Church Leaders: How to Master the Pivot

Church Leaders: How to Master the Pivot

Our churches, the faithful, and church leaders have been the backbone of our nation since its founding. However, unlike hundreds of years ago, or even 20 years ago, we have to live with massive uncertainty. In other words, while the unknown is always with us, we now have other issues. Just this year alone, we have to deal with a pandemic and the havoc it’s caused on jobs and the economy. Still, before the events of this year, we also had to address technology and the rise of big data and AI. Nevertheless, you might wonder, well, how does this affect churches?

My reply to that question is that all of this significantly affects churches and also church leadership. For instance, the events of 2020 added incredible pressure to the services provided by churches in our communities. As we know, food banks, homelessness, and the need for spiritual renewal and meaning increased. Add to that the reality that families have to deal with high levels of unemployment, children at home, and the future of what it means to work, and it’s a lot. Church ministries, which rely on the donations and support of our communities, are also straining under pressure.

In my book, Master the Pivot: How to Lead (and Win Big) in Times of Uncertainty, I address the three parts for leading in unprecedented times. And, the ideas inside the book could benefit church leadership as well. First, many church leaders own businesses. And, second, the insights could also inform church leaders about what they need to do for the business side of their church work.

Reassess and Reframe How You Look at the Business of Your Church

Candidly, I would never think to advise pastors how to look after their members. Fundamentally, I believe they know how to do that. But, for all the church leaders who surround them, such as the finance committee, or operations team, it’s time to look at things differently. In other words, we have to remember that congregants live in a world filled with social media, AI, and big data. Therefore, church leaders have to know how to bridge the present to what is inevitably already on its way. And, that means rethinking lay leadership models and organizational strategies.

So, one of the most important, but the toughest thing to do is to challenge pre-existing ideas. I think it’s fair to say that everyone has heard someone say, “We’ve always done it that way.” If church leaders want to expand their ministry and evangelization, then it means challenging the way things get done. Of course, this brings up discomfort, but leaders have to lean into it. Once they commit to that, they could begin the process of pivoting. In other words, church leaders could seek to orient their operations toward growth, while accepting the pressing challenges and opportunities that create massive uncertainty.

As an example, a question to ask is, is church leadership developing and bringing in new people and ideas? Are they testing edge initiatives that could potentially allow them to expand their ministries? By the way, to test new ideas and concepts, church leaders have to experience the inevitable failures. If you don’t challenge conventional wisdom, your ministry operations could die. However, if you think of creative ways to reach into your community by testing edge initiatives, for example, you will thrive. If you embrace failures and seek high-growth initiatives, your church will grow more vibrant.

Church Leadership Needs to Strategize Differently for Greater Growth

I understand that some churches prefer not to lean into data analytics. However, let’s keep in mind that it’s just a matter of a mental reframe. You could look at data as something only for business. But, what if I suggested that data could help church leaders grow their ministries and programs? For instance, let’s say one of your programs addresses homelessness. With data, you could understand how your program is performing concerning the broader community efforts. Further, you could demonstrate (especially to funders) that you have the results to assist people significantly.

Data is not something that should be reserved only for the business world. In reality, information is something that could help church leadership expand their programs. But, it could also help them increase, for instance, their revenue. As we know, different people support social organizations, including churches, for various reasons. Moreover, they also want to support efforts in different ways. So, you might have people who still want to write the check. But, you have many others now who may see something on social posted by a church and get motivated to give. Therefore, church leaders who lean into data could find new revenue growth activities they never considered.

Also, growth for any organization means creating a culture of learning. Thus, as it relates to church leadership, if you have the mindset and lean into the data, you inevitably want a team of people to support your efforts. Additionally, this team of people (e.g., volunteers, staff) have to have the energy, creativity, and inquisitiveness to want to execute on the strategies. Therefore, the people church leaders seek to include in important initiatives have differing skillsets from the past. Add to that management of remote teams, and you have wholly new ways of doing things.

Mastering the Pivot for Church Leaders

When you have the elements described above, then there’s a final ingredient. And, that’s the need for church leaders to master the pivot. So, what do I mean by that? Let’s go back to the idea of uncertainty. I think we could all agree that we live immersed in the unknown. However, we have to realize unknown variables now come at us with much higher frequency and in more disruptive ways. Therefore, the essential skill for any leader is to master the art of the pivot. In other words, leaders have to know how to move quickly and decisively in an evolving landscape.

One of the ways church leaders could ensure that they make reliable decisions as they pivot from topic to topic is through data. In other words, gut instincts and past experiences no longer count. For almost the entirety of the 20th Century, experience mattered. But that’s no longer the case. Today, informed decisions for growth get made with data. So, all leaders have to get used to the idea that data is the centerpiece for all decisions. It’s a humbling notion. But, once you accept the idea that data is central to decision-making, then you could navigate uncertain seas better.

In sum, today’s business and church leaders have to think differently. And, that’s because they operate in a world that is entirely unlike what has ever existed. It is so primarily because of the rise of technology, AI, and data. Consequently, opportunities exist for leaders to take advantage of new ways. Specific to churches, it could mean a significant expansion of their ministries. Think about it. What if church leaders absorbed modern methodologies for their operations? How much more could churches do in making a difference in their communities?

BEN STROUP is Chief Growth Architect and President at Velocity Strategy Solutions, where he helps leaders design, develop, and deploy data-driven growth strategies. Learn more about Ben and schedule your free 29-minute discovery session today.

Comment (1)

  • Mark Brooks

    Ben, Thanks so much for this post. Your new book is timely as every one of us is facing pivot decisions. Keep on writing my friend!

    August 4, 2020 at 10:56 am

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