Tuesday, October 16, 2007


In an effort to add value, sometimes leaders do damage. Pastor especially need to learn to be quiet. Just because you know something doesn't mean you need to say something. Listen to the words of leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won't Get You There:

The two men at dinner were clearly on the same wavelength. One of them was Jon Katzenbach, the ex-McKinsey director who now leads his own elite consulting boutique. The other fellow was Niko Canner, his brilliant protege and partner. They were plotting out a new venture. But something about their conversation was slightly off. Every time Niko floated an idea, Katzenbach interrupted him. "That's a great idea," he would say, "but it would work better if you...." and then he would trail off into a story about how it worked for him several years earlier in another context. When Jon finished, Niko would pick up where he left off only to be interrupted within seconds by Jon again. This went on back and forth like a long rally at Wimbledon.

As the third party at the table, I watched and listened. As an executive coach, I'm used to monitoring people's dialogues, listening with forensic intensity for clues to reveal why these otherwise accomplished people annoy their bosses, peers and subordinates.

Ordinarily I keep quiet in these situations. But Jon was a friend exhibiting classic destructive smart-person behavior. I said, "Jon, will you please be quiet and let Niko talk. Stop trying to add value to the discussion."

What Jon was displaying in full flower was a variation on the need to win - the need to add value. It's common among leaders used to running the show. They still retain remnants of the top-down management style where their job was to tell everyone what to do. These leaders are smart enough to realize that the world has changed, that most of the their subordinates know more in specific areas than they ever will. But old habits die hard. It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something they already know without communicating somehow that a) "we already knew that" and b) "we know a better way."

That's the problem with adding too much value. Imagine you're the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good. Rather than just pat me on the back and say, "Great idea!" your inclination (because you have to add value) is to say, "Good idea, but it'd be better if you tried it this way."

The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you've reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent, because you've taken away my ownership of the idea. My idea is now your idea - and I walk out of your office less enthused about it than when I walked in. That's the fallacy of added value. Whatever we gain in the form of a better idea is lost many times over in our employees' diminished commitment to the concept.....

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that bosses have to zip their lips to keep their staff's spirits from sagging. But the higher up you go in the organization, the more you need to make other people winners and not make it about winning yourself.

For bosses this means closely monitoring how you hand out encouragement. If you find yourself saying, "Great idea," and then dropping the other shoe with a tempering "but" or "however," try cutting your response off at "idea." Even better, before you speak, take a breath and ask yourself if what you're about to say is worth it. One of my clients, who's now the CEO of a major pharmaceutical, said that once he got into the habit of taking a breath before he talked, he realized that at least half of what he was going to say wasn't worth saying. Even though he believed he could add value, he realized he had more to gain by not winning....

Asking "Is it worth it?" forces you to consider what the other person will feel after hearing your response. It forces you to play at least two moves ahead. Not many people do that. You talk. They talk. And so on - back and forth like a beginner's chess game where no one thinks beyond the move in front of them. It's the lowest form of chess, it's also the lowest grade of listening. Asking, "It is worth it?" engages you in thinking beyond the discussion to consider a) how the other person regards you, b) what that person will do afterwards, and c) how that person will behave the next time you talk.

That's a lot of consequences emanating out of "Is it worth it?".....

People's opinion of our listening ability are largely shaped by the decisions we make immediately after asking "Is it worth it?" Do we speak or shut up? Do we argue or simply say "Thank you"? Do we add our needless two cents or bite our tongue? Do we rate the comments or simply acknowledge them?....

The implications of "Is it worth it?" are profound - and go beyond listening. If effect you are taking the age-old question of self-interest, "What's in it for me?" one step further to ask, "What's in it for him?" That's a profound consequential leap of thought. Suddenly you're seeing the bigger picture.

Monday, October 08, 2007


There is no reason for people to be fearful of the D-word. Discipline just describes what we have to have if we are going to achieve our goals.

First, leaders must be self-disciplined. There is always a test going on, a test of a leader's resolve to implement the mission, vision and values. Leaders have to pass this test. Discipline has to start at the top. Leaders have to have the mental toughness to stick with the mission, vision, values through good times and bad. As Ray Davis says, "As a leader you have to be tough enough to appear unyielding and unreasonable. These are our standards. This is what we are going to do. This is what we are going to become, and heaven help anyone who tries to bring conventional wisdom in here to stop us." One of the reasons a leader has to be so unyielding is that so many people are so cynical. Unbeknownst to the leader, people in the ministry are thinking, "If we wait long enough his/her big plans will go away. I've seen this all before." Only by the leader persisting over time can this cycle be broken.

Second, discipline must be spread through the organization. It starts at the top, but it doesn't end there. Everyone in the organization needs to be discipled (a related word) into the mission, vision and values. If the leader is rowing hard the boat may make slow and steady progress, but certainly nothing like when EVERYONE has an oar in the water and is rowing hard. When discipline is handled correctly it creates a powerful, positive environment. The boat leaves a wake.

It is very virtuous to have both the leader and the organization manifest discipline. When the leader does so, and the organization does not, it leads to frustration on the part of the leader. When the organization manifests a willingness to be disciplined, and the leader does not, it leads to frustration on the part of the organization. You can tell what's going on by asking, "Who's frustrated?" If it is the leader, then the organization may need to become more disciplined. If it is the organization (or people in it) then the leader may need to become more disciplined.


In addition to being generally disciplined about the mission, vision and values, Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won't Get Your There says a leader must also be specifically disciplined in two areas: information and emotion.

Leaders have information, and usually a lot of it. The disciplined leader realizes that there are things "better left unsaid." They get the fact that many secrets should be kept. They know there is such a thing as "too much added value" with their staff. Journalist/novelist Tom Wolfe speaks of "information compulsion" - the desire we all have to tell another person something they don't know. This compulsion can get a leader into trouble. With information, the key question for a self-discipline leader to ask is, "Is this appropriate, and how much should I share."

The same with emotion. There are a wide range of emotions that a leader experiences. Just because a certain emotion is being experienced doesn't mean that it needs to be shared. Are you angry? Maybe. Do you need to let everyone know. Probably not. I'm not suggesting a life of posing, just appropriateness. As C.S. Lewis said, transparency is a virtue, but it is not the highest virtue. A higher virtue is responsibility. So with emotions, the key question for a self-disciplined leader is "Is this appropriate, and how much should I share."

Thursday, October 04, 2007


This particular post is personal, not policy. You may or may not see yourself in this picture. If you don't relate to this, just say a prayer for me and others like me. On the other hand, consider what I'm about to say carefully, and if the shoe fits, wear it.

A military official was recently giving an update on the number of enemy combatants killed in Iraq. When quizzed about the accuracy of the total, he commented that in Iraq, unlike in Vietnam, there is no pressure to inflate the numbers. That got me to thinking about numbers, counting, pressure and inflation. Assuming the difference is accurate; I'd rather see the CTK story be like Iraq, instead of Vietnam.

You've probably heard the adage "We count people because people count." I used to say that a lot when I was on the "bigger is better" treadmill. On the surface of it, it seems like an innocent enough comment. All I can say is that over the years that comment, and the attendant expectations, did stuff inside of me that was not good. I became enamored with numbers. Was the budget going up? At what rate? Was attendance climbing? At what rate? At what point could we anticipate hitting the next "target" in terms of budget or attendance? I was hooked on "nickels and noses." Excel spreadsheets were my drug of choice.

It took me years to do it, but I am now clean and sober. I don't do numbers any more. In fact, I don't even count (more on that later). As I look back on it, there are several challenges that come with counting:

1. Scoreboard watching. You might be a better man or woman than me, but when I was counting I found it very difficult to keep my eyes on the ball instead of the scoreboard. Even though God had called me to be a leader, and not an accountant, my fantasies quickly became about crowds instead of conversions. I would daydream about hitting impersonal numerical targets, instead of seeing God work miracles on a personal level, and massive scale.

2. Showtime mentality. When I was in search of a packed house, I was in search of methods that would lead to a packed house. Subtle shifts occurred in my presentation. I started getting "gimmicky." I was looking for the "program of the month." I started tinkering with the message; everything from watering it down, to making it "user friendly," to avoiding some topics altogether. We are here to love people, not entertain them. Entertainment is somebody else's job. Our job is to make it difficult for people to go to hell.

3. Short-sightedness. When you are watching numbers weekly, you tend to shorten your focal length to weekly. How do we get attendance to go up, instead of down, from week to week? This weekliness often gets in the way of thinking more long-term about strategies that lead to spiritual transformation on a grand scale. If we are not careful we can win the battle (short-term numerical growth), and lose the war (long- term sustainable replication).

4. Ego fluctuations. When you tie your sense of well- being to "the count" you are in for a wild ride. Weeks with a "packed house" will be inexplicably followed by weeks where you could have an usher roll a bowling ball through the place and not hit anybody. As I have gotten away from tracking the whims of attendance, I find that my self-image is not nearly as battered. I can actually enjoy the weeks where there are fewer people as much as I enjoy the weeks when there are more.

5. Holding on to people. When I was a counter I tended to be overly concerned about criticism when it arose. My modus operandi was to try to "solve" problems with people and "keep" them in the church (i.e. as part of the count). At times I bent over backwards trying to make conflicted relationships "work." What drove this? Looking back, I'd have to say my addiction to numbers. Now that I'm off the juice, I am much more inclined to look someone in the face and say, "I think you better find another church." So don't cross me. (That was a joke.)

6. Unclear definition of success. I know that this doesn't set well in the western "success obsessed" culture, but God is calling us to be faithful, not successful. Whether I wanted to admit it at the time or not, the counting was about me, not Him; it was about my kingdom, not His Kingdom.

7. Diminishing returns. As an organization grows it encounters the "law of large numbers." The law of large numbers says that as an organization grows, its rate of growth tends to diminish. This is a frustrating reality, but a reality nonetheless. I am convinced that also accounts for a certain percentage of pastoral "flame outs" (count me in at this point). When a ministry reaches a numerical saturation point, a pastor who is "using" numbers may act out by becoming frustrated and leaving, or looking for another "fix." I personally wonder how many of the high profile crash-and-burns we've witnessed in America involved a number-crunching-approval- addict.

8. Too much emphasis on people coming instead of going. If you are a "counter" you don't have too much incentive to send out teams of leaders to launch small groups and Worship Centers in adjacent communities. The minute those people go "out" your numbers are going to go "down." There have been several times in my ministry at CTK where "attendance" in the location I was pastoring went "backwards" after launching a new Center in an adjacent town. On one occasion we went from having three services to two - not exactly a stellar feeling if you're into feelings. I'm glad that I didn't let that stop us. It was short-term pain for long-term gain.

9. Unhealthy comparison. Hand in hand with counting is comparison. Paul said that it is not wise to compare ourselves with ourselves, but this is precisely what can happen when you start counting. Is my church bigger than yours? Is my church growing faster than yours? These the wrong questions of course, but like a bad episode of Jeopardy they are the ones we get when the answer is "Numbers."

10. Tendency toward exaggeration. This gets back to the statement by the military official and the pressure to exaggerate. In the church world the code words are "evangelistically speaking." One leading denomination found that nearly all of the churches that reported numbers were exaggerating. Think about that. What good is counting really doing? Reality is what it is, no matter what number you put on a piece of paper. But there's a new reality being created by the system - one of posing, impression management and dishonesty. I'm pretty certain that this is not what the Lord is reaching for.

So, all of that to say, I don't count anymore. Not that I never count, never have, or never will. Just that I don't make a habit out of it, and I can't actually remember the last time I did it. I think most of the other leaders in the CTK story can vouch for the fact that I am not a "numbers guy." At CTK we do no use attendance numbers to track progress. We don't even have attendance numbers to track progress. And from my perspective we don't need attendance numbers to track progress.

Is "not counting" a CTK policy? No, I would call this a personal preference of Dave Browning. You say potato (long a), I say potato (short a). If you can do a regular count, and circumvent 1-8 above, more power to you. In fact, I wish I were you. (Character defects always leave you with less options, instead of more. As Paul said, something may be permissible but you can't be mastered by it.) If you would like to do a weekly attendance count, you may. I'm just saying that I don't, and I'm not asking anyone else to. I know from personal experience that counting, for the wrong person, can be an addictive agent.


Let me clarify a few things about my "problem":

1. I do not have a problem with large numbers of people coming to Christ in general or coming to CTK in particular. I am absolutely not against even extremely large numbers of people entering Christ's kingdom. I am giving my life away for just such a dream.

2. I do not have a problem with mega-churches wanting to reach large numbers of people. I share this in common with the corporate mega-church. In fact my only difference with mega-churches on this point is in method. While the corporate mega-church has become good at being big and centralized, we are trying to become good at being small and decentralized. We are both trying to reach large numbers of people, just in different ways. I would actually like to see CTK reach an unlimited number of people, more that we could ever accommodate in any one place. This is actually one of the reasons I want to be a part of a movement, instead of a ministry. In a movement you don't get the privilege of counting, because too many people are coming to the Lord in too many places.

3. I do not have a problem with church growth. I am trying to see it on every hand. What I am against is my own tendency to get caught up in the numbers, instead of the people. What I am against is my own propensity to get wrapped up in building my kingdom instead of His. This is a problem with my relationship to the numbers, not the numbers per se (In the same way that you might say that the problem for an alcoholic is not the alcohol, but the alcoholics lack of sobriety in relationship to alcohol.) I had to give up counting, because it fueled a desire for numbers that, in me, was not healthy.


Ok, now for some push back, because the schizophrenic is me has some questions -

How will we know what's going on if we don't have a numerical reference point?

Very easily. We'll look and listen. We'll employ "soft" skills. We'll ask questions like "How is it going?" We'll ask the Lord that question. Numbers are "a" way to know something, but not "the" way. At the end we are going to stand before the Lord and He is going to evaluate us on our work for Him. As near as I can tell, He's not going to be holding our excel spreadsheets in His hand when He does so. The key words on that day will be "good" and "faithful."

Won't we miss out knowing there are problems brewing if we don't do a regular count?

Again, numbers are one way to knowing there are problems, but certainly not the only way. Many couples have gotten a divorce without ever having numerical justification for it. In fact, I think a lot of problems in the church have gone undiagnosed precisely because "the numbers were good." When people are coming and the budget is growing we tend to overlook the fact that the pastor is arrogant, or that people do not evidence the fruit of the spirit, or that the community around us is going to hell in a hand basket. I attended a conference a couple years ago led by a prominent evangelical leader who kept telling us about how great (numerically) his ministry was. I, and many of us who were there, had an unsettled feeling. Shortly after that, this person was on the front page of every newspaper in the country, and not for good reasons. I was sad, but I wasn't surprised. I think this was a classic case of the numbers keeping us from seeing problems, instead of revealing them.

If we don't have a numerical reference point how can we know if we are being successful?

Again, I think it's possible to "just know." The best type of "success" you can feel is when you are in harmony with God's purposes for your life and ministry. That is a standard that is met internally, not externally. I would question any definition of success that does not come from inside out.

Don't numbers prove valuable in seeing trends and patterns?

Yes, they do. The question I have had to ask myself is whether this value is greater than the risk that attends it. For myself, the answer has been no. I have probably missed out on some insights along the way by not counting, but the payoff for me spiritually and emotionally has been there, so I'm not disappointed about what I've missed.

Why do many churches take a count?

Because (and I bet you see this coming) "we've always done it that way." At CTK we have been given a clean piece of paper, so we don't have to do what others do, or have done. We are trying to stay focused on what Christ has called us to be and do, and in this story counting is not required. By the way, there is no correlation between counting, and growing. Some of the deadest churches in America take a count every week. Growth is a result of health. Health is the result of the right things being present in the environment.

How do you answer people when they ask "How many people are involved at CTK?"

I'm usually left with either saying, "I'm not sure" or giving some kind of range, or ball-park estimate. I have a general idea of what is going on, I just don't have hard numbers to back up my notions. All I have is anecdotal evidence (how many programs we print, how many chairs we put out, etc.) Do I need hard numbers? Evidently not. I can't think of any "need" right now for exact numbers, except to satisfy something dark inside of me that, frankly, needs to feel quite dissatisfied.

If we follow your logic to an extreme wouldn't we get rid of budgets and financial reports?

Yes, but I'm not asking anyone to follow my logic to an extreme. There's a balance that needs to be kept here. I'm not saying you should never count anything, anywhere, for any reason. I'm just saying that the weekly numbers race (around attendance) didn't work out well for me, and I'm glad I moved away from that.


At CTK do any numbers matter? Yes. Here is something I wrote a couple years ago, called Numbers that Matter:

There is an old saying: "We count people, because people count." This is usually applied to taking attendance at weekend worship services. But in the CTK context, there are other numbers that matter to us more:

The number of unchurched people.
The number of lost people in your service area constitutes whether or not you are "winning the war." To determine this number, contact the churches in your area and ask them what their high attendance was in the past year. Add up those figures and subtract from the area population. This is your target audience. This means that a church of 300 in a town of 1000 is making a bigger dent in the universe than a church of 1000 in a town of a million.

The number of baptisms.
Baptism is the primary biblical method for indicating conversion. Record the number of baptisms each year so that you can take your evangelistic temperature. A good goal would be to have an increasing number of baptisms each year.

The number of small groups.
The number of small groups determines capacity. To know if you have healthy group life, take the total weekend attendance and divide by 14. Why 14? First divide in half (to account for children and those who will never be involved in a group). Then divide that number by 7 (an average group size). A Worship Center of 100 people should have at least 7 small groups (100/2 =50/7=7).


An excerpt from Deliberate Simplicity that expands on point 6. above:

It is paradoxical that the high growth that all pastors want to achieve produces mass and weight, which in turn produces a growing bureaucracy and slower growth. With greater size, complexity grows, and the "lethargy of large numbers" kicks in.

High growth gets you size. And the passage of time gets you new leaders. The new leaders are almost always professional managers. These subtle shifts in size and leadership produce a new set of objectives. Presto! Planning, streamlining, and controlling the enterprise become the new order. Managing this and that become more important than making this and selling that. The highest-paid jobs become managing other managers. Meetings, reports, and bureaucracy proliferate on every front. And, slowly but surely, lost in the shuffle are the simple, entrepreneurial basics that got you going in the first place.

- Larry C. Farrell, The Entrepreneurial Age

Unfortunately, companies that become large and successful find that maintaining growth becomes progressively more difficult. Numerous studies of company growth statistics have shown that rates diminish swiftly as firms grow in size. Large companies don't experience the dizzying rush of growth that characterizes the first few years. Newer companies grow faster. Smaller companies grow faster. The larger the company, the slower it grows. What emerged from the data is that the factor determining how fast a company grows is its size and little else.

Economists subscribe to the theory that "nothing grows to the sky." In other words, no one group can satisfy all demand, because multiple groups can do so much more efficiently. It is better to have small modules of production capacity than a single, high- volume line. This is congruent with my experience in church growth. To achieve a growth rate of 25% when you are a church of eighty means that you reach out to twenty more people, and grow to a hundred. To grow at 25% when you are a church of two thousand means reaching five hundred more people. Both can be done, but the smaller scenario is often more "doable."

The Rule of 150 says that congregants of a rapidly expanding church, banking on the epidemic spread of shared ideals needs to be particularly cognizant of the perils of bigness. Crossing the 150 line is a small change that can make a big difference.

- Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

As organizations grow there begin to be structural impediments to the ability of the group to agree and act with one voice. Synchronization of logistics and promotions becomes much more difficult. Lead times become so great that often people choose to "leave well enough alone" rather than go through a laborious process to bring about a complex change.