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Church Strategy

Tools and Trends for Strategic Planning

Monthly Archives: November 2010

What Is It?  You scatter it around without knowing it.  It has the power to make things happen.  It creates division amongst your people.  What is it?  Your pastoral pixie dust.

This is a picture of you spreading your pastoral pixie dust around your congregation. Be careful. (Image from Julie Fain.)

How Decisions Get Made at Church.

  As people of the Book, we are trained to appeal to authority – usually God’s authority.  But when God is silent – like on how to resolve a parking problem, or what color the “Response Cards” should be – YOU, as the senior pastor, end up becoming the authority.  When you talk about a point of view you have on something, that’s your pixie dust.  It’s innocent, but powerful.

Around your church, this conversation happens several times a day:

“Why are we doing it that way?”

“Well, [YOUR NAME HERE] said that he wants it like that.”

“Oh, um, OK.”

And it’s done.  Somehow, in some way, you showed a preference.  Now the gears are grinding to get you what you purportedly wanted.  That’s the pixie dust.

Rewind: How Did the Pixie Dust Get Spread?  You were walking by someone’s office.  They threw an idea at you – “What about getting some live lambs for the Christmas Pageant, Pastor?”  “I like lambs,” you say, “See what you can do.”

And then the search is on.  Lamb farmers across the state are fielding calls from your staff.  “Jim said he likes lambs and we MUST have one for the Christmas Pagent.”

Your innocent remarks cast a long shadow.  Your idea become immutable; your “maybe” becomes a mandate.

The Solution: Be Clear.  Being aware of your pixie dust power is a big part of the battle.  When you state a preference or give a point of view on something non-essential, take the time to be clear – “Let me be clear here.  I’m NOT saying that it needs to be done that way.  That’s just a brainstorm.”  The pastoral pixie dust is back in the bottle.

Credit Where Credit Is Due.  If you receive a lot of catalogs this time of year, one group to thank is infoUSA, a Nebraska-based data aggregator.  infoUSA started when one guy rounded up all the telephone books he could and set out to make a computer-based virtual telephone book.  A quarter of a century later, infoUSA will sell just about any kind of data to just about anyone.  As a senior pastor, their Church Lists division probably lists YOU someplace.

It was infoUSA’s the Chief Financial Officer, and erstwhile gubernatorial candidate, Stormy Dean, who initially shared the CEO pixie dust concept with me in 2006.  The years since have proven him right.  Thanks Stormy.  And please unsubscribe me from the Restoration Hardware catalog.


LeBron James’s new Nike ad has him asking repeatedly and facetiously, “What should I do?” 

LeBron James asks eight times, "What should I do?" Train your employees to focus on solutions.

Unless your employees are LeBron James, “What should I do?” is one of the last questions you’d like to hear from your leadership team.

We arrive in the world being told what to do.  “Don’t eat that.”  “Pick up your toys.”  “Be nice to your sister.”  Sadly, many of your employees are still there.

Some employees think that they are adding value by spotting problems.  They are not.  We add value when we solve problems.  The difference between effective employees and ineffective ones is this: effective employees think in solutions.

As a senior pastor, people will look to you for answers.   They will say, “Attendance is down” or “We have a parking problem” or “The projector isn’t working.”  And they expect you to have a point of view, or to know a solution.  How exhausting!

What Should I Say?   Last week, a customer of ours asked for something that we clearly cannot do.  Our employee’s first response in her email to me?  “What should I say?”  I hate to be a punk, but I had to write back didactically, “What do YOU think you should say?”  Of course, what she wrote was almost exactly right.

In two other instances just today, employees given to passivity reached out with easily solvable problems.  I asked them to propose a solution.  Their solutions were exactly right.

Without solution thinking, your employees will never become leaders.  They will always need to serve in the shadow of an enabling answer-giver.

Help your people elevate their performance by driving them toward solutions.  At first, you’ll find yourself tired of asking, “What do YOU propose we do?”  But before you know it, you’ll have a team thinking for themselves – a team full of people who have learned to reason their way to good solutions. What a gift to them.  And to yourself.

Train your team to think in solutions.  THAT’S what you should do.

Like so many in Scripture, I am unqualified to do what I do.  And that is when God has the chance to work and move.

Cameron Doolittle, Author of Church Strategy

I didn’t study business in college; instead, I studied Political Science at Stanford. 

I didn’t work on Wall Street; instead, I served as Legislative Director to a powerful Congressman. 

I didn’t go to Harvard for Business School; oddly, for an Evangelical Republican, I went to UC-Berkeley, where I earned by law degree (JD) and business degree (MBA).  But mostly I was there following a girl.

Lots of people have had moments of great clarity in Berkeley; mine was less substance, but more substantial.  It was here that God showed me that He had designed my mind for business.

I didn’t consult for McKinsey & Company; instead, the girl and I had a daughter and I took a job that wouldn’t put me on the road so much.

I was blessed to build three great business units of Corporate Executive Board, serving hundreds of Chief Financial Officers, General Counsel, and Operations executives around the world.

It is by God’s grace alone that a guy with a political science degree could find himself presenting to dozens of executives at Motorola on finance, or teaching leaders of AT&T how to communicate, or building multiple $10 million businesses.  But God uses the foolish things, and He is strongest in our weakness.

At some point, I began talking with church leaders and realized that the principles I used to help Fortune 500 companies weren’t limited.  I had been teaching universal truths.  Business is about how things work, how people treat one another, what people want.  And that’s what the Bible is about.

At Wheaton College, we were told over and over that “all truth is God’s truth.”  That means that the truths of business and strategy are God’s truth as well.  And most of God’s business and strategy truths can be ported over into God’s church.

I am blessed to serve on the vestry (our Anglican stuck-up way of saying “elders”) of our amazing church, which, under Rev. David Hanke’s leadership, is growing at 50 percent.  I have gotten the chance as a Board member to watch Daniel Watts lead Every Generation Ministries.  And, to this business executive, it all feels familiar.

Are there differences?  No doubt.  Are the differences greater than the similarities?  No way.

This year, I’m finally taking my own medicine.  I left consulting and am blessed to lead Jill’s House, an amazing non-profit connected with McLean Bible Church.  I have also started this blog to bring you along on the ride. 

At Jill’s House, in the past six months, God has allowed us to navigate regulatory regimes, develop budgets, build a great team, design a tremendous customer experience, and plan for rapid expansion.  Feels familiar.

The context is now churchy.  But the principles are the same: Love your customer, segment your market, focus on benefits, prioritize key projects, get the right people in the right roles, and so on.

Along the way, many church leaders have pushed my thinking, clarified it, and helped me transfer business principles into the church.  Enough autobiography.  Next time, we get back to solving actual problems and helping your church fulfill the mission God’s given it!

Success Guided by God.  HR professionals would say that Gideon had a retention problem.  He starts with 32,000 employees, but offers a golden parachute and 22,000 accept it.  Then he raises performance standards and ends up with just 300 men.  (Judges 6-8)  His ticker – ISRL – jumps as investors get fired up about this apparent cost-cutting initiative.

Gideon gets advice from his strategic consultant. (Image from

Was Gideon strategic?  Not at all.  He was led personally and explicitly by God.  What an honor!

Success Guided by Strategy.  By contrast, Bill Gates would not say that he was led personally and explicitly by God.  He made some good decisions, did some smart things, built some good technology, and found immense success.

As Christians, we would love to be Gideons – just listening to God’s explicit leading.  But you’ve been walking with the Lord long enough now to know that He sometimes elects to be quiet, leaving us to use our best judgment. 

In your personal finances, you offer them to God, but then you use your best judgment and make the best decisions you can.  In my experience, He rarely whispers, “Open a Roth IRA,” or “Buy shares in MCD.” 

When God Speaks by Giving You Judgment.  Using best judgment, making best decisions.  Some who have studied finance will have better financial judgment.  Some who have learned about cars will have better mechanical judgment.  So it is with strategy.

I write this blog because I believe God has given me a set of experiences in strategy – a mind for business and a passion for bringing the best business thinking to His precious church. 

Operating your church strategically does not mean “stop listening to God.”  Learning about strategy is simply honing your best judgment.  It’s like learning more about finance, or about cars.  When God is clear with you and your church, forget the strategic principles I talk about!  He has led you.  Follow Him!

Lord willing, you will have many Gideon moments.  He will be crystal clear.  The Church Strategy blog is for all the moments in between.  It’s designed to give you a set of strategic tools that you can use to make better decisions managing people and leading your congregation.  It’s for pastors and elders.

How do we spend our outreach budget?  When do I hire a new pastor?  What do I look for in an administrative assistant?  What role should technology play in our church?  How do we reach a certain demographic?

Next time, I will explain a bit about myself and how the Church Strategy blog came to be.

One of the joys of having this blog is that you honor me by sending me questions about your own churches and your own situations.  Sometimes I have a reasonable answer; other times I am as stumped as you are, but have the chance to pray with you for your church.

Question 1: “What do I do when a pastor divides a church?” My former CEO, Tom Monahan, used to say, “When you aren’t getting along with someone, first, assume that they’re good, and assume that they’re smart.  And then ask yourself why they’re behaving as they are.”  In church, it’s amazing how quickly God’s people will impute motives to one another.

In this question from a reader, there’s an assumption that I hope she can verify: That the pastor is willfully creating a division in the church.  That doesn’t seem to be in any pastor’s interest, so let’s assume that he’s good and that he’s smart, and see where we land.  I have two theories:

  1. He might be making a doctrinal point that some in the congregation disagree with.  That’s not divisive; that’s his job.  You’re paying him to teach the Word; sometimes you’ll love what it says; sometimes you’ll hate it.
  2. He might be pursuing a strategy that you disagree with.  Good strategy is 10% about saying “Yes” to the right things, and 90% about saying “No” to the wrong things.  If something isn’t consistent with the direction the pastor is called to lead the congregation, then, yes, it’s going to feel like divisiveness to you.

For this reader, I have four steps:

  1. Pray up. It’s amazing how many times we get upset about things and then, in our still, quiet times with God, He gently corrects us.  Keep this before the Lord for at least a week before speaking with your pastor.
  2. Think up. Something the pastor is doing is touching you at an emotional level.  Before going to the pastor, figure out, “What is it about ME that is so frustrated by this?”
  3. Speak up. Not to others, not to me, but to the pastor.  Matthew 18 couldn’t be more clear about how to handle things when you feel someone is at fault.  If he agrees with you, you’ve won.  If he doesn’t, you need to understand that you’re under authority.  God, through your elders or denomination, called him to lead your congregation.  Following his leadership when you agree is easy; it’s not really following at all.  But how do you follow when you disagree?  That’s the mark of your submission to the authority God has appointed.
  4. Shut up. I know enough church people to know that this is the point where they start talking to one another.  Oh, it’s never gossip; it’s just “something that’s been on my heart” or “something I wanted you to pray about.”  Because those are loopholes Scripture allows, right?  Remember that Christ indwells your pastor; if you are talking trash about your pastor – even behind your spiritual veneer – you are talking trash about Christ.
  5. Move on. If the issue is so egregious that you believe God is calling you to break fellowship and find another community with which to worship, do so carefully and quietly.  You don’t need to tell people your reasons for leaving; you don’t need to give a big farewell address.  God has simply called you to another place.

Next time, I’ll dip into the mailbag again!  And let me know how you would respond, or what the question is that you’re facing by e-mailing