing intergenerational relationships where young and old engage in reciprocal learning? What happens to our innate holiness when children grow up with “parents” named Alexa and Cortana? There are few venues in our communities that are structured for ongoing interactions between young and old (and “old” means 55+!) but that’s also a great opportunity for congregations. They are theoretically ready to become spaces of intergenerational meeting, where puzzling through these issues becomes normative.
A true story to concretize this opportunity
A 14-year-old teen whose grandmother was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease raised money by crowdfunding to develop an app with AI (artificial intelligence) and facial recognition software to help her grandmother remember family members. This teen initiated conversations and sought ideas and support from caregivers, family members, and tech mentors by herself. You can read this story in Adele Peters article “A 14-Year-Old Made An App To Help Alzheimer’s Patients Recognize Their Loved Ones” from Fast Company. Given their access to multiple generations and talented volunteers, congregations could create a standing intergenerational council to harness the wisdom, technological savvy and multiple generational perspectives to address opportunities and rapid changes. Congregations also have the advantage of drawing upon inherited spiritual wisdom to weigh advantages and disadvantages of maintaining the status quo versus initiating a change.
Finding a balance
The capacity to better envision the future is admittedly difficult. Religious leaders must calibrate the balance between our inherited spiritual past and contemporary realities so that future generations will inherit a spiritual legacy. That sounds like an impossible task, but the routine act of driving a car suggested an analogy of how we already do so. When driving, we balance past, present and future because we learn when to accelerate forward and when to slow down and brake, while simultaneously looking ahead through the windshield, behind through the rearview mirror, and at our present surroundings in the side view mirrors.
As religious leaders, we bring humility to our efforts to better anticipate the future, which holds mysteries beyond our perception and imagination. On the other hand, the greatest religious leaders have been rooted in the past, looked deeply into the present, and provided a vision for the future. Speaking from the Jewish tradition, I’m inspired by a question that a first-century rabbinic sage, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, asked a group of his students. “Which is the best characteristic for a person to acquire?” One student, Rabbi Shimon, said “One should learn to anticipate the future.” His response can empower us to think more about the hard trends and future facts that we can use to keep congregations vital.
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Religious Leadership Resources
There may be religious leaders out there wondering how they can be more effective. Being a religious leader, after all, is most certainly a challenge. People who go to places of worship can tend to come from a variety of backgrounds. They come from all socioeconomic classes, have a variety of educational backgrounds, and can vary across age groups, such as children, adults, and the elderly. How, then, is a religious leader expected to be able to relate to all of these people? Religious leadership resources can be helpful.
Everyone has their own leadership style. At the same time, the world is changing. With this in mind, it may prove to be a good idea for religious leaders to make sure they are being effective leaders to the members of the congregation. That is why it can be helpful to take a look at outside resources from time to time. Change can be difficult, and stepping outside of the comfort zone can be hard. If religious leaders are able to successfully step outside of their comfort zones, however, they may very well have an easier time relating to everyone who walks through their doors.
When it comes to church leadership roles and responsibilities, it may be a good idea to take a closer look at free church resources. Some of these include church leadership resources. There are plenty of resources available online. For example, some religious leaders may find watching a video to learn more about new topics to be their preferred method, whereas others might like to read a few articles that can help them expand their leadership abilities. There are also four more courses that church leaders can take. Naturally, everyone has their own personal style, and each of these resources can be helpful to different religious leaders in varying situations.
Church Leadership Training Materials
When it comes to church leadership training materials, it can be good to look into building effective church leadership skills. When it comes to training leaders in the church, there are possibly going to be a lot of topics that have to be covered. For instance, there are religious leadership resources that can help religious leaders come up with fresh ideas for their sermons. That way, they might not have to talk about the same things over and over again. There are also leadership resources that can help church leaders learn how to incorporate music and videos into their sermons. That way, they will perhaps have an easier time holding the attention of people who come to their sermon. It can also prove to be a challenge for religious leaders to shift from the pulpit to the small group setting. This is a common topic that is often covered when it comes to church leadership materials.
The importance of church leadership is something that can perhaps not be overstated. That is why it can perhaps be a good idea to access a variety of materials. For example, it might be more interesting to watch a video; however, it can also be tempting for people to click outside the video and surf the Internet when they should otherwise be watching and paying attention.
This problem could be remedied by reading articles instead; however, in the case of articles, people can tend to doze off when they are staring at a wall of text. It could also be helpful to go to an interactive conference, which might represent a great way to train the next generation of leaders; however, this can be expensive. There are perhaps benefits and drawbacks that exist for every option.
Church Ministry Resources
There is a wide variety of church ministry resources available out there. When it comes to ministry leadership, some church administration training resources might prove to be helpful for specific ministries on the church ministry list. Fortunately, there are also free ministry leadership training options available.
For instance, just about every church is likely going to have a youth ministry group. There are helpful training resources that can assist youth leaders better relate to members of the younger generation. They are also ministry resources available that can help people who regularly conduct outreach programs in the community. These training resources can potentially help members of the ministry group learn how they can make a stronger impact on the local community. There are also church ministry groups that are attempting to take advantage of social media, as well as certain training programs that can help religious leaders take advantage of social media.
Ultimately, some resources could prove to be a good fit for specific ministries within the congregation. It can sometimes be seen as the responsibility of church leaders to figure out which of these resources are going to be able to play a helpful role in their specific ministry groups. When religious leaders take the time to explore all the options available, they may be able to better place their ministry groups in the best position possible to be successful.
Church Leadership Principles
There are a lot of church ministry tools and church elder resources available out there. And while some of these are tailored to specific religious organizations, there are still certain church leadership principles that can likely be applied to just about any organization, no matter the size.
First, religious groups may have to focus on modesty. Modesty can be a good quality to have because religious groups likely do not want to send the message that they are somehow wealthy or opulent. After all, religious groups are supposed to be nonprofit organizations. Another principle that religious leaders might benefit from focusing on is self-development. Many people will often turn to religious leaders when they are trying to figure out how to become better people. Church leaders will likely want to send the message that they are focusing on becoming better people, as well. That way, they can be seen as practicing exactly what they are preaching. Furthermore, integrity can be seen as another important quality to look for in a strong church leader. When members of the congregation look at their leader as a person of integrity, then they are perhaps more likely to be honest themselves.
Finally, religious leaders may also have to show the world that they are followers of a higher power. After all, that is oftentimes going to be seen as the ultimate goal for church leaders. If they are able to show members of the congregation they are following their religion’s teachings, their members may then also do the same thing.
Church Development Resources
For the vast majority of congregations, church development resources are possibly going to play an important role. There are plenty of church resources available out there. Nowadays, a lot of religious organizations have found themselves having to move online. Fortunately, though, there are plenty of resources for online churches, as well. By taking advantage of these church administration resources, religious leaders can perhaps more effectively relate to members of their congregation even if they have moved to a virtual setting.
Some churches are getting ready to transition back to in-person sermons as well. This can also be a challenge. It can be good for religious leaders to take a look at how they can upgrade their AV equipment, what they need to do to expand their congregations, and how they can incorporate music and videos into their sermons. These can all represent potential key parts of developing a strong religious organization.
It might also be a good idea for religious leaders to look inward, as this is another aspect of religious self-development. There is likely always going to be room to get better. If religious leaders are able to improve their abilities behind the pulpit and their small group settings with community outreach, they may be able to set their charges up to grow in the future.
Church Leadership Basics
There are lots of religious leaders out there who may be looking to get started. Among the most important church administration tools, it might be worth focusing on church leadership basics. No matter what the church administration structure may be, there are likely going to be several main church leadership training topics that are going to be covered.
For example, motivation can sometimes be seen as one of the most important parts of first leadership. Religious leaders are usually going to be expected to motivate members of the congregation to live their lives in a certain way. Therefore, these religious leaders will learn how to motivate others.
Another key topic that is likely going to be covered is love. There are plenty of verses in religious texts that can be found which focus on love, and it may be the case that religious leaders need to teach members of the congregation to love other people, no matter who they might be. After all, if people love one another, the world will be a better place.
Outreach can represent another important leadership quality among religious leaders. Religious leaders are likely going to be expected to evangelize, and to recruit members of the local community to become members of the church. This topic might turn out to be an important area of focus during the process of church leadership training.
These may be just a few of the most important basics to consider when it comes to church leadership and all of these qualities may prove to be helpful in building the future leaders of tomorrow.
How To Train Church Leaders
Ultimately, the necessity to train church leaders is one that perhaps cannot be overstated. Developing leadership skills in the church can be critical for helping set up religious groups for success in the modern era. For those who might find themselves wondering how to train church leaders, there are perhaps a few key steps to follow.
First, it might be good to try and find the right people. Look for people who have already experienced standing in front of others, leading a group, or who have specific religious training.
Next, figure out what their goals are. Do they want to be small group leaders? Do they want to be financial treasurers? Or, do they possibly want to get behind the pulpit?
After that, it can be good to teach future religious leaders how to speak in front of other people. Public speaking is a common fear, but the best way to get over it may simply be to practice. Practice makes perfect.
Then, teaching religious leaders how to make lesson plans might be seen as a priority, in which they are taught how to go to religious texts, find verses that focus on the same topic and build an effective message. It can also be helpful to teach them how to build a small group lesson plan.
Ultimately, there is likely going to be no true replacement for experience. Future religious leaders may be able to practice leading others, however, and go a long way in helping set the church up for success.