7 Thinking Errors that Hinder Church Growth

My first degree, industrial engineering, taught me to think systematically which has in turn benefited my pastoral leadership. Since then I’ve read many books on church planning and been certified through Ministry Advantage and Auxano, two strategic planning/pastoral coaching organizations. I’ve also led three churches where I’ve served through a year-long strategic planning process. So, I’m well-versed and trained in the church visioning/planning process. Yet, of all the books I’ve read on strategic planning, Will Mancini’s book, Church Unique is the best. In his chapter called “Lost on the Way to Your Own DNA,” he lists subtle thinking patterns that can hinder church growth. He calls these patterns ‘thinkholes.’ I’ve listed them here with brief definitions.

Ministry “thinkholes.”

  1. The ministry treadmill: busyness eliminates time for reflection. 
    • leads to just adding more programs
  2. The competency trap: presumption that past methods will continue to work decreases appetite for learning.
    • leads to just working harder
  3. The needs based slippery slope: consumerism removes the need for discernment.
    • leads to trying to make people happy
  4. The cultural whirlpool 1: BuzzChurch-innovation short circuits self-awareness.
    • leads to just trying to be cutting edge
  5. The cultural whirlpool 2: StuckChurch-change outpaces the discipline for learning.
    • leads to glorifying the past
  6. The conference maze: success increases the temptation to copycat. 
    • leads to simply modeling best practices
  7. The denominational rut: resources disregard local uniqueness.
    • leads to just protecting theology

At times I’ve been caught up in these thinkholes. How about you?

What other thinkholes would you add to this list?

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Great Staff Meetings Require these 7 Rules

Leaders can’t lead without meeting with others. Sometimes meetings go well. Sometimes they don’t. Often team dynamics derail productive meetings simply because someone misspoke or misheard. As I began to realize this, several years ago I asked a psychologist to help me create some rules for talking in our staff meetings. I call them conversational ethics. Here are the 7 rules.

CONVERSATIONAL ETHICS FOR MEETINGS

  1. Listen: let others say their piece; as Covey said, “Seek to understand before being understood.”
  2. Suspend judgment: don’t make assumptions about what others say.
  3. Share in the thought pool: everybody gives input; participate truthfully (how you really feel).
  4. Stay detached from your ideas: don’t take things personally; use “I” messages; own your personal view.
  5. Let others be inarticulate: help others articulate what they are trying to say by engaging.
  6. Privacy: if personal issues with you and another person potentially could affect a discussion and/or a decision, first deal with it 1-on-1 in private with the individual.
  7. Accountability: everybody helps hold each other accountable to this set of ethics.

What guidelines have helped you lead good meetings?

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4 Ways to Successfully Navigate Change

Great leaders manage change well. Great pastors also manage change well. But it’s not easy. In my research for my book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, I learned that brain insight can help us navigate change successfully. Consider these 4 ways to successfully navigate a change you’re facing. (Reprinted by permission from Brain-Savvy Leaders).

4 Ways to Successfully Navigate Change:

1. Keep others informed about your progress and welcome their input.

Build into your change buy-in plan specific dates when you will communicate progress. Tell your team how you will evaluate progress and when you will report it. Bring all your key players into the conversation. If they feel they are in the “out” group, resistance to change will be higher, as it creates an away response (Rock & Cox, 2012), a response that hinders followership. Be thorough in your assessments. If the change is not going as planned, be honest yet focus on solutions, not problems. Give hope.

Elicit feedback from several sources, not just from those at the top of your organizational chart. The more collaborative your evaluation process, the more successful the change (London & Smither, 1995). When others feel that they contributed to the evaluation process, they sense more freedom and thus more ownership.

2. Continue to acknowledge that change is scary.

When you talk about the progress you’re making, continue to verbalize that you understand how difficult and scary change can be. Be sure that you don’t speak in a patronizing way that implies that it’s difficult for your team and not for you. Let them know that it’s scary for you as well, another way to build empathy, an important leadership competency. Help your team realize that it’s normal to feel unsettled during change and that it will pass. 

3. Tell stories of people who are navigating the change well.

Narrative persuasion is a technique that uses indirect communication through story and example. Often we try to persuade others with a direct approach that communicates just the facts, like, “We are going to make a change, and here are the reasons why.” The direct approach often is not effective.

Neuroscientists have confirmed common sense that storytelling has a powerful effect on behavior (Falk et al., 2012). Storytelling helps others “see” through the eyes of another. As you solicit feedback, look for stories of people who are managing the change well. Tell their stories as you give updates about your progress. When your team members can see successful responses to change through stories of others, it will help them navigate the change better.

4. Stay reasonably connected to your biggest resisters.

In my third book People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership, I devote an entire chapter to explaining why we need to stay connected to our critics. Change will bring detractors to the surface, as the Bible often shows. When Moses sent Joshua and the spies to scout out the promised land, even though they returned with glowing reports about the opportunity before them, many people resisted the change by spreading a bad report (Num 13: 32). Stay connected to your detractors, but don’t become their punching bag. Rather, if you stay calmly connected to them, you can help calm their emotionality

What has helped you navigate change well in your church or organization?

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References:

  • Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry by Charles Stone (Kindle Locations 2735-2758). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
  • Rock, David & Cox, C. (2012) SCARF in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. Neuroleadership Journal, (four).
  • London, M. & Smither, J.W. (1995) Can Multi-Source Feedback Change Perceptions of Goal Accomplishment, Self-Evaluations, and Performance-Related Outcomes? Theory-Based Applications and Directions for Research. Personnel Psychology, 48 (4), pp.803–839.
  • Falk, E.B., O’Donnell, M.B. & Lieberman, M.D. (2012) Getting the word out: neural correlates of enthusiastic message propagation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6. Available from: <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3506032/> [Accessed 28 March 2013].

The Most Productive 4 Hours of my Week

I received an undergrad degree in industrial and systems engineering. IE’s, as they are called, are sometimes referred to as efficiency experts. Whether that’s true or not, the training I received from my degree has force me think about leadership productivity. In this post I describe my most productive four-hour time block each week, what I do, and why it’s so productive.

This might surprise you, but those four hours fall on Sunday afternoon between 1 and 5 pm. I call that time block my strategic planning time that positions me for maximum productivity in the week that follows.

Many pastors rest and nap on Sunday afternoons. I don’t begrudge those who do. I used to take a two hour nap every Sunday afternoon. But I’ve discovered several reasons why those afternoons have now become so productive for me.

Why Sunday afternoons have become so productive:

  1. My body’s already flowing with hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine) that heighten attention and focus. After I’ve preached and interacted with people I’m already on a “high.” So, I simply ride out that extra boost of energy on Sunday afternoons.
  2. Those hours put me into a forward looking perspective for the next week which motivates me with positive anticipation.
  3. Since the brain loves certainty (and dislikes uncertainty), when I carefully plan my week up front, I set my brain at ease knowing that I’ve prioritized what must get done. Since I’ve already set those priorities, I don’t waste energy during the week wondering what I should do next.
  4. I’ve chosen a place with minimum distractions, McDonalds. That may sound odd, but the McDonalds near my home allows me to pick a booth away from noise and people distraction which helps me concentrate. I usually buy lunch and a refillable soft drink which allows me to get some caffeine into my body. I also use noise suppressing headphones to block out all noise. In this post I suggest 4 ways you can improve your focus.

What I do that makes Sunday afternoons so productive:

  1. I review my personal mission statement and true north values. This post describes how to discover your true north values. By starting here I keep what God has called me to at the forefront of my thinking.
  2. I review what I call my ‘church dashboard.’ My dashboard summarizes our church’s mission, vision, values, and goals. This provides a one page snapshot of our overall direction and helps direct me to allocate time blocks to work on specific goals and projects.
  3. I review my upcoming schedule for the next 3-4 weeks and make appropriate adjustments. I use Outlook for the Mac as my calendar program. I also create specify action plans needed for upcoming meetings and projects.
  4. I review a set of folders where I’ve placed notes or materials that relate to key ministry areas and significant projects. Those include budget planning, leadership development, writing projects, new initiatives, and staff. Reviewing these folders helps remind me to allocate time to work on those projects.
  5. I revisit an email file I created in Outlook called, “Act upon in a Week.” Throughout the week I place emails in this file that didn’t require any immediate action. I’m more effective dealing with the tasks these emails generate all at once rather than spread out during the week.
  6. I determine what I call my ‘big three’ goals for the coming week, goals that take precedent over all others.
  7. I usually drink half a bottle of 5 Hour Energy to help me focus (probably by boosting the neurotransmitter dopamine) and give me an overall sense of well being (probably due to an increase in serotonin). See my post here about energy drinks for pastors.

Although Sunday afternoons have generally been downtimes for pastors, I’ve re-purposed those afternoons with encouraging results.

What do you do on Sunday afternoons that boosts productivity?

If Sunday afternoons don’t work for you, when do do your strategic planning for the week?

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5 Brain-Savvy Tips that Improve Team Creativity

Great ministry teams are creative. They generate new ideas to solve current ministry problems. Because our world is changing so rapidly, we must constantly seek to generate new God-prompted ideas. In my fourth book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, I write about how to generate creativity and insight. I include a portion of that chapter below with these 5 tips.

  1. Daydreaming: Insight often comes when we daydream and allow our minds to wander (Christoff et al., 2009). Teach your team how daydreaming can help them solve problems. Encourage your team to schedule times to daydream and to allow their minds to wander rather than always actively trying to solve problems. Help them realize that thinking less about a problem may actually bring the solution. In fact, some companies such as Google, Intuit, and Twitter expect their employees to take time for daydreaming about projects other that than those they’re working on (Waytz & Mason, 2013).
  2. Mood: When we are in a positive mood, problem solving often comes more easily (Subramaniam et al., 2008). Yet when we’re anxious, we solve fewer problems because the anxiety uses up brain resources. So if you’re facing a dilemma in your organization, it might help if the team watched a funny movie to stir the creative juices.
  3. Location: Encourage your team to discover the kinds of activities that help put them into an insight state. Two settings have helped me generate insight. Ideas pop into my mind when I read and walk at a reasonable pace on my stationary bike. Insight also comes more readily when our family leaves for vacation while it’s still dark. I’m the driver and I’m usually the only one awake that early in the morning. With little roadside distraction, my brain has generated many good ideas during those three or four hours of solitude.
  4. Application: Although insight gives us a nice dopamine rush (the feel good neurotransmitter), we all know that the feeling eventually wears off. Remind your team to record their insights in an easy-to-remember location so that they won’t forget them. Even if your team member can’t immediately act on an insight, getting him to commit to acting on it at a later time can help translate the insight into action (Rock, 2007, p. 108).
  5. Speed: If you’re working with a team member who is trying to find a solution to a problem, don’t rush the process. Give her time to engage her brain. Allow space in conversations and encourage her to carve out some down time to give her brain a break.

What has helped foster creativity in your team?

If you’d like a free chapter of my book, you can get it here when you sign up for my twice weekly blog postings. And, the book is available now on multiple on-line sites and through your local bookstore.

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(re-printed by permission)

Sources:

Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719–8724.

Rock, D. (2007) Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work. Reprint. HarperBusiness.

Subramaniam, K., Kounios, J., Parrish, T.B. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2008) A Brain Mechanism for Facilitation of Insight by Positive Affect. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21 (3), pp.415–432.

Waytz, A. & Mason, M. (2013) Your Brain at Work [Internet]. Available from: <http://hbr.org/2013/07/your-brain-at-work/ar/1> [Accessed 26 June 2013].