Stretch Your Leadership Skills Next Year

One of the biggest blocks to starting, growing, and maturing God-honoring ministry is groupthink. | by Dean Curry

The online version of the Oxford Dictionary defines groupthink: “The practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making.”

Groupthink is everywhere and only getting more entrenched. Unfortunately, we are all susceptible to herd mentality. It is very difficult to notice unless you have the opportunity to view behavior from a distance. Pastors everywhere need one message: “Everyone gets an opinion; not everyone gets a vote.”

My history includes pastoring a mega-church, starting four satellite churches, and helping dozens of other start-ups and churches in varied stages of growth—with notable successes and failures in each category. Collectively, these experiences have shown me that in this age of online gang violence and crowdsourcing of everything from logos to how movies will end, there has been a growing timidity among church leaders, movements, and denominations that has driven churches to a bland medium where they are defined by either minute theological differences or their geographic location.

It’s my belief and experience thus far, especially with regard to the millennial generation, that it is the uncommon, even disapproved, methods that will help church leaders grow churches and the people they comprise.

In this spirit, I offer you five of my favorite counter-intuitive insights:

Don’t Wait for a Green Light

Before taking definitive action, pastors and church leaders everywhere wait for everything to line up and for the blessing and approval of all sorts of groups and individuals to confirm something they already firmly believe in. Without fail, this process is cloaked in spiritual words but it is actually closer to mysticism. It also stops many good things from happening because you can’t crowdsource wisdom.

My encouragement to you is if it’s the right thing, do it. People will come along in time. When the iPhone first came out, I was among the first wave to jump on the bandwagon. It was really more about my fascination with Steve Jobs than my confidence in the product. In one recorded conversation, Steve gave this insight on groupthink and waiting for approval: “Some people say, ‘Give customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. Similarly, I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me, “a faster horse!”’ People don’t know what they want until you show them.”

Be Open for Business

Churches everywhere—small and large congregations alike—only have services (“experiences” or “gatherings” in the language used by many of today’s churches) when they are certain enough people will show up. This is partly to avoid potential embarrassment or discouragement and partly because there is a fatigue that comes with doing more services than necessary. In all cases, this practice keeps groups from growing and stunts financial growth.

A restaurant makes no money when it’s closed. Likewise, a movie theatre. These industries have to find novel ways to bring people into their buildings. Yet churches often shut down during Christmas, New Year’s Eve/Day, or when in competition with a local sporting event.

My advice: add the extra service(s); stay open in all situations, rain or shine. Recently I talked about this with a friend who holds one weekly service at 10:00 am on Sunday. He admitted to me that only lame excuses keep him at one experience a weekend. Wouldn’t you agree it’s very difficult to go to a restaurant that’s only open between 9:30 am and 11:00 am on your only day off? So, extend the hours your doors are open.

Don’t Count Apples with Oranges

Pastors have been inflating their attendance, perhaps innocently, for as long as there has been pressure to produce numerical growth. In today’s metrics-addicted economy, churches have taken to counting everything with a pulse. (In most cases, pregnant women and schizophrenics each count as two—kidding, of course.)

It’s good reasoning to count children. Children are priceless and we need to know how well we’re serving that demographic. But we also need to remember that children are draftees. Most don’t get a vote on what they want to do so their attendance doesn’t tell you much about your appeal or impact.

My view is that including children in your congregational count presents a false sense of perspective. A church of 300 adults is different than a congregation of 500 both in social and managerial dynamics. Yet many pastors will include children in their count, round up, and then staff and plan on that basis. This lays a foundation of false assumptions that lead nowhere productive.

Make Business Your Business

It’s interesting how many businesses are borrowing missional language from the church. Microsoft has “evangelists” and one marketing agency uses the term “love marks” to describe the passion they want to develop as a part of their mission to sell more product.

The religious community has lied to itself about adopting business language. Boards aren’t in the Bible but they’re essentially mandated by our culture. Likewise, accountants and payroll, human resources, consultants, and outside experts are all used with regularity by churches of all sizes.

My advice: Develop a board that helps you with the business side. Some of the best advice I have received was to populate half of the board with pastors from other churches who will provide “outside” perspective from some distance and objectivity (i.e., they are less likely to be drawn into groupthink). Then, fill the other half of the board with people from within your congregation who can give you perspective and insight from a vantage point of proximity. Great organizations have a little of both. If businesses can steal the best parts of our mission, then our mission can steal the best parts of business.

See Buildings as Temporary

For varying reasons, many churches have steadfastly remained in buildings that don’t fit them or are no longer central to their geographic area’s population. Where I live, the region’s most successful church of the last forty years is on its third campus. They sold the first one and are in the process of selling the second.

Leaders get married to real estate at their peril. The groupthink goes like this: “The founders planted here so it must be ordained that we remain here.” Once the campus is sanctified as a miracle, it can never be exchanged for something else.

Buildings are tools—gifts from God, to be sure—but we needn’t be too intent on keeping a building that no longer fits or failing to move to where the people are. Use your building as a tool, an investment, in God’s work. Keep it open, fill it, and make it a place of healing. And when it no longer serves its purpose, move on to new and higher ground.

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