My last blog on the continuing need to restructure the Episcopal Church received the least amount of comments of any of my blogs. I wasn’t too surprised because I know that the energy for this work was completely sucked out of the room by our current PB’s agenda of which I approve, and the folks who run TEC and General Convention are so invested in it, that they have no interest in this topic. So be it.
However, this was the lead in for this blog where I discuss what I have learned about structure and restructuring in my many years of work with diocesan and parish leadership. Let me start with this observation:
Many current church organizations are badly in need of revisiting their current structure with an eye toward being a more effective organization. Indeed, many current structures keep mission mined organizations from making the mission the main thing.
Principles for Structure and Restructuring
Let me begin with a few basic observations, and then I will apply this, at no charge, to the current inefficient, wasteful, and resistance structure of TEC.
Let me start with an observation from my mentor Lyle Schaller. He observed that consultants in North America make a fortune by going into a centralized system and recommending de-centralization or going into a de-centralized system and recommending centralization. He went on to observe that it usually took about five years for these organizations to figure out why these recommendations are not going to work and returning to at least what had worked in the past.
What Schaller recommended was that consultants should determine the current structure, centralized or de-centralized, and recommend ways to operate in a more effective and efficient manner. For my friends in Calgary, this is what I attempted to do in my recent consultation with your Diocesan Council. I have a word for this kind of work, streamlining, that I will demonstrate with my example for TEC.
I also learned from John Kotter’s writings why most efforts at change fail, namely, too much complacency with the status quo! I have learned to ask two important questions about this. First, how much real energy is there for change? Second, who will be the predictable people in the organization that will resist such change? It takes perseverance for meaningful change to happen. These are the principle reasons the attempt to restructure TEC failed; too much complacency with the status quo and two many stakeholders in the old system. Hence, the leadership’s halfhearted support for this mean that the effort was doomed from the start.
I also learned from Bishop Payne’s example of how to restructure a Vestry of a larger congregation that what is most needed is a way to “streamline” the structure. So, his model would take the long overgrown and historically complex structure of a large church with its complicated committees, commissions, areas of ministry, and staff direction (or lack of it) and streamline this into a simpler structure of a Vestry and four subcommittees. (BTW I have a paper on this and if you email me, I will send it to you.) Once put into operation, this streamlined systems works so much better than the previous one, most Vestries embrace it quickly.
Implications for TEC
This brings me back to my free consultation with TEC and its historic structure, which is IMHO costly, overly complex, and inefficient. It should be because it was designed in the 19th century when we had fewer dioceses and where the leadership of Bishops, Clergy Deputies, and affluent Lay Deputies could board a train for a two-week adventure of leisurely and informally doing the business of the church. And remember that the Presiding Bishops of that era were the most tenured Diocesan Bishop of the Church. They had almost no staff. In those days, it was a de-centralized system.
Then came the first elected Presiding Bishop, now official a Primate, who had a staff that grew as did General Convention until we had 3.6 million members and nearly 100 dioceses. These two factors centralized our current system.
Let me remind all of us that we have had at least one major attempt to decentralize in the last 50 years and this was the Provincial System. Some provinces have had more energy and life. In others, the Bishops gather regularly. However, these provinces have never really developed for two reasons. First, the provincial lines were drawn by east coast Bishops with little knowledge of the huge vastness of “the West.” (For them, the “West” was west of the Allegany Mountains!)
Next, and more importantly, there was never any real attempt to fund these structures especially on a program level. This remained the prerogative of General Convention with the influence of the Presiding Bishop’s Office and staff.
I have no interest in de-centralizing TEC. I do have a few suggestions to streamline it. Here they are:
1. Treat our structure just like any other effective not-for-profit organization. There is plenty of information available on this topic in the literature of not-for-profit governance.
2. So, The General Convention sets vision, policies, and procedures. It does not run programs and it should not bog down in attempting to create the budget of the Church, just its priorities.
3. Next see the Presiding Bishop as the “Director” of our organization who with his staff operates the programs of the Church just as most dioceses operate. The PB is, with his staff, accountable to the interim body/board called the Executive Council who oversee all this between General Conventions.
4. The Execute Council, with input from the Presiding Bishop and staff, should take the initiative in creating the draft budget for the next General Convention.
5. The General Convention may approve this budget or amend it based on emerging priorities and special needs.
There it is! Streamlined and efficient, this structure will then allow General Convention to meet, celebrate, and set policy over eight days beginning with a Sunday Celebration of what has been done and ending with a Sunday commissioning of what will be done. Occasionally, they will need to elect a new Presiding Bishop. The GC continues to elect members of the Executive Council. The Executive Council becomes a more significant body with more power to make more immediate decisions; remember that GC only meets once every three years.
There may be a need for some committees of General Convention that manage its business to meet before General Convention starts, but all those joint house committees now have a very reduced workload, and many of them could even be eliminated. Gone too is the myth that all those hundreds of submitted resolutions can be debated, prioritized, and voted on by both houses. Now, they must be submitted to the Executive Committee first whose four subcommittees will determine if they need to be acted on by the Executive Council or referred to General Convention. Three years is simply too long for a good and commendable idea to be delayed in our electronic culture. The streamlining means that all those join committees no longer get to generate resolutions. But hey, we are not a State Church and few in our society care what we resolve and pass. Just get over it.
But Who Said Anything About Restructuring?
Now, if you are a General Convention Deputy or a member of Executive Council, don’t worry. None of this is going to happen. There is way too much complacency and resistance in our current structure to lead to any of this being done. Your privileged position along with all its costliness and inefficiency will remain in place. However, one thing could be done that is now struggling to emerge out of simple necessity. This is the preparation of the next proposed budget by the Executive Council in consultation with the Presiding Bishop and staff. The logic of this strait forward and commendable. In the current structure, the GC passes resolution after resolution with budget amounts that get dumped on the desk of the Budget and Finance Committee who must in the closing days of GC sort this all out. This should make sense to even the most long-standing Deputy. (Oh, did I mention term limits? Well, I am not that stupid!)
Let's Forget About GC!
Now, turn to your more local situation. Ask this question of your congregation and diocesan structure. When is the last time we streamlined it to be a more effective missional organization driven by our stated priorities and on-going strategies?
Clarify your mission, then streamline your structure, and you will become a more effective organization. This has worked for thousands of businesses and hundreds of not-for-profit organizations, and it can work for the Church too.