One division of my consulting practice focuses on the unique challenges of non-profit organizations. One client was an inner city church in a mid-size northeastern city. The founding pastor had built his congregation around his vision of an activist congregation doing as much as it could to assist and address the needs of the varied population that lived in their past-its-prime neighborhood.
All went well for a few years but a peculiar thing happened. The congregation formed from the people of the neighborhood but because of their participation with the church, they soon became ex-addicts, ex-hookers, and ex-alcoholics. They turned their lives around, found steady jobs and held them, organized their finances and life, and began to prosper.
As they prospered, they could afford to live somewhere else so they moved a moderate distance away into up and coming neighborhoods, leaving their old haunts literally behind. The men and women who did so eventually rose to positions of responsibility and authority within the church and began to petition the pastor to move the congregation out of its home neighborhood to a more suburban location nearer their home. The drive, although it was but 15 minutes or so, had become a source of irritation to them and they wanted a church nearer home.
The pastor asked me what to do because the clamor was growing. Here was my advice:
At the next board meeting, do not permit anyone to take a seat around the table. As soon as they are all assembled, herd them into the church’s van and take them for a slow drive. Drive up and down the streets in the church’s immediate neighborhood, narrating the tour along the way. Point out the hookers standing on street corners, the crack houses, the alcoholics panhandling, the obvious human suffering on plain and daily display in the streets the church called home.
Then, in no uncertain terms EXPLAIN to those board members that the reason the church exists is not to provide a convenient location for them to enjoy the social and spiritual benefits of a congregation but that the congregation continue to expand in the same way it was born and had grown thus far.
The longer a group exists, the less it remembers why it exists.
It is the leader’s job to EXPLAIN what the purpose is and do so in a manner that keeps the vision alive and well. I don’t mean this in the “You’ve got some explaining to do, Lucy” sense. Explaining means more like illuminating, a term I could have used but it seemed somehow too saintly and just a bit pompous. So the word “explaining” will have to do. If you want another word or two, try illustrating, defining, applying, articulating, even incarnating in the sense of precipitating the lofty concepts that may have been written in some board room somewhere so that it rains real drops onto the people who compose your group, whether it be a small team or the entire company.
Remind them then, how that the everyday tasks they are called upon to perform play directly into the pursuit of that vision. (NOTE: If those everyday tasks do not readily contribute to the pursuit of vision you must soberly ask why you do them.)
So, tell me, how well do you explain your vision regularly? At what points can you identify have you been able to re-energize your group by reminding them of purpose? Send a comment below and let me and the others know.
I imagine you would like to know what happened to that church. Well, the pastor did as I advised and the result was as I predicted. The board members refocused their attention away from their own comfort and convenience and refocused on purpose. It worked!