Taking the Guesswork Out of Growing a Healthy Church

by | Sep 1, 2015 | Reflections Blog | 0 comments

Shoulder-pain-skeletonWhen I was 26, I could barely throw a ball. My shoulder hurt so badly my softball team moved me from shortstop to second base, and then, when I couldn’t make even the short throw to first, they moved me to no base at all. I was benched.

When I complained to my sister (who also happens to be a general surgeon) about my symptoms, she sent me directly to an orthopedic specialist, suspecting that I had something structurally wrong.

And guess what, she was right. An x-ray revealed that I had a fractured humeral head, meaning that “the ball” of my ball-and socket joint was cracked in half. Within weeks, I was in surgery under the skilled hands of a trained surgeon with all the tools available to him to put my shoulder back together. Now, at 56 years old, I can throw a ball again, not great, but at least I can play second base!

All I needed was someone to take an x-ray to show me precisely what was wrong.

What was true with my physical body is now true with the body of Christ. Russ Crabtree of Holy Cow has developed an “x-ray” for congregations, a diagnostic tool that goes beyond the typical counting of attendance and offerings. It quantifies people’s experiences and provides strategies for improving the life of a congregation. He terms it “organizational intelligence,” which is a fancy phrase for “deep listening.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 9.20.01 AM

Photo by Erin Dunigan

Our presbytery is yet again taking the lead in experimenting, for we are about to put this tool into practice.

Supported by the generosity of our presbytery churches and the leadership of SCT, a grant has been made to the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Hills. The gift will pioneer, on behalf of all our congregations, an instrument designed to help leaders diagnose their church — to learn where to invest their energy and money so that their members will experience a higher quality of communal life and their congregation will be more fruitful in their mission in the world.

The specific instrument is called the Church Assessment Tool (CAT) and will be available for all our congregations to learn about in October and November as we look over Geneva’s shoulder. Then, on Saturday morning, November 14th, a consultant from Holy Cow will be at Geneva’s campus to interpret the CAT and the implications it has to shape Geneva’s decision-making in the future. All Sessions of Los Ranchos Presbytery are invited to this event to evaluate how this tool can help their own Sessions improve the quality of their decision making.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 9.21.00 AM

Photo by Erin Dunigan

Russ put the challenge of listening to an organization’s “reality” like this: “It is like a group of people who are trying to determine what the temperature is outside. They can take a vote on it. They can brainstorm about it. They can interview one another about it, or tell stories about a time when the temperature outside was really nice. Or, they can carry a thermometer outside, take the temperature, and then spend their best energy planning on how to make the most out of the rest of their day.” (Owl Sight: Evidence-Based Discernment and the Promise of Organizational Intelligence for Ministry, p. 7).

The point is that we need tools that take the guesswork out of diagnosis so that we can spend more energy on the soul work of imagination and inspiration. With great thanksgiving and anticipation, I celebrate that those tools are coming to Los Ranchos this fall, and look forward with you to how they can be used to increase the health and vitality of your congregation.