CASE STUDY - PALISADES LUTHERAN CHURCH, PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA (MAP - Chapter 5)


CHAPTER FIVE

Presentation and evaluation of the data

The GIST Ministry Map[1] consists of several markings: the “X” and “Y” axis, the circles, and four “Gospel Imperative” quadrants. The “Y” axis (vertical) plots the results of the leader’s “Gospel Impact Survey” with the score identified in the center of each circle. The higher up or lower down the “Y” axis reflects the leader’s perception of relative Gospel Impact. The “X” axis (horizontal) plots PLC’s financial data, net revenue, provided by the finance committee. Those activities further to the left are less sustainable than those further to the right, while PLC’s “Worship” ministry is plotted in the center suggesting a break-even ministry. Not all ministries will operate at a surplus and not all at deficient, but some have to operate at a surplus to fund the ones operating at a deficit.

The size of the bubbles on the GIST Ministry Map depicts how expensive each of the measured ministries are, reflecting the biggest expense to the congregation: labor costs. Most of the cost represented by the size of the bubbles is how much time the pastor spends on each ministry as a percentage of his overall labor cost to PLC. Consequently, the worship service is the biggest bubble, with stewardship ministry a distant second. Another significant cost is use of space. The bubble size is different from the position of the bubble on the “X” axis, because an expensive ministry with a large bubble may have its costs covered by sufficient revenue, while a ministry to the left of the “Y” axis does not bring in revenue sufficient to cover its costs.

Authors Bell, et al., note, “When this step is completed, the Matrix Map not only allows you to see how each activity is contributing to your programmatic and financial sustainability but also allows managers and the board to see the degree to which resources are coming from and going to various business lines.”[2] Now a picture of PLC’s current strategic ministry plan emerges. Depending on which of the four quadrants a ministry is plotted (Star, Heart, Money Tree, or Stop) will assist the congregation in evaluating how to proceed with the current ministry model. New discussions about what adjustments to make depend on how ministries are prioritized to accomplish the congregation’s mission and Vision.

Combining PLC’s six formal ministries with its two informal ministries gives an average overall score on the Gospel Impact Survey of 2.2. Plotted on the visual map, PLC leaders are able to picture how ministry efforts at PLC are average. Individually, PLC members are clearly gifted and active, but their collective ministry efforts result in less than the sum of their parts.[3] Based on the results of the GIST Ministry Map, PLC leaders believe they can do better with their invitation to partner with God in His mission in the world.

Evaluation of Data

The results of the Gospel Impact Survey plotted on the GIST Ministry Map reveal that no core ministry received a high score (Appendix 15). Nor are any ministries plotted solidly in the “Star” or “Heart” quadrants. The six formal PLC ministries are all grouped around the “Money Tree” quadrant, meaning they are receiving funding but there is little satisfying Gospel impact as reported by PLC’s own leaders. The leaders were surprised they scored four of the six formal PLC ministries as nearly average, with two below average. On a scale of 1–4, with 4 being the highest, they rated themselves on average 2.6 in Gospel impact.

Bible study rated the highest, with a score of 2.7 in the Gospel Impact Survey. Bible study has a small 1.0-point lead over the Elder ministry and 2.0 point lead over Worship and Outreach. While there is no clear flagship ministry to rally spirits and resources around, feeling significant mission is being accomplished, Bible study is possibly in the “Star” quadrant. As a counterweight, however, PLC has a very low Sunday morning Bible Study attendance.  Members disperse among several midweek Bible studies, reflecting the church’s tendency to fragment both in fellowship and doctrine.  Many of the Gospel Impact Survey respondents are either current or former Bible study teachers.  These leaders naturally rate themselves as above average in Bible study.  When including cost to the congregation, there is one clear loser: stewardship ministry.

The two informal PLC ministries (STAR Preschool and Revive LA) scored the lowest on the financial analysis and, consequently, on the visual map. The PLC leaders (which include two Revive LA pastors) gave Revive LA a score of 2.5 and STAR Preschool a score of 1.7 in the Gospel Impact Survey. What causes STAR Preschool and Revive LA to stand out from the other ministries is their cost to PLC without adding significant benefit to PLC’s Gospel impact.

STAR Preschool was plotted solidly in the “Stop Sign” quadrant of the visual map, meaning it has very little Gospel impact (alignment with PLC’s Vision for ministry, excellence in execution, leverage, and community building) and very little financial benefit. STAR Preschool is operating at a financial deficit according to both actual and true cost analysis. Revive LA is between the “Heart” and “Stop Sign” quadrants, meaning the leaders are conflicted over this ministry’s alignment with the PLC vision for Gospel impact, and is certainly not helping PLC financially. Revive LA operates at a deficit when considering true cost.

A concern raised from the GIST Ministry Map is what the ministry relationship between Revive LA and PLC shall look like going forward. Is Revive LA a “daughter” ministry or “partnership” ministry of PLC? What duties does PLC have to Revive LA? Based on Revive LA’s plotting on the GIST Ministry Map, it falls on the edge of the “Stop Sign” quadrant, with a strategic imperative of close or give away. Revive LA’s leadership is quite concerned about being placed in this quadrant given the possible implications.

In fact, this leader was so upset they communicated such over a group email to the PLC Council and Elders saying:

Dear Pastor Lee,

Is the chart below preliminary and the breakdown to discuss? Revive LA uses the facility about 4 hours on Sunday. The chart does not account for Revive LA giving nor the professional work we provide for “PLC” especially for last year. Thank you pastor and I fully understand the explanations & really appreciate it. This still seems subjective at this stage but according to the numbers & the charts, “PLC’s” position is:

 

Revive LA:

 

  • Costs “PLC” $3,075.25 a month for 4 hours use of space including storage
  • Provides no income to “PLC”
  • On a scale from 1 to 4 on Gospel Impact, “PLC” leaders believe we provide minimal Gospel Impact rating a 2.5.
  • Nobody from Revive LA does any work for “PLC” and Revive LA does not incur any costs?

 

Is this the “PLC” position?

 

Sincerely,

Stewardship Committee Chair and Senior Pastor of Revive LA

 

Reply:

Hey “Chair and Senior Pastor of “Revive LA,”

 

Patience. A robust conversation is coming in soon and regarding all the ministries. Revive LA scored right at the top of the scoring for all “PLC” ministries. Right now, we are simply gathering data and input from many pockets of “PLC.” What it all means to you and the congregational members and how you move forward in ministry together and call your next pastor is yet to be discussed. God has an incredible plan. Continue to trust Him as I know you do. It will be awesome to see what He has in store for you all.

Pastor Lee

 

Leader’s reply:

 

Working on the patience part – (smiley face).

 

Data Analyses

The results of the GIST Ministry Map are even more effective in illustrating the current state of PLC’s ministries than anticipated. PLC’s GIST Ministry Map reveals a pattern that explains the effect of PLC’s multiple, fragmented, and often competing ministries (Appendix 18). I had anticipated all the core ministries to have different levels of relative Gospel impact. But, despite PLC’s high levels of participation and community engagement in a heavily populated ministry context, the GIST Ministry Map shows PLC’s eight core ministries gain little movement from the map axes. The most reasonable explanation is that PLC’s competing doctrinal positions and ministry efforts cancel each other out. At minimum, the GIST Ministry Map shows PLC’s eight core ministries are unable to gain any real traction, possibly due to an inability to define their spiritual identity and their mission and Vision in the community.

The stalemate between competing ministry efforts that is particularly apparent in day-to-day ministry but not explicitly depicted on the GIST Ministry Map pertains to PLC’s pastors and the dual denominational affiliation. LCMC doctrine states, “all the people are ministers of the church called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.”[4] A template bulletin at PLC reflects this doctrinal position; and the doctrine is applied in practice at PLC. Since everyone is a pastor, no one is. Some members hold that, “Theological degrees are preferred,”[5] while others prefer being led by the “Spirit.” Those who are ordained and called pastors to PLC contradict one another doctrinally. Pastor Short-term said “Pastor Longest-term would teach the opposite of what I taught.”[6]

The research data was evaluated based on how well the congregational leaders were able to identify core ministry activities and how they work together to accomplish PLC’s mission. Identifying core ministry activities sounds at first blush like a very low bar. Every local church and school ministry should be able to describe what they are doing.[7] Considering that PLC is a small, family-sized church, the number and type of core ministry activities should be easily identifiable. On the one hand, listing the core ministry activities was easy; on the other hand, deciding which ministry activities are attributable to PLC as ministries and how to categorize them was not. The GIST tool was helpful in prompting the conversation and in clarifying the ministry relationships. Through the process of identifying PLC’s core ministry activities, PLC leaders were given opportunities to learn about organizational stewardship concepts, like how each ministry should be aligned with PLC’s overall Vision for ministry.

 The research data was additionally to be evaluated based on how well the congregational leaders were able to select the four criteria on which each ministry would be scored and provide a relative score for each ministry. The criteria were chosen, instead, based on the “Top 10 Concerns” results identified during the one-on-one interviews and described in detail in the 1st Quarter Report (Appendix 24). The leaders were able to use the criteria effectively, without asking additional clarification, and their responses to the Gospel Impact Survey questions reflected responses in the one-on-one interviews and other sources.

The research data was further to be evaluated based on how helpful the GIST Ministry Map was in making strategic decisions pertaining to each ministry. The GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey was distributed to the PLC Council, Elders, and the Transition Task Force leaders, and ten responded to the survey. Responses to the GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey are a sample of the decisions to be made by the PLC voting body. Having the leaders weigh in on how they feel about the strategic ministry options shows that making the difficult strategic decisions is possible for PLC and that the GIST tool is useful in helping make those decisions toward better alignment of ministry efforts. The responses to the GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey also demonstrated that PLC’s leaders had gained knowledge of congregational stewardship practices and how best to apply the learning at PLC. Finally, the congregational leaders were to be given the opportunity to rate their trial experience using the GIST Ministry Map for assessing congregational stewardship knowledge and practice. However, the questions in the final GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey pertained mainly to assessing PLC’s core ministries but gauged their impressions of the trial experience with the GIST tool and GIST Ministry Map indirectly.

The GIST Ministry Map assists PLC leaders see both strengths and weaknesses in their current strategic ministry plan. The current ministry state is a misalignment of resources, goals, and core values. PLC and Revive LA pastors, worship services, and ministry and outreach goals are not aligned. PLC and Revive LA are two separate entities with different staffing models, governance structures, budgets, and funding strategies. Revive LA specializes in reaching young people, unchurched people, and the recovery community. PLC specializes in serving the traditional music and higher education communities. Both ministries are interested in the arts but are in conflict about style.

The GIST Ministry Map assisted both PLC and Revive LA leaders to affirm each other’s Vision of God’s mission while, at the same time, recognize their Vision for ministry may not be the same. Since Revive LA is only informally a core ministry of PLC, this misalignment may be acceptable, depending on how PLC meets its Gospel imperatives. Partnering in ministry may not be the goal in this case but partnering in making congregational stewardship decisions may still be possible.

The GIST Ministry Map shows that PLC and Revive LA may need each other, since the Map shows Revive LA, which specializes in ministry to young people, operating at a deficit according to the true cost, and PLC Family and Youth Ministry scoring at 1.7 in Gospel impact. The two ministries can see clearly that collaboration and dialogue could help to improve each other’s ministry in a concerted and integrated manner. One of the rating criteria in the Gospel Impact Survey was community building: how well does a particular ministry build community inside and outside the church? Another rating criteria was leverage: how well does a ministry create opportunities for other ministry efforts? The better a ministry complements and promotes other ministries the better it scores in the GIST survey.

The GIST map does not show a similar complementary relationship between any PLC ministry and STAR Preschool. STAR Preschool is ranked solidly in the “Stop Sign” quadrant, necessitating either increased financial benefits from the relationship with STAR Preschool or better alignment with PLC’s ministry goals. A more formal effort of integration is needed between PLC and both STAR Preschool and Revive LA, but particularly between PLC and STAR Preschool. Leaders also recognize the pastor’s time could be more concentrated in the ministries where growth is hoped.

Those involved in the system may interpret the GIST Ministry Map results differently. For example, when the question was asked in the GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey, “Is it possible ministry efforts are unintentionally working at cross-purposes and out of alignment?” one leader replied, “Possibly. But Pastor Long-term made it work successfully for many years.” The results of the GIST Ministry Map show that the multiple ministry efforts are not currently working successfully toward alignment with PLC’s goals for ministry. Additionally, attendance records and one-on-one interviews reveal that PLC ministries have been in decline and conflict since PLC’s inception in 1970. Most GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey respondents agreed that PLC’s ministry misalignment is “obviously hindering PLC’s Gospel impact.” One respondent said, “the relationship [between the ministries] remains superficial.”

The GIST Ministry Map provides a visual picture of how impactful PLC’s ministries are in their current state. After 50 years functioning with a dual denominational identity, the qualitative data (interviews, Emotional Thermostat, and Gospel Impact Survey) and quantitative data (Organizational Flow Chart, Financial Analysis Data Table) illustrate the intentionally loosely defined theological and organizational structures are being tested. For example, the evidence demonstrates this very “open-minded” community of believers is questioning the legitimacy of the “pastors” of Revive LA. Some respondents were concerned the process leading to their ordination was not acceptable, primarily due to lack of a theological degree and following a “regularly” accepted process of ordination.

The dual denomination topic seems to emerge regularly. The leaders could make many low-level technical changes, like making quick decisions prompted by the Gospel Imperative Decision Table (Appendix 19). While these activities may need to occur, and would create the sense of moving forward, they may move the stewardship needle very little. Tackling the dual denominational challenge would be an adaptive change and would create significant missional impact. This would be utilizing the organizational stewardship concept of “leverage.” Senge argues for “leverage” as a strategic use of resources. He asserts, “The bottom line of systems thinking is leverage – seeing where actions and changes in structures can lead to significant, enduring improvements.”[8]

Expected Findings

The leaders of PLC are accustomed to living with ambiguity. This ambiguity-tolerance would be commendable if the ambiguity facilitated creativity or generative learning. In this case, ambiguity has led to theological, organizational, and stewardship costs that may be contributing to ministry underachievement and, in some cases, deficits. While Pastors Long-term and Longest-term made it work for many years, it is possible the lack of definition became more problematic over time. Pastor Short-term stated clearly, “As much as they try to convince themselves, [the dual denominational affiliation] does not work. Too many egos are vested in its origins and legacy for the congregation to reassess the benefits, or not, in maintaining a dual denominational ministry today.”[9] Several key leaders dismiss Pastor Short-term’s opinions due to personal reasons related to his ministry and departure. Others have expressed to me the topic of dual denomination should be off the table: it should not be evaluated, monitored, or discussed. These may be the signs of protectionism and a closed system, forces of homeostasis.

There was a split between GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey respondents over whether the dual denominational affiliation and theological differences are a significant drag on overall ministry effectiveness. As Argyris and Schön, explain, failure of an organization to learn is related to the degree views differ among individual members of the organization.[10] Certainly, the ambiguity makes it difficult for PLC to have a Vision for ministry and for individual ministries to align with that Vision.

Many of PLC members and leaders can now see how the congregation may be stuck around significant theological issues, practices, or relationships. A goal of the GIST tool is to provide a method of analyzing a congregation’s current state ministry and stewardship effectiveness with their future state goals for vitality or needs for sustainability. The GIST tool accomplished the goal of providing a visual image of what PLC members and leaders perceptions are of the current state of ministry and stewardship effectiveness. They now have permission, a rationale, and a vocabulary to discuss strengths and weaknesses of the ministries within the context of improving congregational stewardship of God’s mission, God’s people, and God’s things. I hope a beneficial result of working through the implied choices identified by the Gospel Imperatives Decision Table will help PLC leaders realize the need for greater clarity of spiritual identity, leading toward a clearer mission and Vision.

The GIST tool assists PLC leaders to recognize they do not have the resources to do all the ministries to the level they hope. I expect a beneficial result of this study will be providing a pathway for PLC to learn to speak intelligently and honestly about their stewardship challenges. For example, the congregational leaders (and especially the finance committee) were excited about how to allocate a pastor’s (or other staff person’s) time and related costs across the six formal ministries and two informal (partnership) ministries. The leaders had never seen this data before. They now realize it is crucial to monitor and strategically allocate time expenditures in position descriptions for staff persons for greater alignment and integration of ministry resources. This true cost data worksheet was especially beneficial in giving the leaders a better idea of how to formulate ministry descriptions for the next settled pastor and church secretary. I expect that the PLC finance committee continues to use the “true cost” calculations when determining the value of ministry activities, and in expense projections.

It will be necessary for the leaders to report out to the congregation what they have learned. What to do with the learning? If the findings are taken seriously, several conversations should now take place with the rest of the congregation. The congregation should come to terms with their history. The congregation should evaluate their current governance model and staffing configurations and assess the options. The congregation should explore what their Vision for ministry is. These questions will all be addressed through the congregational self-study. A Transition Task Force (TTF) team has been put together to host cottage meetings[11] and explore further with the members the theological, organizational, relational, and programmatic implications of the GIST map findings. These will not be easy discussions. The GIST Ministry Map prompts the members in acknowledging the current ministry model is not meeting their expectations and that a robust solution should be offered for improvement when PLC is ready.

The GIST tool and GIST Ministry Map proved successful in providing clarity on the alignment of PLC’s core ministries toward improved Gospel impact and financial viability. PLC’s leaders demonstrated improvements in learning and knowledge of congregational stewardship concepts and practice. The GIST Ministry Map provides a vehicle for holding sensitive but much needed conversation. It is assisting the leaders to make their tacit concerns more explicit. In a way it is creating a healthy emotional triangle; that is, I am observing the leaders focusing their anxiety on to the GIST Ministry Map and not on each other. The GIST map doesn’t take it personally, so the conversation is able to continue and opposing viewpoints are able to remain in collegial dialogue. More objective discussions about such things as “alignment” in ministry are possible, since the focus is not personal, or even about performance. Instead, it becomes a conversation about priorities and Vision in ministry. PLC is struggling with the implications and beneficial outcomes may take time.

Overall, this research project was successful in the goals and benefits predicted through developing and testing the Gospel Impact and Stewardship Tool (GIST) for its usefulness in helping congregations like Palisades Lutheran Church align ministry efforts toward improving Gospel impact and financial health for present vitality and future sustainability. The findings and benefits of the GIST tool in application at PLC provides a sample of how the GIST tool developed through this study may be suitable for wide LCMS congregational (and other LCMS organization) applicability. The GIST Ministry Map may prove even more useful in larger churches with more staff, new staff hires, complex ministries, mergers, and multiple ministry teams to map. A visual picture of how the component parts work as a whole could provide clarity in a way similar to what PLC experienced, with the added benefit of meeting a greater need for clarity in a larger, more dynamic, ministry setting.

 

 

[1] See Figure 1.

[2] Bell, et al., Nonprofit Sustainability, 60.

[3] Just as organizations can know more than the individuals who make up the organization, “In many cases when knowledge held by individuals fails to enter into the stream of distinctively organizational thought and action, organizations know less than their members do.” (Argyris and Schön, Organizational Learning, 5.)

[4] “A View of the LCMC from an LCMS Pastor,” The Brothers of John the Steadfast, accessed October 30, 2021, https://steadfastlutherans.org/2010/08/a-view-of-the-lcmc-from-an-lcms-pastor-by-rev-joshua-v-scheer/.

[5] GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey response.

[6] Interview notes see Appendices pages 210–213, date March 2021 and July 2021.

[7] As W. Edwards Deming (Engineer, Statistician, MIT Lecturer) famously said, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” (“Demings 14 Principals of Total Quality Management,” Effective Leadership Management 101, accessed October 30, 2021, https://effectiveleadershipandmanagement101.blogspot.com/2012/05/demings-14-key-principles-of-total.html.)

[8] Senge, The Fifth Discipline, 114.

[9] Research notes, March 2021.

[10] Argyris and Schön, Organizational Learning II, 67.

[11] See Appendix 28.