Strategic Alignment Pyramid (Part 2)
This week, we’re picking up our discussion about the Strategic Alignment Pyramid, a tool that helps you keep your entire organization pulling in the same direction. In Episode 145 (Part 1 of the series), Amy and I talked about the Foundational level of the pyramid. If you missed it, I encourage you to listen to that episode first.
Today, we’re moving on to the Directional level. I love this level. Here’s why:
So often we see churches that are busy. Everyone’s working hard, but because this directional level hasn’t been defined, the work isn’t organized. It’s not focused. And honestly—the church isn’t seeing the results they are hoping to see.
As I wrote in my book, The Unstuck Church, it’s possible to do the work of God without doing the work that God has called you to do.
So in this episode, we help you take a fresh look at how you think about the direction you’re headed.
In this episode, Amy and I discussed…
- Why the directional layers of the pyramid MUST change regularly, how the current crisis is MAKING them change, and how we can build the muscles to pivot more effectively in the future
- Why mission and vision are not the same thing—and why real vision usually can’t be summarized in a “statement”
- The true tests of whether a vision is compelling or not
- How churches put the cart before the horse when it comes to organizational goals and strategies, and how to avoid it
- How to focus your people and resources on the methods that are actually working (your growth engines) to lead your church towards the vision God’s given you
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Let Us Know on Social Media
We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. We’d really love to hear from you during this time:
- How can we be praying for you as a lead and your church?
- What stories can you share of ways churches are responding well during this crisis and focusing on opportunities instead of loss?
Links & Resources from the Episode
- How the Unstuck Process Gets Everyone Pulling in the Same Direction
- Building Alignment: The Foundation | Episode 145
- Building Alignment: Action | Episode 147
- 7 Shifts Churches Need to Make Because of the Coronavirus
- Reversing the Early Signs of Decline
- Coronavirus Response Resources for Pastors
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Sean (00:02): Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. One thing that will never change, no matter the circumstances or events happening in our world, is why we do church. From time to time though, the how of accomplishing ministry needs to change and adapt to stay effective. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy discuss the second level of the strategic alignment pyramid that focuses on the direction of your church. Before you listen though, make sure to subscribe and get the show notes. You’ll get resources for this week’s conversation along with access to our podcast resource archives. And this week you’ll get a visual resource of the strategic alignment pyramid to go along with today’s conversation. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Amy (00:51): Well in this week’s podcast, we’re picking up our discussion around the strategic alignment pyramid, a tool that helps clarify for the entire organization, who you are, why you exist, where you’re going, what your priority strategies are, and then aligns the work of your team, your people, so that everyone is pulling in the same direction. And last week we talked about the foundational level of the pyramid. In fact, if you missed it, I encourage you to stop and actually go listen to that podcast first. These are a bit sequential, and you have to be clear on those foundational components before you start working on the directional aspects, which we’re going to cover today. And Tony, I am just super excited about this conversation.
Tony (01:32): Yeah, I am as well, Amy. And I’m assuming you would agree, but just so often we see churches, they’re so busy, everyone’s working hard, but because this directional level hasn’t been defined, the work isn’t organized, it’s not focused. And honestly the church isn’t seeing the results that they were hoping for.
Amy (01:55): Yeah. You know, one of my favorite quotes from your book, Tony, The Unstuck Church, and I hope I get this right, since I’m quoting the author. You said, “it’s possible to do the work of God without doing the work that God has called you to.” And what was the heart behind that thought?
Tony (02:11): Yeah. You know, originally when I wrote that, it was really with the pastor in mind, making sure that the pastor understands what his or her calling was. Because what can happen as we engage in ministry, we can be so focused on doing ministry, we lose sight of what really called us into ministry in the first place. And so when I wrote that, it was really for the individual, but you’re right. I mean, this certainly does apply to the church as a whole as well. In fact, rarely do we encounter a church that isn’t doing good work. They’re doing good things. It’s good stuff. But every church has limited time and limited resources. So it’s important that we align our activity so that we can maximize the outcomes that we’re hoping to see and really do what we feel we’re called to do, which is to reach new people with the gospel and make disciples of Jesus.
Amy (03:10): So good. Well, last week we worked through the foundation levels and that included defining core beliefs as a church, clarifying your mission, why you exist, and defining the key steps we believe every person needs to take that will help them enter that process of becoming more and looking more like Jesus. But today we’re going to look at the directional level. And by the way, if you’re subscribed to our show notes, you have access to a PDF that overviews each of these levels. But Tony, what’s the first layer in the directional level? You know, Amy, before I dive into this first layer, let me just say that one of the key differentiators between what we talked about last week in that episode and where we’re going to today is that the foundational levels from last week’s podcast episode, once they’re set, they really don’t change once. Once they’re defined, they serve as the foundation for the work we’re going to be doing in the future. However, at this directional level that we’re covering today, these layers really will change and adjust over time. In fact, they must change. Unfortunately, we’ve seen way too many churches treat the elements of this directional layer like they’re part of the foundational layer. In other words, they never changed direction and when that happens, it shouldn’t be any surprise those churches get stuck. So with that, let’s jump into this directional layer, and I want to begin with what’s probably the most important part of this layer. It’s the vision, and the vision defines where we believe God’s calling us in the future. Where are we going? And at The Unstuck Group, we like to focus on the next five years. What will our church look like five years from now? And Amy, when we work with churches, many of them have a mission statement and then they also have a vision statement, which basically says exactly the same thing. And because of that vision really shouldn’t be a statement, I don’t think. While your mission doesn’t change and can be summarized in a statement, your vision should change and your vision provides clarity to where you believe God is calling your church in the next three to five years. And five years from now that vision should be refreshed again. So just again, to differentiate the two, the mission describes why we exist as a church and you really want that in the statement, a short statement. The vision paints the picture of where we sense God’s taking our church in the future.
Amy (05:48): Well, maybe it would help to give some examples. Tony. Can you give an example of what makes a compelling vision for a church?
Tony (05:56): Yeah. And compelling I think is a good word because what we’re seeing in the churches that have a great vision, I think a God-sized vision, it does become compelling then to the church, to the congregation, the people of the church. And we see that because they respond to that compelling vision by giving their prayer, their time and their financial resources. And if you don’t have a compelling vision, you will not see that type of response from the people in your church. The other way we know that it’s compelling is it becomes clear. It becomes specific. You really have a picture of where you’re sensing God’s taking your church into the future. In fact, in five years you should be able to objectively assess did we get there or not? So it’s specific enough that the picture is set, the objective is set and if we get there, have we accomplished it?
Amy (07:01): Maybe before we dive into examples of a compelling vision, give us a few examples from some, well maybe not churches we’ve worked with. Give us an example or two of a non-compelling or a non-defined vision.
Tony (07:15): I have a friend, and at his church he has this vision and again, it’s more of a statement. We’re as a church equipping people to pursue God, connect with church and engage the world. I agree. It’s hard to measure. And honestly, that’s more of a mission statement, I think, than a picture that God’s painting of specifics for where the church will be in the future. Here’s another example. Our vision is to grow in our relationship with God through Christ so that we may more effectively share God’s message of love and grace with others. Again, it’s a great statement, and it may reflect the mission for why the church exists, but it’s hard to articulate and understand so where is God taking the church in the future when you hear those two statements? So again, I think those statements are more reflection of why we exist, but they really don’t give any specifics about where God’s taking the church in the future.
Amy (08:18): Yeah, great pursuits, but not a vision. So can you give us a few examples of maybe some components of a more compelling vision?
Tony (08:26): Yeah. So the great thing is we’ve worked, both you and I, Amy, have worked with some great churches in recent years. And so I just, I pulled some examples from recent churches that I’ve worked with, and a lot of times they do begin with kind of an overarching direction. So as an example, our vision is to create a church that unchurched people love to attend. And over the next five years, we believe God’s calling our church to mobilize our entire church by serving a hundred thousand hours to address the needs of people in our community. Or this specific to launch church online, to provide a more accessible option for people outside the church and outside the faith to take their first steps toward Jesus. Or here’s another specific to celebrate life change by loving and leading a thousand people to make decisions for Jesus and go public with their faith through baptism. You know, again, I’ve heard people say, well those are just goals, they’re objectives, they’re not really vision, but it paints a clear picture of where you’re sensing God’s taking your church into the future. And again, it’s compelling and so you hear things, specifics like that, and people say, yeah, I want to be a part of that church and I want to pray for that and I want to give my time and my gifts to support that vision. And actually here’s some financial resources because the things that we’re talking about, I want to invest in that as well. So these are big, and that won’t happen if God doesn’t show up. But it does provide direction to the church on where you’re focused and where you want to focus your resources. And then when we have that clarity about vision, it tells us how to staff and structure teams so that we can support what we’re intending to accomplish in these next five years as well.
Amy (10:22): Yeah, when I hear that, you know me, I get excited about that. I’d go to that church. I’d give. I’d love to serve and be a part of reaching my community like that. All right, well after vision, what’s the next layer in the directional level?
Tony (10:35): Yeah, so once you know where your church’s headed, again, that’s the vision, the next layer addresses your organizational goals. And these are pretty important, but they’re shorter term. In other words, these goals define the high level results that you want to see in the next year. And to be a healthy church, what does it look like for us to accomplish the vision God’s called us to but to break it down into smaller chunks? So what are we going to accomplish over the next 12 months to see that longer term vision accomplished? So we’ll set annually these goals that define what success looks like for the organization. In other words, if we’re on pace with the vision God has given us, what will success look like in year one and then in year two and so on? And these help you think through what you need to be measuring and keeping an eye on so that you can evaluate if what you’re doing is leading towards the vision you believe God’s called you to.
Amy (11:36): In what you’re doing, you’re referring to their strategies, right?
Tony (11:39): That’s right, that’s right. But too often churches focus on strategies before they’ve even determined what success looks like. And then you just have a bunch of people that are busy doing ministry. But are we really accomplishing the vision God’s called our church to? And that’s why we’re talking about organizational goals first. Before you figure out the how, you have to define the success that you believe God’s calling your church to in the future.
Amy (12:06): I guess that’s why we call it the strategic alignment pyramid. Because first we had to figure out what success looks like, and then we align our strategies to that. Very smart. Alright, so playing off the vision example you gave a few minutes ago, can you walk through practically an example of the goals a church might set, if that was their vision?
Tony (12:24): Yeah, so we talked about if the vision in the future, in the next five years, is to serve a hundred thousand hours in the community as a church. Then the specific goal for the next 12 months might be seeing a certain number of people serving a certain number of hours in the community. Or we might want to ask what percentage of folks in our church are actually engaged in serving in the community? So getting to some specifics, some goals that help us understand are we making progress on the vision? The other example we talked about, the broad vision might be to see a thousand people give their lives to Jesus and get baptized. Amy, you and I know to get to that, those a thousand decisions, we actually have to be able to share the gospel with people that don’t yet have faith in Jesus. And one of the first steps toward that might be tracking how many first-time guests do we have to our churches? How many invites are we making? How many people are making decisions to follow Jesus, which then might lead to the baptisms that you’re tracking. Amy, some other metrics we’ve seen here, as far as organizational goals, revolve around percentage of people in groups, tracking the number of leaders that we have in our church because that helps us define the span of care and the connection to discipleship that we’re wanting to see in people’s lives, taking a look at kids’ attendance, more and more, Amy, we’re seeing churches wanting to measure online engagement in some way. So these are examples of shorter term metrics, goals, that help us learn whether or not we’re actually seeing our vision accomplished.
Amy (14:12): Yeah. And you know, it just came to mind, from 4DX: Lead Indicators, Lag Indicators. I think when we set organizational goals, what we’re saying is at some point we want to measure activity a little bit, right? So when we talk about how many invites are going out, how many first-time guests are showing up, those would be lead measures that hopefully produce the lag measures of baptisms and people actually serving and life change.
Tony (14:36): That’s right. Yeah. And Amy, you want to get to the place where it’s just a handful of metrics that you’re monitoring. And we encourage churches to be monitoring this dashboard that they’re creating on a monthly basis. And as I’ve alluded to in the past too, I mean, we’re not just telling churches to do this. This is stuff that we do at The Unstuck Group, too. So there are things that we know we need to be monitoring on a monthly basis to accomplish the broader vision that God has for our ministry as well.
Amy (15:10): So once the goals are set, your annual goals over five years, now we get to the final layer in the directional level. And that’s organizational strategy. So talk to us about that.
Tony (15:19): Yes, this is what I’ve been waiting this entire podcast actually to get to because this is the fun part. Once the vision and the organizational goals are clear, the next layer defines the core strategies that will get you where you want to go. These are the how’s. How we do church, how we engage our strategy. I love this part. You can already see, I’m starting to get excited.
Amy (15:44): I can. Your face is closer in the Zoom room here.
Tony (15:46): That’s right. Back at the foundational level, we determined what the key steps are for people when it comes to becoming more like Jesus. And for the sake of example, most churches have a step that includes getting in community with other believers. So now we’re at the how layer. We have to determine what is our strategy, our best strategy that will help the most people take that step? For instance, which do we think will be more effective: choosing Sunday school or small groups as a strategy? Which do we think will be most effective in helping people know God’s word and connect with people in biblical community? And Amy, here’s the deal. A lot of churches don’t focus on the most effective part. They end up with programs and events that may connect some people, but then all the effort to get people connected is very scattered. ,They’re trying to do multiple different things and not all of them are as effective. So we’re pushing churches to pick the most effective strategy and then focus our people and resources on maximizing that strategy. Here’s another example. For churches, the weekend service has historically been the main strategy to reach new people, so how the service is designed, what’s music style is chosen, how the teaching’s done and so on. These are all strategy decisions, and in light of the pandemic, we should all be asking is this still the main, the best strategy to reach people? And if not, what is? What is our main strategy to do this? And again, this is just another example of why these directional layers, they have to change because the same strategies that we were using a decade ago, a year ago, in that instance even a few months ago may not be the best strategy for how we need to carry out the mission, the vision God’s called us to for the future. The key here is strategies are closer to the top of the pyramid, and they can and should be changed every once in a while. And if the organizational goals are not being reached, the strategies need to change. If goals are being reached, the strategy should still be optimized even in the future. We don’t just stick with the same strategy forever.
Amy (18:12): You know, in staffing and structure reviews, we often say that you have to do your strategy first, your structure second, your people third. Otherwise we go, who do we have? What can we do? What can we get? Same thing here. If you choose your strategies first, then you’re kind of letting that define your goals. Like what can we actually do through this? I love how you flip it. You mentioned community and reaching people. Are there other common steps churches have in their discipleship path that they need to think through what their most effective strategy is?
Tony (18:41): Yeah. For discipleship path, it should probably also include things like serving. How do we encourage people to use their gifts and serve others? Generosity. What’s your strategy to help more people become more generous? Being focused on others. What’s your strategy to help people focus on those outside the faith and outside the church? So related to discipleship strategy, those are some questions I think you should be asking. But you know Amy, we’ve talked about this too, is if you have a healthy church that’s actually making disciples using a healthy discipleship strategy, part of the strategy conversation we have with churches is also around growth engines. And so what are the strategies we’re using to grow the number of people that are on the discipleship path as well? So it becomes both about growing people spiritually, but also growing the number of people that we’re impacting as a church. And going back to vision, if you have a vision to see your church impacted by your church, what will be your main strategy to accomplish that?
Amy (19:52): Before we go, Tony, any final thoughts?
Tony (19:54): Yeah, most churches we work with are over programmed at the strategy level. They’re all trying to do too many things and the results, honestly, they show that. Often these churches are in the maintenance phase of the church life cycle. And if that’s you or if you’re sensing that that’s you, I’m going to challenge you to identify everything your church does and ask these questions: First, what is the purpose of this event, program or ministry activity? Secondly, if we do it well, what result should we see? And maybe even more important than that, if we do it well, does it really help us accomplish our mission, vision, and ministry goals? And then finally, what results are we really seeing? Everything you do as a church has a cost. By asking these simple questions, you can begin to identify which strategies are actually yielding a return. And if you need some help with this, we’d love to start a conversation with you to just demonstrate how we can come alongside you and make these complicated strategies and visions and things like that more doable for you and your leadership and for your church as well. And you can do that by contacting us at theunstuckgroup.com.
Sean (21:20): Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, we’d love your help in getting the content out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcast platform, giving us a review there and telling somebody else about the podcast. If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to subscribe to get the show notes so you can see the visual representation of the strategic alignment pyramid. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Next week we finish up our conversation on the strategic alignment pyramid, focused on the section that addresses action. We hope you’ll join us again, but until then, have a great week.