Are Vital Congregation Metrics DOA with one word?

I was reading through the Call to Action, or maybe some other code word for a report that was on the vitalcongregations website a few months back, and something struck me as I read about the drivers and metrics and so on.

The Bureaucracy Virus

First, I think it is great that the UMC is at least making an attempt to use some modern management techniques to address what is looking more and more each passing year like an organization in decline.

Not your church, and not mine, of course. But somewhere hiding in the machinery of the modern UMC is a little tiny General Motors (GM) trying to fail. Okay, maybe it is not tiny, but it is hard to catch.

I have often called organizational bureaucracy a virus, because the definition of a virus is something that is not really living but that reproduces.

A bureaucracy tends to only create more bureaucracy, therefore virus.

The Signs.

There are lots of signs of a viral infection of this sort.

At GM, there were multiple layers of middle management, decisions made by accountants instead of people that dealt with the customer and knew the product. They pioneered design by commitee, they focused on some metrics like bottom line, and did not focus on others that were harder to get like quality. They had a culture of entitlement and were slow to recognize and respond to competitors that did not directly compete with them for older, more affluent buyers but served younger people on a budget. The corporate culture at GM was very insulated and driven by insiders and political power, they had lifetime union employment and out of control retirees benefits and helathcare costs.

All of these were, of course, hallmarks of the way business operated in what is now a bygone era.

The Tools to Fight the Viral Infection

The process of starting a corporate turn around relies on clearly recognizing the problems, making some new distinctions and getting a better handle on what is happening realtime in your business. Great data drives great business decisions, in the absence of solid reliable data, managers must instead rely on gut, intuition, superstition, or worst political power calculations to determine what choices are made.

Often this is the first step to lead all other steps because, until the quality of data is improved, the quality of decisions cannot be improved, and until the decisions are improved and the execution is improved, the results cannot improve.

And I had a lot of hope for the Vital Congregations project to get to that goal. But then I read this:

In order for an indicator to be used they had to meet these criteria:


And there it is, that one last word. Apparently the decision was made early on that the criteria for what we can use for the dashboard has to be something we already know and measure.

Maybe I am over sensitive to this and I hope I am wrong, but without some new distinctions into your problems, and some new metrics that capture this new insight you have gained, you cannot make different decisions. If your baseline is “it has to be data we already have for the decisions we currently make,” I don’t think you can expect different decisions, actions or results.

And that makes me sad.