December 27, 2005

If Google Ran a Church

There are several schools of thought in regards to church management and leadership. (Actually there as many opinions as there are people!) Some think that if the management or leadership arrangements were not in the Bible, they are not to be used. Others believe that the church should use the best practices available in the business world, and run the church as someone would run a business. Most of the rest fall somewhere in-between these two.

I tend to fall into a tension between the two of these. The Bible is not a step-by-step instruction book to management. It gives us a glimpse of how the early church used appropriate cultural structures to lead the church; though it wasn't completely a cultural structure. The business world has much to offer to church leadership, structures, and leading into the future, but the business world has much that is contrary to the church. For instance, the church was established to give away freely God's blessing to other's; especially those who could do nothing in return--The business world, though giving, is set up to earn a profit.

Here is an article from Newsweek.com concerning the 10 Golden Rules of Google. This article got me thinking about how the church (and church organizations) should treat employees.

Hire by committee: Many churches do this, but they hire by the entire congregation. At the Christian publisher that I work for, there is little committee hiring. Only the people directly involved with the new hire are invited to the interview, and then only if they are on the up-side of the leadership scale. Underlings don't count. Imagine a church that had children, teens, parents, in addition to the leadership team involved in the process. The church or organization would have to train them how to interview and what to look for, but it could be beneficial. I have, though, unfortunately seen churches that allowed too many people to be involved in the process. Though often it is not the "too many" that are the problem. The problem are those who have an agenda other than the best for the church.

Cater to their every need: There was a time when the pastor was put in a church-owned parsonage, and people from the church handled all repairs and maintenance. This was to allow the pastor to focus on the job of pastoring and spiritual growth. Unfortunately what happened was that when the pastor retired, they were in deep trouble. They had no home and no equity. Now many churches are falling on the opposite side. The pastor is given a housing allowance to purchase and maintain a home, but often the financial situation of the church is such that this is not always done sufficiently. I have also seen churches and church organizations treat their employees and staff as little more than indentured slaves all under the name of "ministry." We could learn something from Google.

Pack them in: There is more here than simply putting people into the same office. There is immediate access and face-to-face contact with co-workers. This cuts the miscommunication that often happens in e-mails. There is also a training factor. People are not left on their own, they have someone to help them acclimatize to the corporate culture. I think another important element in this is the concept of team. So often the pastor or even those on a staff of pastors are left on their own without a team. People wok best in teams. The Bible demonstrates this in the stories of Paul and Barnabas.

Make coordination easy: This is a communication thing. In a good team environment, communication is essential. Being able to communicate and to know what other team members are doing is important. Churches and church organizations do this through staff meetings, but could learn brevity from Google.

Eat your own dog food: This is interpreted as using your own services. I think the church does this, they use their own services. The problem is that many of the pastors don't want to use the churches they are a part of. They may not like the style or ministry, but feel helpless to change it. They may not feel free to be open with their congregation because they are supposed to be the "leader." There are also many ministers who don't spend time cultivating their relationship with God because they are too busy with church stuff.

Encourage creativity: There is way too much to be said here. The time schedule of the pastor is so overwhelming there is often no time for creative development. Sermon preparation is often left to the last minute due to hospital calls, counseling sessions, and meetings. And there is little time for advanced planning.

Strive to reach consensus: This is a difficult one to process. Yes, the church needs to reach consensus. Maybe the thing is that the church should strive to reach consensus, not make everyone happy. Decisions often need to be made over a longer period of time, with more people involved (not just those in charge), by pastors who have put in the length of service to have built trust and committment.

Don't be evil: Wow! If only a few church boards could learn this. Learning to disagree passionately, but with the overall purpose and mission of the organization at the forefront. Could we dare to dream of it?

Data drives decision: The church needs to be better at gathering data. Cultural data, spiritual growth data, performance data, feedback data. You name it we avoid it. We could get anal, but that would take a lot of work to get there.

Communicate effectively: It is amazing to me how pastors can preach a sermon and lead a meeting an still never communicate anything effectively. They botch conversations, push their agenda through without concern for others, and overall communicate very poorly. In one of the organizations that I work for, they are planning to move their world headquarters. One of the "postitives" of moving is that with all departments in the same building they will be able to "communicate more effectively." The reality is that if they are not communicating now, they will not communicate then.

The last couple of paragraphs offer insight into known pitfalls and the recognition that they don't know all the pitfalls. The church would do well to explore what their pitfalls are, and at least attempt to put some thought into how to avoid those pitfalls.

How about "theological arrogance"? Very common among recent seminary graduates and life-long scholars.

How about "cultural-relevance arrogance"? Very common among those who are "reaching those in the culture."

How about the "I-Can-Do-It-All complex"? Very common among pastors and dominating church board leaders.

This list could go on forever, but I will let you finish it.

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