Vision: take risks when things are going well, not badly - lesson from a church planter #4

sigmoid-curve.jpg

In my last post I outlined a process of how to get from ideas into actions and practice - how to see dreams and aspirations come to life in the real world. My next few posts will take the steps of that process and explore then in more depth and provide details of key resources for those.  So let's start with Vision (I'm eternally grateful to the Lead Academy for introducing me to what follows).

1. Vision: take your risks when things are going well, not when they are going badly In his book The Empty Raincoat, Charles Handy introduces the Sigmoid Curve. It's a simple but profound idea, that things in life start out with energy and excitement that attract resources and grow, but eventually they wax and wane and stall into decline.  With the world changing so quickly this lifecycle from growth to decline accelerates. We could say, what got us here won't get us there.

The key according to Charles Handy is to not to wait until we are in decline to take risk and start new ventures, but to do so when things are going well, and there is energy and resources for new change.  You can see that process in the image above in this post.

2. Vision leads and resources follow When my wife and I started our church plant all we had was vision, and the only resource was us. Vision drove everything. We gathered people and shared about the kind of church we wanted to see come to life and resources of people and money followed that vision. We had no choice in planting, we didn't take on a church, we didn't take a team, and we didn't take a chunk of money. Without vision there would be no church take shape.

We thought we had a plan, and we did of sorts, but we had no real idea who would join us, take part, serve and give to make that vision become something in real life. We had vision and commitment to do anything it would take and our church grew from that.

3. Management of visionary growth leads to decline Then with growth you set up processes, procedures, support structures, facilities to underpin and keep that growth alive. But the irony is, before too long your management around the growth you had leads to a spiral of decline.

Tell tale signs are that you spend more time making who you are and what you do, fit into your decreasing budgets and resources.

The vision that led to creating something from nothing, results in something others want to take part in, without the risk that made that possible in the first place!

The people who gave up every Sunday morning to make great kids ministry for new people gives way to a kids ministry where parents expect quality kids ministry but won't invest in it the in the same way as the people who created it.

Multiply that across a church plant in all it's areas of life, and before long you are just doing more things with fewer people to keep the people who don't want to change and take risks . You end up managing the church and not leading it.

Worst of all once you realise you have slipped into that situation, if you introduce change and risk with vision, you are trying to change a church that people don't want to see change. They didn't join it to make something from nothing, they joined something that now exists and they don't want to see it become something else.

4.  Where are you on the curve - are you leading or managing? So a key question and diagnostic is to regularly ask where are you on the curve? Personally, for your church and for specific areas of ministry.

Two years ago I realised I had slipped into managing our church around decreasing resources. We had more people, but less people serving and less people giving. We were increasingly trying to provide more with less. And it was exhausting.

It didn't take more of my time and effort - for being bi-vocational and starting our church plant took more time and giving than anything I have ever done. But leading from vision is exhilarating, whilst managing from maintenance is enervating.

So our church has explored with vision the past 2 years, what it would mean to grow, to reach out more, to see more people become new Christians. And that would take involvement, commitment, giving and serving and change.

The last two years have been and continue to be utterly exhausting, but they have seen the largest growth in new people and new christians in our church since it was planted. We still have a long way to go yet, and the forces of resistance to change into management and maintenance remain pernicious.

Ephesians 6 reminds us that '...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.'  Risk avoidance and avoiding change are at the heart of that struggle.  The realities of decline through maintenance are not just a lifecycle issue, but a spiritual battle.

So where are you on the curve?  Being impelled by vision, taking risks with resources invited to follow, or are you managing and maintaining with less and less resources?  If so, it's time to take risks and lead with change and vision.

5.  Five Areas to help you move from decline to growth So perhaps you want to reset back down the curve, back to a place of vision and risk taking. Where do you start? Here are five areas you can begin with, barriers to being in a place of vision and risk taking. Once you work through these you can begin to express the vision and change you need for leading growth.

a.  Leadership for growth:  Do you have other leaders with you, who others in your church can look to?  Are your leaders visionary and catalytic, willing to take risks, or are they managing maintenance and decline?  The first step in vision and risk taking is gathering leaders around you who will share vision and take risks with you.

b.  Structure for growth: Things that grow change their structure. People often do not like that and resist it. If your church is like a warm cat they don't want it growing into something bigger and more like a shaggy dog - or from a dog to horse. Taking risks and changing structure for growth are key. You cannot become an adult with the body of a child.

c.  Make space for growth: You need space for growth. Like the young family who take the risk to move from a flat/apartment to a house so they have room to grow and develop, churches need space to grow into. The temptation is to wait too long with what you can comfortably afford. Especially in church people will ask do we need to multiply services, have more offices, room etc when we can afford what we do now without making any demands on most people. They key is move to more space as you are growing, not wait until you are not growing with people who do't want to make space for new people.

d.  Focus for growth:  Moving from vision and focus to management and maintenance can result in a lack of focus. We need to constantly revisit what we are focused on and if is too many things, reduce that focus to the key things for vision and the risks we need to take.

e.  Culture eats strategy (and vision) for breakfast: Peter Drucker drew out attention to the reality that no matter how compelling our vision, no matter how great our planning for that vision, it is the culture of our organisations that determines whether any of that vision will come to life.   If our church culture is toxic, for example extant with fear and resistance to change and risk taking - vision and planning will come to nothing.  What's the culture you currently have and what is the history that led to that culture?

6. Conclusion:  So where are you on the curve? And where are you and your church in those 5 areas?  My next posts will explore more about how you can develop culture around your vision.