Update on the Gossamer Condor

Read here for some background about what I’m talking about. Upshot is that our church organizational structure was cumbersome and ineffective, and ill-fitting for a church of 80 people, so our session blew it up last meeting in favor of something more agile… and messy… but hopefully more effective. In effect the session’s job is to take a balcony view of what’s going on, look at the next few months of ministry, and figure out how each activity can best be implemented: team? task group? elder working with a new person, mentoring him and her to be able to do it next time?

We met again last night and I recapped what we agreed on last month. I even talked about the Gossamer Condor as a metaphor for our approach. A computer programmer said, “You know what this reminds me of?” And we both called out at the same time, “Agile!” Yes.

In preparation for the meeting, I put together a calendar of everything we do during the year, and last night we added a variety of things to it. One of our challenges (present in many churches) is waiting until the last minute on stuff, and then you end up relying on the same old people because “well, they know how to do this and can get it done.” A master calendar helps us be organized. We spent a bit of time on this calendar, fleshing it out. But it, too, will be a work in progress.

We’ve got two particular events coming up in which we will try out this “dispatcher” idea. The first is our spring rummage sale, the second is an end-of-year picnic/potluck. For the latter, there was a suggestion that we make some announcements in worship asking “are there volunteers to help plan this?” but I encouraged the session to do some discernment work and think about who they think would be good people to step up, and ask them directly. Blanket announcements are good for getting worker bees, but we as the session are the spiritual leaders of the church, looking to call other leaders to ministry.

This is a huge cultural shift, not just for our congregation, but for many congregations. And it’s something we’re going to grow into, certainly, and I’m thinking about how I can mentor the session to have these conversations more effectively. We had a discussion about delegation and how to do that effectively but didn’t get very far.

Two other specific things we did yesterday:

  • We gave each staff person a liaison to session. This approach takes the place of having A Personnel Elder who oversaw everything for everyone (as best she could, but that’s a huge job for one person). This person is tasked with checking in with the staff person regularly (but at least quarterly) to say thanks, and is there anything you need. The elder will also implement the annual feedback/performance review. There was some confusion about this, specifically where my purview (as head of staff) ends and where the elder’s begins. But this is something we will figure out.
  • Without elders with specific areas of responsibility, it’s unclear whom church members should ask for authorization to spend money. Used to be, when the Sunday School teacher needed supplies, she got approval from the Christian Ed elder. Now there is no CE elder. So last night we agreed that anyone on session can approve expenditures up to $100. Anything more than that needs to come to session. This is also something we will tweak as we go.

There is still some uncertainty. Plenty of it. But that’s OK. I was reminded recently by one of the consultants for the presbytery’s transforming congregations project that when you’re leading people through change, nailing down the structure stuff comes last. (See John Kotter’s work on this)

Overall I am very pleased with the willingness of the session to dwell in some ambiguity. What probably helps is that a half-broken, top heavy committee structure wasn’t working all that effectively, and that brings its own anxiety and ambiguity… and at least now we’re being up front about the ambiguity! But it also speaks to a level of trust in the congregation that is very healthy right now.

I’ll report more as we go along.

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4 thoughts on “Update on the Gossamer Condor

  1. Sounds like you’re off to a great start!

    I know you’re far more organized than I, so bringing this up is probably akin to trying to teach my grandmother how to suck eggs (and where in the *world* did that saying come from??), but I figured I’d throw it out anyway:

    How much of your “How Tos” for specific projects (like the rummage sale and the pot luck) are codified in writing as checklists that are simple enough to be easily understood, yet detailed enough that they can be handed off to anyone to do?

  2. Kerri says:

    in response to your “blanket invitations” – we’ve started a “want ads” sort of section of our newsletter that includes short and long term tasks with great success. Go figure! We still won’t use blanket invitations for teaching/leading/etc. but for now – it works!

    • MaryAnn says:

      Cool! I suspect part of what makes it work is that the needs are specific and the parameters clear—clearer, perhaps, than when someone stands up and says “We need a flower coordinator.”

      • Kerri says:

        exactly – and they are short term tasks not “can you serve [for the remainder of your life] as the coordinator of pw?”

        and why is it that I/we always use pw as the example of ministry gone awry? 🙂

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