Last week I attended a conference on giving. Anyone who reads this blog who attended the conference might think I went home and wrote this as a response. The truth is I write these posts a month or two ahead of time. That’s all to say that I won’t be commenting on the conference. I will be offering an alternative way to think about stewardship, generosity, and raising capital.
Not all congregations are the same, and yet, somehow, they are all the same. I know, that doesn’t make sense. However, pastors know it’s true! That’s the funny thing about ministry: all congregations are different and the same. How do you explain it?
Take finances, for example. Every congregation I’ve served struggled each year to raise enough money. Like any organization or family, their perceived needs were always greater than their revenue. At the end of every year, an ad hoc group of leaders would sit down to try and figure out which bills to pay before December 31st and which bills to pay after January 1st. Oh, and don’t forget the big end of the year push to raise additional revenue to make it easier for the ad hoc group. Of course, not every congregation is like this, but most are. So, if the struggle to raise enough capital is a similarity among congregations, what are the differences?
What distinguishes one congregation from another is the way they meet the challenge. Think about how a congregation with 150 in average worship attendance might deal with a $30K deficit. Some congregations will have no problem making up the difference. Some congregations will overcome some of the deficit, but it will include significant conflict. And then some congregations head down a path of self-destruction.
Dr. Daniel Papero is a big help when it comes to thinking about organizations and how they face a challenge. He’s developed 4 key continuums that influence and predict how well an organization will do when faced with a challenge. These indicators are about how the relationship system behaves when challenged, what people focus on in the face of a problem, how an organization makes use of resources, and how leaders manage their stress and anxiety.
Let’s look at the first continuum: behavior. When a finance committee is faced with a deficit, do they engage the problem or put it off? Does the problem drag on for several months or do leaders actively seek out solutions? How do you typically behave when you face a challenge? Do you avoid it? A key to overcoming a deficit is to engage the challenge not avoid it. This one is tricky, though, because engagement is not the same as taking control. I’ve been in plenty of meetings where one person takes responsibility for the totality of the problem, comes up with a solution, and then tries to get everyone on board with their plan. While this might be a short term solution, long term it undermines the functional level of the committee.
Then there is the issue of focus. Do leaders focus on content or process? Most problems are solvable. Not all, but most. A key factor in whether a problem is solvable is the “way” leaders address the problem. Being demanding, blaming others or self, framing the conversation as us verse them, or not having a vision or long-term goal are guaranteed ways to make a problem unsolvable. It doesn’t matter how great the solution, if the process is flawed and intense, the problem will not be resolved. When leaders steer the conversation towards process (by asking good questions), create a process that is engaging and seeks cooperation, then solutions will always follow.
How about resources? What resources are available and how do leaders assess the availability of resources? For most congregations, the problem is not a lack of resources but making better use of the resources that are available. These are the stories you hear in worship or in a newsletter; how a congregation made good use of their resources. If on the other hand, resources are not available, then the congregation is facing a different challenge. Knowing what resources are available and how to make good use of them is key to meeting financial challenges.
Then there is anxiety and the fear response. How well do leaders manage their stress and anxiety? If a leader makes a big mistake, you know the kind that gets you fired, it’s going to be in this area. Self-regulation is a major influence on the other three areas. Lowering one’s level of chronic anxiety helps improve one’s ability to observe and think. Knowing what resources are available and how to make good use of them requires less automatic behavior and higher level brain activity. Focusing less on the content of the challenge and instead focusing more on the process involved to find a solution requires a lower level of anxiety. As I mentioned earlier, an anxious leader may try to control others and manage a problem. The opposite is when leaders avoid a problem. Dr. Murray Bowen recognized that the best way to work on self-regulation was in one’s family of origin through differentiation of self. Contact me if you would like to learn more about what goes into this effort.
My hunch is that any leader who is successful in raising capital to fund a ministry or program is already working well in these four areas. But what you hear at a training are the techniques that were used to get to the outcomes without any awareness or acknowledgment of the underlying emotional process that takes place in all relationship systems. Show me a capital campaign that raised more money than expected, and I’ll show you leaders who do a good job of staying on the effective side of these continuums. Show me a church on the verge of closing, and I’ll show you leaders who avoid problems, focus on content, do a poor job of using resources, and who are intense and reactive towards others. Did I mention blaming? They also do a lot of blaming.
Leaders do make a difference. Not because of the techniques they use but because they do a good job of staying connected to others.