The quest for healthier and smarter churches

I am in that curious time in the life of a United Methodist pastor. I’ve left my previous church and not yet started work at my new church. It is a time of anticipation and enforced patience.

For me, it is a time to think about my first year in this new place. As part of that, I’m reading again Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage.

In the opening pages of the book, Lencioni writes about the fact that there is a crucial difference between the value of being a smart organization and a healthy organization. You need both. Lencioni writes that in all his years working as a consultant, he has never spent time with a business and thought the problem was that the executives needed to work on getting smarter about their business or fundamental business activities such as marketing, technology, and finance. The problem he sees that organizations are not healthy.

A healthy organization is marked by these qualities: Minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover.

Most businesses are smart enough to succeed. Lots of them are unhealthy and don’t know how to get healthy.

What does this have to do with churches?

I’m not expert. I’ve been a pastor for 14 years at small to very small churches. I have no book to write about church growth, and if I wrote one, no one would buy it. But I do have a few thoughts on this question.

First, a lot of churches have a double-sided problem. They struggle with being healthy organizations. Sadly, churches are often places with lots of politics, lots of confusion, low morale and the other markers of unhealthy organizations. This is nothing new. Read the New Testament and you see it from the beginning. But being healthy is not the only challenge many churches face. They also often struggle with the fundamentals. They can be quite muddled about strategy, confused about how to reach and communicate with insiders and outsiders, and challenged by technology and sound and basic financial management. Not every church has these problems, but many do.

Second, I think Lencioni is fundamentally correct when he says that healthy organizations get smarter. Healthy organizations see problems and deal with them instead of avoiding them. As a result they develop the skills they need. I’ve seen businesses and churches that exemplify this. They are exciting places to be.

So the question then becomes: How do churches become healthy?

That is the rest of the book, which I’ve only started reading again. Stay tuned. Please feel free to share your experiences with healthy and unhealthy churches.

4 thoughts on “The quest for healthier and smarter churches

  1. Great post, very timely. “Minimal politics and minimal confusion” seem impossible quests given the fact of an Adversary. “Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine” (1 Cor. 11:19). And the Apostle Paul was not a pessimist.

    1. I think there is a difference between the state in which we are sorting out the influence of the devil and the state at which we have determined who is genuine. I don’t think Paul meant that there would be perpetual politics. But we must always be on guard.

  2. A couple of weeks back I was flirting with despair. If I’d stayed there burnout would have been possible. It seemed that nothing was working. So last week I cut back my sermon writing and worship prep time by over an hour a day and am spending that time in prayer and calling church members who came to mind as I prayed. The sermon Sunday was very short and yet I felt the presence of God at one church where I hadn’t. It’s a new experiment, but I intend to continue it for several weeks. I’m realizing at the moment I can’t fix what ails my churches or community, but God can. Hopefully I won’t forget that lesson quickly!

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