Research shows that organizational health arises from an agency’s capacity to “align around a clear vision, strategy and culture; to execute with excellence; and to renew the organization’s focus over time….”(http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/the_hidden_value_of_organizational_health_and_how_to_capture_it; A.De Smet, B. Schaninger, M. Smith; April 2014). While acknowledging that congregations are very different from corporations, the factors promoting organizational health identified by these writers also in large measure apply in discerning and developing congregational health. If church boards are to advance their congregational missions, then they have to give some attention to this matter of organizational health.
In some writings about the church today there is a distinct bias against thinking of a congregation as an organization. And so even to raise the topic of organizational health in the context of congregational life leads to shoulder shrugs or dismissal. Yet, no matter how much some may want to ignore or reject the organizational aspect of local church life, it nevertheless is a reality in most congregations, i.e. they are organizations and some are sick and some are healthy.
Church boards form the primary leadership teams within their congregations responsible to improve organizational health. No other leadership team in a local church has the authority, mandate or discernment to evaluate and monitor organizational health and do what is necessary to improve it. This must be one of the chief ends or goals of a church board. The chairperson should be assisting the board to keep its focus on this goal as it makes decisions, approves hires, develops vision and strategy, and assesses personal and programs. One of the useful questions to ask as part of the board’s annual assessment is this — is the congregation’s organizational health better now than it was twelve months ago? How do we know? What do we have to do in the next twelve months to improve our organizational health?
A first step in doing such an evaluation is to determine what factors will demonstrate the organizational health of your congregation? Consider the categories of vision, spiritual dynamism (worship, people saved and baptized, discipleship and leadership development, compassion ministry), effective strategy, employee relations, program execution, operational processes (finances, facilities, IT, day-to-day operations), and communications (digital, video, oral, written). If you did a quick survey among your board members and asked them indicated on a scale of 1 to 10 how healthy each of these organizational areas might be, what do you think the response would be? If you did a similar scan across your congregation, would the results be similar or different?
A second step is to work with the board to affirm that organizational health is in fact a board priority. If board members do not discern this, then it will be tough for them to give the time and energy required. Lead pastors will also need to consider how to shape their reports to the board so that the board members have the right information based upon which to evaluate organizational health. So this priority may require such reports to be retooled and reformed. The same may be required from the treasurer so that the financial reports provide some insight into the organizational health of this particular local church.
Once you have determined as chairperson and board one or two key areas of organizational health that demand attention, then thirdly you have to develop some plan to address this “lack of health.” What will it take to turn this facet of the organization into a healthy, effective, spiritually productive part of the congregation’s life? For example, if you discover that you have no consistent means of discerning as a board whether your decisions have in fact been implemented, then you need to develop some process that requires specific reports about specific elements of a project at defined time intervals.
Sometimes you will feel rather frustrated because part of organizational health within a congregation concerns spiritual robustness. How can you measure advancement in the spiritual condition of your congregation from year to year? Here is where some interesting discussion among the board members will have to occur, as you sort what you regard as indicators of spiritual growth and maturity within your congregation.
What we do not measure, we cannot evaluate. This applies to the organizational health of a congregation. If church boards ignore this aspect of their responsibility, then who has the mandate and authority to do it?