Learn from a Compiled Case Study

Dan Black, Executive Pastor of WheatFields Good News Church, thought on what had been said at the Risk Management Team meeting. “Maybe I need a better handle on what risk management is. I would hate to find out that our elder board missed a core part of their fiduciary responsibility in risk management.” Dan found an article by Mike Batts:

Many boards assume that the pastor and staff have the “bases covered” and board involvement is often limited to reacting to flare-ups. Such an approach to risk management is problematic and dangerous for multiple reasons. [1] “That’s where we are. We’re so busy doing amazing ministry that we’re assuming all the bases are covered. I mean at today’s meeting, all we talked about was fire and legal issues … but Batts is pointing to much more than that. What would a comprehensive plan look like?

Dan sent an invitation to a former Federal Agent, a Chief of Police and their insurance agent, to come to the next Risk Management meeting. Within a few minutes, he had two “yes” replies. A few hours later, the insurance agent was the last to reply. The agent wrote:

Sorry for the late night email, but I just got back from Santa Barbara, helping a camp with that big fire. I’m thrilled to come to the meeting. For a long time, I asked Pastor Wilson to create this kind of team. I think that WheatFields is probably paying too much in liability insurance. Your property insurance is fine, but liability is priced at the extreme high end. We could never document that the church had national-level policies and practices, so you got bad marks. That costs you. Between now and the meeting, I’d suggest that you do research on NewSpring Church. In the last few months, they’ve been dealing with challenging issues that are unfortunately common to many churches in America. See you soon!

Dan was taken aback at the email. “He hasn’t been to a meeting,” he thought, “and he’s already giving advice. What does he want me to learn from that church?”

Church Used To Be Easy

Dan thought more about the previous day’s meeting. “When I was just an elder at WheatFields, it seemed like church was easy. Yes, we were a little frustrated with Pastor Wilson and his ‘family business model’ from time to time, but it all seemed to work well. Now I learn that our insurance agent thinks that we’re behind the times.”

“In business,” he continued, “we had to understand a new paradigm in the 1990s. Perhaps the church is going through the same thing, just two decades later.” As Dan searched for articles on the complexity of church life, he was surprised at how many he found. Dan often had read articles by Dan Reiland, the executive pastor of 12Stone Church in Atlanta. “The last I heard, 12Stone had 8 campuses and over 13,000 people in worship. He must know about complexity.” [2]  Dan found a pertinent thought from Dan Reiland:

Leading a local church is more complex than ever … Decision-making can be crazy-making. Even if you and your team can make decisions at lightning-speed, (which is not the norm in a church,) circumstances change faster than you can implement the decision. [3] As Dan continued to read Reiland’s article, he found five reasons for the increasing complexity in churches:

    1. Culture is unpredictable—societal changes, such as the #metoo movement, affects churches of all sizes.
    2. Staffing norms have changed—advancement in an organization is new to churches.
    3. Technology has upped the ante—what is current today is passé next year.
    4. The worship service is once again up for grabs—trends and styles of worship services are changing.
    5. Attendance patterns have changed—online church has become a necessary part of a full-orbed ministry.

“Many of these are certainly true here at WheatFields,” Dan thought. “Society has changed in Orange County. The Republicans used to claim this as a red county and now the Democrats assert it as blue. Staffing was a mess before I came. They hired people willy-nilly, often without an application or background check. That was the ‘family business’ model that we worried about. Well, the good news is that it hasn’t come back to bite us.”

Ministry is Now Difficult and Complex

Continuing his internet search, Dan found a pithy article from Thom Rainer. “This guy has lots of experience. Though we aren’t Baptist, he speaks to me,” Dan thought. “This line from Rainer is what I was thinking concerning my early days as an elder:”

I can’t tell pastors today how difficult it was when I was a pastor. To the contrary, I have to be honest and tell them it is more difficult now. [4] “He put in print what I was thinking. It used to be pretty easy to do church and now it’s complicated.” Dan continued his research, finding material from Canadian pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof. “Let’s see if someone outside the US has similar thoughts on the complexity of church:”

Without a doubt, you’ve already realized it’s more complex to be a church leader today than it was even a few decades ago. With the vast majority of churches struggling in some way, it’s time to rethink our future mission … In many ways, what the church is going through is reflected in other industries like what’s been happening in the newspaper and photography businesses. [5] Dan stopped and took in Nieuwhof’s words. “That hits close to home. Once I had a business that supplied photographic paper and chemicals to many newspapers in SoCal.” Dan daydreamed about when he got started in business. “Those days are all gone—even Kodak filed for bankruptcy. My photo business evaporated in the early 2000’s. What was the real story behind Kodak missing the digital revolution? Didn’t they invent the digital camera?”

Dan found a Harvard Business Review article:

Companies often see the disruptive forces affecting their industry. They frequently divert sufficient resources to participate in emerging markets. Their failure is usually an inability to truly embrace the new business models the disruptive change opens up. Kodak created a digital camera, invested in the technology, and even understood that photos would be shared online. Where they failed was in realizing that online photo sharing was the new business, not just a way to expand the printing business. [6] “Kodak’s decline included missing lots of technological opportunities, but this guy is saying that it was deeper than that,” Dan mused. “Kodak didn’t realize that the whole environment of photography was changing. What I need to take away from this is that complexity is the new normal for churches.”

“Doing the math, I’d wager that things are changing in the church landscape. I don’t want us to be another Kodak. WheatFields is behind the curve on Risk Management and we’d better get with it.”

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Endnotes

  1. Michael E. Batts, Building a Culture of Risk Management: Church Boards, Staffs Must Collaborate for the Good of the Ministry (Carol Stream, IL; Christianity Today, Church Law & Tax, September 25, 2012) available from https://www.churchlawandtax.com/blog/2012/september/building-culture-of-risk-management.html
  2. Wikipedia, 12Stone (San Francisco: Wikimedia Foundation, page last updated December 13, 2018) available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12Stone and Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Database of Megachurches in the U.S.
  3. Dan Reiland, 5 Reasons Church Is Much More Complex to Lead (Lawrenceville, GA: Dan Reiland|The Pastor’s Coach—Developing Church Leaders, November 19, 2018), available from https://danreiland.com/5-reasons-church-is-much-more-complex-to-lead/.
  4. Thom Rainer, Ten Reasons It Is More Difficult to Be a Pastor Today (Nashville, TN: LifeWay Christian Resources, May 17, 2017) available from https://thomrainer.com/2017/05/ten-reasons-difficult-pastor-today.
  5. Carey Nieuwhof, 3 Things that Are Sabotaging the Church’s Future (Ontario, Canada: careynieuwhof.com) available from https://careynieuwhof.com/why-the-church-needs-to-decide-on-its-real-mission.
  6. Scott D. Anthony, Kodak’s Downfall Wasn’t About Technology (Boston: The Harvard Business Review, July 15, 2016) available from https://hbr.org/2016/07/kodaks-downfall-wasnt-about-technology.