Good Lessons for The Church
In His book, Cascades: How to Create A Movement That Drives Transformational Change (1), Greg Satell is instructing his readers on six key principles that drive transformational change. While there were many areas of application to dig into, I found myself ruminating on several primary issues related to my own context:
Do We Try to Control Too Much in the Church?
One of the key drivers of transformation change, Satell argues, is, “Small groups, loosely connected, but united by a common purpose.” In so many faith communities (mine included), I see many people (and even many small groups) connected by a ‘program’ or an organizational hierarchy (“This is how we _____ at this church”) that can be quite prescriptive on how things should be done and correspondingly light on purpose. As a result, there are many people within our small groups structure, but if you asked them why they were engaged in a small group, there would be numerous answers emerging from each person’s personal preference: ‘community’ or ‘Bible Study’ or ‘mission’. What’s more, I suspect that very few of the answers would tie into the overall mission and vision statement for our church. So, we have a lot of people participating either because they have been told this is what they should do by the church or for their own personal felt need without a well-known (even if it’s well articulated) common purpose. This is NOT the way to see transformational change! Perhaps we need to focus less on structure and ‘bounded sets’ and instead champion purpose and values and let a diversity of small group expressions grow within our church—diverse, but each seeking to grow disciples, serve our neighbours and share Christ (our vision statement) in meaningful ways that are true to each unique group?
Have we Been Measuring the Wrong Thing?
That’s easy: Yes! In his book, Satell writes, “Clearly, deep commitment is essential for any change effort, however before you have commitment, you must have participation.” (3) That’s certainly true, and removing barriers to participation, particularly for newcomers, is very important. However, our church, and many others over the past three years have recognized that attendance is not the key thing to be measuring, because attendance doesn’t change anything besides the pragmatics of what room to meet in or how much coffee to make. While every church leader would like ‘deep commitment’ from every member, we all know that various people at various times can give more or less of their time, energy, and finances to the mission of the church. So in the last few years we have begun to measure something that might be a middle-ground between participation and deep commitment: that is, engagement. How many people are engaged in the mission? While I can live with Satell’s word, ‘participation’, it still allows (in my mind) the possibility of being physically present without any emotional investment. So, we are now looking for and measuring the growing critical mass of people who are engaged at church—they are invested in the mission and vision in mind, heart and action. It’s these people (irrespective of the word you might choose) that drive transformational change.
Can You Really Mess Up Success?
Yes (This point hurt a little). Being at the same church for 27 years allows you to see the different ebbs and flows of a church community. Early in my ministry, I was able to participate with our Lead Pastor (I was the Young adults Pastor at the time) to reimagine ministry to the younger demographic in our city. We had a vision, made a plan, and saw an explosion—going from 800 people to 2000 in about 3 years. And then without really even noticing it, we began to use a different grid for answering ministry questions: NOT “What would the vision instruct us to do?”…rather, “What’s most likely not to mess this thing up?” Eventually, we went into maintenance mode, thinking, “It worked in the past, it will keep on working”…and it did…for about 7-8 more years. And while we got stuck in a rut and worried about keeping as many people as happy as possible (NOT the vision!), other creative responses emerged in our city and we began to struggle. Our change movement eventually fell apart after reaching the objective. This lesson has stuck in my mind over the past years as I have been the Lead Pastor and I am reminded that we never actually reach our vision and constant renovation and creativity is necessary for every organization, including the church.
(1) Greg Satell, Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change (New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2019),
(2) Greg Satell, Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change (New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2019), 19
(3) Greg Satell, Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change (New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2019), 197
7 responses to “Good Lessons for The Church”
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Scott, so much great stuff here.
Your first question was worth the price of admission. We’ve been struggling with this very thing as we relaunch small groups post-covid. You helped me put a framework around the questions we’re asking and tie it back to Satell in a way that I was trying to, but failing. Forming small groups around purpose and mission (with each group member being able to clearly answer “what is the reason for this small group”) and encouraging flexibility in the details and structure.
Your second question raises a question: Can you give me ways that you measure engagement? I totally agree that is the thing to do, but we seem to have a hard time knowing how or what to measure with that.
Your third question is painful. It’s all too easy to go from mission and vision to success and then to “we don’t want to mess this up”. When I was appointed as the pastor of the church I serve now, it had been a globally known church and many of the older members were totally focused on ‘not messing it up’ not realizing that ship had already sailed. That said, I know that our own smaller successes have the same ability because humans (including me) are really all the same in that regard.
Scott, it’s been a pleasure to be in the cohort with you. I appreciate how you authentically wrestle through important questions. I’m looking forward to connecting a bit deeper in person in Oxford to talk life and ministry.
Hi Tim. Blessings on you in these summer months! We’re not doing anything terribly unique as it relates to measuring engagement. Essentially, we’re seeking to monitor and focus on how many people are doing something rather than just showing up on Sundays or at various events. This might be volunteering within the church in a variety of capacities, or intentionally volunteering outside the church on mission. It might also include monitoring how many people chose to participate in the church-wide Lent journey/guide or other ways of growing in relationship with Jesus. Our finance person monitors number of givers/new givers as another indication of actual engagement. Basically, finding ways to determine people using their time, talent, and treasure to participate in our particular niche of God’s work in the world. General attendance is also still monitored and also means something…but we’ve found attendance is more a by-product of our people’s engagement. Do you guys attempt to measure such things?
Appreciate the posts, the underlying value you’re hitting at is discernment. We have this discussion regularly in our church as well. How do we discern what God is doing now at this time and season at our location. Just because it worked then, does not mean it will work now.
I think its John Maxwell who says successful surfers know when the wave is coming, how to ride it, and when to get off or it will carry them to the sand and they have to spend more energy paddling back out in the ocean to find another wave. Easier said than done, leaving one metaphorical wave and finding another is risky so I’m with you on why these questions are crucial, but scary to wrestle through.
Ive enjoyed reading your insights over the semester and how you connect it to life. Looking forward to connecting more in Oxford! Have a great summer!
Thanks Adam. Likewise appreciate your thoughtful reflections. I can’t surf….but I feel like it would be easier to learn than surfing the metaphorical waves of change that is taking place in our churches and culture! That feels like a Tsunami! I our case, I think discernment (as I think you’re describing it) was a secondary issue (or failure) as the ‘vision’ shifted from reaching the younger demographic to not screwing things up. Our first problem was that our goal changed, not the strategy/discernment to achieve the goal. Perhaps we needed more discernment to realize that we had shifted our focus! At any rate….God is still God and we are still his people and He faithfully does His work in the midst of our shortcomings….thanks be to God! Have a great summer.
I really appreciate the idea of measuring engagement. I wonder though, if some people would consider themselves “engaged” just by attending church once or twice a month whereas others consider themselves engaged when they not only attend church each Sunday but are on several committees and help with mission, etc. In our context, people seem to consider themselves truly engaged in the church community when they attend a few times a month. I wonder with our busy lives these days, if we are only minimally engaged in anything! What does “engagement” look like to you or to your church?
Hey Kally…In my response to Tim’s comment I wrote:
Essentially, we’re seeking to monitor and focus on how many people are doing something rather than just showing up on Sundays or at various events. This might be volunteering within the church in a variety of capacities, or intentionally volunteering outside the church on mission. It might also include monitoring how many people chose to participate in the church-wide Lent journey/guide or other ways of growing in relationship with Jesus. Our finance person monitors number of givers/new givers as another indication of actual engagement. Basically, finding ways to determine people using their time, talent, and treasure to participate in our particular niche of God’s work in the world.
So we’re not too hung up on whether people are attending services 1,2,3,or 4 times a month….more…that people choose to come and engage in community when they are able. For some people with kids in sports…that means 3-4 months of missing Sunday services as a sport season takes place, and we don’t want to be a church that simply makes peoples lives busier. In essence, people are engaged when they WANT to be present, active, involved, giving, etc… and how much they are able to do is different depending on seasons of life and seasons of the year. Does that make sense? Have a great summer!
How many people are in engaged in mission? Hhhmmm? That is a good way to measure success for any church or business. I even asked myself, how many of my 6 board members are engaged in fulfilling our mission. This means I need to see and understand why 2 are not as engaged and what I am doing wrong or allowing to happen. Thanks Sir Scott!