CASE STUDY - PALISADES LUTHERAN CHURCH, PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA (MAP - Chapter 4)


CHAPTER FOUR

the project design and methodology

 The GIST Ministry Map

Figure 1: Gospel Impact and Stewardship Tool (Matrix Map)

 

The research undertaken for this project is to determine whether a visual map may be useful for aligning ministry efforts to improve Gospel impact and financial health for present vitality and future sustainability in local congregations like Palisades Lutheran Church.  The research from this study culminates in the Gospel Impact and Stewardship Tool (GIST) which assists church leaders to place core ministries onto a Matrix Map (as adapted for the congregational setting—Ministry Map), consisting of four quadrants: “The Star: High Gospel Impact, High Financial Viability,” “The Stop Sign: Low Gospel Impact, Low Financial Viability,” “The Heart: High Gospel Impact, Low Financial Viability,” and “The Money Tree: Low Gospel Impact, High Financial Viability”[1] (See below and also Appendix 2).

Figure 2: Matrix Mapping Imperatives

 

The GIST tool makes a complex organizational system simple by providing a visual map of the congregation’s ministry landscape. Putting together a GIST Ministry Map calls for plotting your congregation’s core ministries according to their Gospel impact and financial viability as determined through the processes discussed below. The hope is by using the GIST Ministry Map church leaders will realize a sudden clarity on how the congregation’s different activities inter-relate. Beyond helping leaders better understand their ministries’ effectiveness, the GIST Ministry Map can help congregational leaders prioritize which ones to fund and at what rate.

The GIST tool and GIST Ministry Map are meant to focus the strategic ministry planning process and not be the process. The research project confirms what the authors described: the tool is powerful, but it is not conclusive.[2] The GIST tool and GIST Ministry Map certainly initiated conversation, grabbed attention, and leaders leaned into the process.

Each step involved in the GIST activity prompted the leaders to reflect on each ministry in light of the bigger mission, God’s mission. In step one, the leaders have to consider which activities they will identify as core ministries; that is, where they spend the majority of their time. Step two explores how each ministry aligns with God’s mission and the congregation’s Vision. Step three evaluates how the congregation has allocated resources to advance each ministry. Step four plots the results of ministry impact and financial viability to illustrate which ministries have higher impact. Step five gives the leaders an opportunity to evaluate strategic imperatives, implied choices about what actions to take for each ministry. Depending on where an activity is placed on the map, strategic imperatives emerge and are placed on the Gospel Imperatives Decision Table (Appendix 19).

Gospel Imperatives

A natural outcropping of visually plotting the ministries in the quadrants is a decision on whether to make any changes to the ministries for improvements. The Gospel Imperative Decision Table below shows what possible decisions could be made based on the ministry’s position on the GIST Ministry Map: The Star quadrant, invest and grow; the Heart quadrant, keep and contain costs; the Stop Sign quadrant, close or give away; the Money Tree quadrant, water and harvest, increase Gospel impact (Appendix 2). Each of the eight core ministries at PLC received a Gospel imperative on the Gospel Imperative Decision Table to help with strategic decision-making (Appendix 19). Gospel Imperative Decision Table action items for PLC are to be determined (TBD) and will be voted on by voting members after the congregational self-study.

Figure 1 - Gospel Imperatives Decision Table

 

The Gospel Imperatives Decision Table assists congregations to take inventory of all the Lord has entrusted to their care, and to contemplate how well they are stewarding the Lord’s resources for Gospel impact in the world. These strategic imperatives call for actions that would strengthen the effectiveness of each ministry’s reach and viability – or for tough decisions to allocate resources elsewhere. Considering whether to keep ministries or let them go are not easy decisions with easy answers. Instead, the GIST Ministry Map and Gospel Imperatives Decision Table can help engage PLC members and leaders to prayerfully recruit the congregation’s best thinking on God’s mission plan for PLC.

Zimmerman explains that the strategic imperatives that emerge from the Matrix Map, create forced choices. Zimmerman notes, “In a forced-choice model, an action or decision is suggested by the analysis. It isn’t necessary, of course, to make the choice to which the analysis points. But if the strategic imperative is rejected, it’s important to have strong, compelling reasons why a different choice is being made.”[3] He adds, “Another advantage of a forced-choice model is that it prevents a group’s making a decision by not making a decision.”[4] King Solomon says a wise person seeks much council (Proverbs 15:22). The congregation’s best thinking may help the congregation define and agree on strategic actions that become Gospel imperatives for the congregation as they contemplate their participation in the Missio Dei.

RESEARCH DESIGN

Population Sampling

All active members and leaders of Palisades Lutheran Church are involved in the action research portion of this study. Additionally, all active members and leaders of PLC participated in a variety of mixed research qualitative and quantitative assessments used in this project. Fifty-one members and leaders signed up for one-on-one interviews, more than PLC’s average weekly attendance. In addition, PLC Church Council members and Elders were invited to participate in the Gospel Impact Survey, a GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey, and multiple Council and Elders’ meetings. The finance committee helped gather the data for the financial health portion; a group of nine members was asked to participate on the Transition Task Force; and, finally, all PLC members are invited to participate in the cottage meetings, town hall meetings, and voters’ assembly to vote on which TTF recommendations the congregation would like to adopt and how to respond to Gospel imperatives action items.

Palisades Lutheran Church (PLC) officially began in 1970 as the result of the merger of two Lutheran churches: Lutheran Church of the Palisades from the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and Holy Cross Lutheran Church from the LCMS. The union was “blessed” by both synodical bodies, as the two were in altar and pulpit fellowship. At the time both congregations were pastor-sized, worshiping 100­–125 in average weekly attendance. With both congregations coming together, PLC had an average weekly attendance of 200–250. Each church provided its own pastor. When the ALC merged with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the PLC congregations elected to remain together; although, over time, relations with the LCMS became strained due to the significant doctrinal differences over the divinity, clarity, and reliability of Scripture. Today PLC is much more aligned with an ELCA view of theology and practice than LCMS.

According to the “Palisades Lutheran Church By-Laws Approved by the Congregation March 28, 2004, and Amended in 2017,” new members are able to join either Holy Cross Lutheran Church (LCMS) or Lutheran Church of the Palisades (LCMC) “following instruction in the common doctrines and confessions shared by both national bodies, LCMC and the LCMS.”  As for clergy, from 1970 to 1992, PLC had one pastor from each church body. But in 1992, when the LCMS pastor retired, PLC could only afford one pastor and kept the ELCA pastor as sole pastor. Around 2015, the ELCA pastor led the congregation through a transition from the ELCA to Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), leaving the ELCA over the matter of same sex unions. Ultimately, PLC became an LCMC/LCMS dual denominational congregation in response to circumstances rather than through strategic ministry planning, the doctrinal conviction of members, or meeting community needs.

It was not easy finding the average weekly attendance numbers for the last 10 years. Most LCMS congregations submit an annual reporting form to the Rosters and Statistics Department of the LCMS, and these numbers are included in that report. When I called the District Office, I was informed PLC has not submitted the annual Congregation Statistics Report since 2014. The Pacific Southwest District of the LCMS recorded that in 2014 PLC reported an average weekly attendance of 90. In 2021, the average weekly attendance is 42. PLC has realized a 53% decline, or 7.5% annual average decline, since reporting an average weekly attendance of 90 in 2014. One member noted this downward trend predates both Covid-19 and PLC’s most recent settled pastor. From the time of the merger in 1970 to present, the average weekly attendance has declined from around 250 to 42, or by roughly 83%.[5] PLC’s average weekly attendance decline over the past 10-years has outpaced the LCMS decline of nearly 2.5% per year over the same period. Associated with the decline in attendance is a concern for the decline in offerings and income.

Some members feel there is an overemphasis on preserving church programs and building use for members and less on kingdom-centric ministry. PLC’s leaders are responsible for aligning the church’s offerings income and assets with ministry goals. The congregation has an average annual income over the last three years of nearly $350,000 and a balance sheet of just over $5.1 million.[6]

Scarce resource theory suggests PLC must choose ministry allocations which are viable according to the limits of their physical resources (financial, space, volunteers, staffing, etc.). This does not mean PLC does not live out a bold and courageous faith in promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It simply means, using her God-given reason and common sense, PLC has been called to “live within her means” and to use her resources wisely. That would include how to deploy and maximize the gifts of the pastor, staff, ministry teams, volunteers, and use of the building and financial resources.

Having been on staff as IIP for several months, I am able to affirm there is confusion over boundaries and limits. Decision rights are not clearly delegated. Ministries are fragmented, functioning in “silos.” Leaders do not effectively leverage resources (ministry teams, human capital-volunteers and staff, budgets, etc.) in a complementary, collegial, and collaborative fashion. Ministry leaders are crowding the ball, jumping into other leader’s areas of perceived responsibility. Since everything appears to belong to everyone, nothing belongs to anyone. According to members, governance and staffing have become serious issues of concern over the last 10 to 15 years. Consequently, every decision becomes a tug-of-war (power struggle), or turf war. One member said there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.” The power struggles seem to be over sharing space, empowering staff, executing worship, and messaging and signage, to name a few.

The members of PLC are frustrated over how day-to-day ministry gets done. There is confusion over how ministries are aligned with a strategic ministry plan that is unifying and complementary. PLC is passionate about making a Gospel impact in the community but does not know how to make that impact. The frustration is realized on all fronts – lay leaders, lay members, and staff. Based on initial observations, a formal sharing of the day-to-day ministry duties and responsibilities with the pastor and staff appears to be difficult for PLC. It will be good to explore willingness in this area.

To be clear, PLC has been blessed with very gifted lay leaders and pastors who love the Lord and each other. They are working diligently—maybe too hard. Given PLC leaders’ dedication, they are prone to over-functioning and rescuing. These traits have become chronic and there is little room for a new settled pastor. In fact, informally there are already five pastors[7] who are directly or indirectly shepherding the ministries of PLC.

Implementation

After receiving approval from the leadership of Palisades Lutheran Church to participate in the research project, all members were invited to meet with me for one-on-one interviews. These interviews allowed me to meet with as many members as were willing within the first two months of my joining (February 1, 2021, through April 1, 2021). The members had an opportunity to complete the one-on-one interview questions prior to attending (Appendix 3). Members were also encouraged to fill out an Emotional Thermostat to assess their level of anxiety related to the congregation’s current state (Appendix 4) and complete an Organizational Flow Chart worksheet to ascertain how members believe ministry “things” get done at PLC (Appendix 5). I further took copious notes of how members verbally describe the reasons for their answers and anything else they would like to share during interviews.

PLC members were eager to participate in the interviews, but it took some encouragement to engage the members in completing the Emotional Thermostat and Organizational Flow Chart. I was able to meet with fifty-one individual members of the congregation.  This is greater than the average weekly attendance of forty-two. These interviews assist to ascertain both qualitative and quantitative components of the project, helping assess the validity of the Gospel impact ratings.

Members expressed the following concerns when asked about the current and future state of PLC’s mission in the Palisades Lutheran Church, and greater Los Angeles, area:

“There are too many churches in Pacific Palisades. There is competition in the Christian Market Place. PLC may have to merge with one of the other 3 evangelical churches and change its name to maybe “Palisades Community Church.”

“I have not heard much about change.”

“We have lost faith that the congregation can change and our call for changes will be ignored or rejected.”

“We need an actual plan.” “We have no Master Plan.”

“We need to figure out what we are supposed to do, religious values as members of the community, and as individuals.”

“Identify our mission in the community.”

“Be open to new ways of doing things.”

“There is much potential once a clear direction is taken, and everyone is on board.”

“We need a well thought out plan to attract visitors and children.”

“PLC needs to be relevant in today’s world.”

“The Pastor needs to provide thought leadership.”

“No defining cause for the past 50 years.” (Ministry just happened.)

“We are just a discombobulated bunch of separate individuals with different ideas and goals trying to keep afloat.”

“Pastor Short-term” wanted us to support (and we did) ‘Feed Our Starving Children.’”

 

Based on the one-on-one interviews, the members’ top ten concerns, the prioritization and average weekly attendance charts (Appendices 3, 6, 7, and 8), Constitution and By-laws, STAR Preschool Agreement, a “Synthesis of all Five Elders Small Groups”, an interview with the departed pastor, desired outcomes of the IIM Agreement, and annual financial statements, I wrote the 1st Quarter Report (Appendices 9 and 24).  The 1st Quarter Report is intended to be a resource for the members and stakeholders of Palisades Lutheran Church (PLC), the Pacific Southwest District (PSD)[8] of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). It will be used by the Transition Task Force (TTF) as the primary resource document for leading the congregational self-study over the next six months. In fact, it is now a historical document of PLC. The report is divided into two sections: PLC’s Top 10 Concerns and Recommendations (Appendix 6).

Two town hall meetings (held online at – May 17 at 1pm and 7pm to enable members to find time in their schedules) allowed PLC members to reflect on the 1st Quarter Report and offer feedback.[9] More than thirty-five members attended the 1pm town hall and more than fifteen attended the 7pm town hall. Many members met with me individually, and many email conversations were held, to discuss the impressions of the 1st Quarter Report. The 1st Quarter Report and other feedback was helpful in defining the relationships of core ministries to each other, to individual members, and to the congregation as a whole. The feedback was also instrumental in assessing the results of the online survey.

Identify Core Ministries

Also based on the one-on-one interviews; the Constitution, By-laws, and other governing and historical documents; STAR Preschool Agreement; Organizational Flow Chart; desired outcomes of the IIM Agreement; annual financial statements; and discussions with leadership, eight distinct ministries emerged as core ministries of PLC. The eight formal and informal core ministry activities that play a key role in PLC’s current state strategic ministry plan are found in Appendix 11. Ministries that have no formal relationship with PLC (Revive LA and STAR Preschool) are included as core ministries of PLC because they operate out of PLC-owned buildings, have shared leaders and members with PLC, have shared history with PLC, and consume PLC time and energy (Appendices 9 and 24).

Assess Core Ministries for GIST Ministry Map

The next step was to invite PLC Church Council members and Elders, to participate in an online survey developed in Google Forms, called the “Gospel Impact Survey.” The Gospel Impact Survey was distributed via email on Sunday, March 14, 2021, to the members on PLC’s Church Council (eight members) and Elder Board (five members). Three Elders and four Council members responded, for a total of seven participants (16% of the average weekly attendance of 45). The online survey consisted of thirty-two questions in four parts: Gospel Impact Stewardship Tool Introduced; GIST Purpose; Description of How the Data Will be Analyzed and Interpreted; and Informed Consent/Assent Document (Appendix 12). (In completing the online survey, the participants consented to participate in the research study).[10]

Figure 4: Gospel Impact Survey Scores

 

The Gospel Impact Survey asked respondents to rate each of PLC’s eight core ministries relative to each other by means of four criteria: alignment with core mission, excellence of execution, community building, and leverage (Appendices 12 and 21). The Council members and Elders rated each of these eight ministries on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest (Appendices 13 and 14). The survey results were averaged and ranked highest to lowest (Appendix 15), and the results were used to create PLC’s Gospel Impact Stewardship Tool (GIST) Ministry Map (Appendix 18).

Analyze Finances for GIST Map

Three meetings were held with PLC’s finance committee (treasurer, financial secretary, and bookkeeper) to conduct a congregational financial viability analysis. The finance committee understood that the goal of the financial viability analysis was to encourage monitoring of ministries, promote intelligent and honest dialogue about congregational stewardship challenges, and motivate ministry leaders to collaborate on discovering effective solutions to stewardship problems.

The first meeting was scheduled for 90 minutes and was conducted on RingCentral powered by Zoom on May 7, 2021. The agenda for the meeting was: 1) introduce and review the stewardship theology concept, 2) review the five steps to conduct the GIST analysis, 3) task the committee to complete the revenue section for each of the ministries on the financial data sheet (Appendix 16), 4) discuss the “true cost” [11] of each ministry (Appendices 16 and 17), and 5) inform the committee that I (pastor) will track and provide the data for staff allocation of time to each ministry (Appendix 17).

The second meeting in July 2021 was brief, lasting for 30 minutes. The committee had researched (and now reported back on) what they learned about PLC’s approved budget. They were able to provide the total budget amount for the year but were unable to assign a definitive revenue amount to each ministry. They had attempted a number of formulas but were not convinced about how to allocate revenue amounts to the various ministries since most of the revenue came in the general offering plate on Sundays.

The third meeting was held on August 7, 2021 and lasted for ninety minutes. The finance committee agreed general offerings should be distributed as follows: one-third to PLC worship ministries and two-thirds divided equally among the remaining five approved ministries of the congregation. The bookkeeper had decided to use the staff’s time-allocation model to calculate shared expenses for the true cost analysis. The finance committee agreed to use the time-allocation percentages resulting from calculating true cost for employees for the remaining expenses less direct costs. The final data was entered onto the Stewardship Calculator – Staffing Plan (Appendix 17) and the Financial Analysis Data Table (Appendix 16). The results were used to create PLC’s Gospel Impact Stewardship Tool (GIST) Ministry Map (Appendix 18).

Figure 5: Financial Analysis for Palisades Lutheran Church, Pacific Palisades, California

 

Create GIST Ministry Map

Values from the Gospel Impact Survey and the Financial Analysis Data Table were then plotted on the GIST map.  Ministries with higher Gospel impact scores assigned by leaders in the Gospel Impact Survey are plotted higher on the “Y” axis.  Ministries supported by greater funding are plotted further toward the right on the “X” axis.  The axes divide the Ministry Map into four quadrants: “The Star: High Gospel Impact, High Financial Viability,” “The Stop Sign: Low Gospel Impact, Low Financial Viability,” “The Heart: High Gospel Impact, Low Financial Viability,” and “The Money Tree: Low Gospel Impact, High Financial Viability”[12] (Appendix 2).  The larger the bubble shown on the GIST Ministry Map, the greater the expense of the ministry to PLC.

Depending on where a ministry is placed on the map, a strategic imperative emerges:  the Star quadrant, invest and grow; the Heart quadrant, keep and contain costs; the Stop Sign quadrant, close or give away; the Money Tree quadrant, water and harvest, increase Gospel impact (Appendix 2).  A ministry that falls into the Heart Quadrant, for example, initiates the “keep and contain costs” imperative. These implied choices are then imported into the Gospel Imperative Decision Table. Beyond helping leaders understand their ministries’ effectiveness, the GIST Ministry Map can help congregational leaders strengthen them.

Evaluate GIST Tool

The leaders were asked to respond to the GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey to give their impressions of what strategic decisions PLC may make. The GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey consists of ten questions: two theological, three organizational, three relational, and two programmatic. The GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey questions may be found in Appendix 20. The GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey was distributed on August 10, 2021, and 10 leaders responded. In conjunction with the survey was an introduction letter and the same consent form used for the first survey (Appendix 12). The leaders’ ability to test the GIST tool in evaluating core ministries is important in assessing the usefulness of the tool for application at PLC and other LCMS ministries.

Strategic Decision-Making

Final decisions will be made by PLC voting members after the congregational self-study, led by the Transitions Task Force (TTF). After one month of training, the TTF will host three months of cottage meetings on three different topics. Because PLC is a small congregation, the TTF consists of only nine members as a cross-section of the congregation, divided into three teams of three. Each team will take a topic to study for a month. Then, after all teams have conducted their study, the “TTF Final Report with Recommendations” will be published to the members of the congregation. Then a townhall meeting will be held to discuss the implications of accepting the TTF’s recommendations. Following the townhall meeting, there will be a voter’s assembly to vote on which of the TTF recommendations will be approved. The TTF recommendations may include decisions on the Gospel Imperative Decision Table, or a separate vote may be held after the TTF recommendations are voted on and implemented. (See Figure 9, IIM Process Map, page 24.) The “TTF Final Report with Recommendations” will provide guidance and recommendations to the congregation on how to heal and move forward in truth and Christian love.

Evaluate Research

The research data will be evaluated based on how well the congregational leaders are able to identify core ministries, select the four criteria on which each ministry will be scored, provide a relative score for each ministry, and how helpful the visual map was in making strategic decisions pertaining to each ministry. The project will then conclude with introducing the Gospel Impact and Stewardship Tool (GIST) Matrix Map an assessment of its usefulness at Palisades Lutheran Church, and a recommendation about its usefulness for other LCMS congregations and church workers.

Methodological Approach

This research project uses action research, [13] wherein the researcher enters the system to learn about the organization’s culture, relationships, organizational structure, and emotional field. The researcher is careful to learn about the system while maintaining a research posture to avoid emotional fusion. Action research includes the members of the congregation in the data gathering, self-reflecting, diagnosing, feedback and planning process. The IIM process is ideal for an action research project because it is designed to include the congregation in self-study and transformational change. The IIM self-study helps congregations become more self-aware and self-defined to know how better to align with future settled pastors and the demographics of their ministry context.

Intentional Interim Ministry (IIM) is provided for “the unique time between pastors both to repair from past experiences and to prepare for the future.”[14] Along with seasoned pastoral care and sound theological practice, IIM includes perspectives that are derived from systems thinking.[15] As an Intentional Interim Pastor (IIP) with a background and specialty in finance, my IIM assignments benefit from perspectives derived also from organizational learning and stewardship. It is my task to assist the congregation, between settled pastors, to identify and prioritize key concerns, to develop a strategic ministry plan, and to aid in pastoral call readiness.

Congregations cannot do everything with finite resources. This means they have to choose. The GIST tool endeavors to assist congregations make the hard strategic ministry decisions to best align resources for Gospel impact and financial viability. A good time to make these decisions is while the system is unfrozen, between settled pastors. In “A Change of Pastors” by Loren B. Mead (an Episcopal priest) he describes the time between pastors as one of the most important times in a congregation’s life. Many clergy transitions are written about from the clergy’s perspective: what it’s like to move to a new part of the country, the challenges a pastor’s family will face when uprooting and transitioning among new people in a strange land. Mead, however, writes from the perspective of the members and gives members guidance to take advantage of this time. Mead calls the transitional time between settled pastors a pregnant moment, where change toward either healthy or unhealthy change will occur. He writes: “We discovered that when the congregation went through a change of the leading clergyperson, there was an extraordinarily pregnant moment at which change could happen…it would happen, powerfully, no matter what – and that could go either toward health or toward dysfunction.”[16] Using the GIST tool may help PLC effectively use this transitional time towards healthful transformational change toward present vitality and future sustainability.

This research project also uses mixed research methodology, incorporating both qualitative and quantitative components, to gather data for the GIST tool and map. PLC agreed to participate in the research project and the IIM process tasks, including the IIM five developmental tasks (Appendix 1), the congregational self-study, and the qualitative and quantitative analyses. Names are changed in this research paper to preserve the anonymity of the individuals studied. All other facts are retained as they occur throughout the project.

Research Methodology

This research project incorporates action research and mixed research methodology, using both quantitative and qualitative analysis, to create a visual map of PLC’s current ministry state. The GIST congregational stewardship tool assesses the impact and viability of all the human and material resources a congregation has received on a dual bottom-line. The goal is for the GIST Ministry Map to provide sudden clarity on how the congregation’s different ministry activities interrelate.

Most tools used in my research include both types of methodology: qualitative and quantitative. Some of the many tools include interviews, church board meetings, GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey, 1st Quarter Report, a townhall meeting to provide feedback to the 1st Quarter Report, Organizational Chart activity, Gospel Impact Survey, Emotional Thermostat, governing and historical documents, and financial data.[17] Example qualitative data include interviews, the Emotional Thermostat, and the Gospel Impact Survey. Example quantitative data include average weekly attendance numbers and financial data. All research tools may be found in the Appendices.

Gospel Impact Methodology

Assigning values to the Gospel Impact Survey Results Scored chart found in Appendix 15 requires criteria by which to determine Gospel impact. The authors in Nonprofit Sustainability recommend selecting four criteria to evaluate programmatic impact. For purposes of this project, the Top 10 Concerns of members addressed in the 1st Quarter Report lined up closely with the criteria alignment with core mission, excellence of execution, community building, and leverage found in Appendices 12 and 21 and described in greater detail in Chapter Two. Different criteria may be chosen, if the GIST tool is to be used in other congregations, which better reflect the values and goals of those congregations.

Gospel impact criteria are subjective, as perceived by the leaders of the congregation when completing the Gospel Impact Survey. The results are also relative, as compared with other core ministries of PLC. While appearing to have quantitative “scores,” the Gospel Impact Survey ratings are qualitative and provide a way to compare individual ministries of the congregation with one another and with the overall mission and Vision of the church. The Council members and Elders were informed this process is not about deciding which ministry programs are good and which are bad. It is about acknowledging, and collectively thinking through, which ministry programs have relatively more perceived Gospel impact than others. Therefore, ministry programs cannot all be at the low end or high end of the impact spectrum in the answers to an individual’s Gospel Impact Survey.

Financial Data Methodology

Nonprofit Sustainability authors note, “Organizational leaders will want to know which of a nonprofit’s activities made money, which lost money, and which broke even.”[18]  The finance committee and I had struggled with how to allocate revenue and expenses across all core ministries when preparing for this step in the research project.

On Friday, March 19, 2021, I wrote the following email to Steven Zimmerman, author of Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability:

Dear Steven,

 

Greetings. Your books: "Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability" and "The Sustainability Mindset" have been instrumental in the work I do with non-profits, particularly churches. I am a Lutheran Pastor with special training in finance. I work with Lutheran congregations, schools, and non-profits across the country in the area of stewardship. I am also completing a Doctor of Ministry degree in Organizational Theory at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. I am hoping to get your advice on how to allocate weekly church offerings and volunteer time. I am very interested in assisting churches to better understand financial performance at the ministry program level. The congregational boards and staff would benefit from understanding the cost of delivering each ministry program. The challenge of course is that much of the revenue (income) comes through weekly offerings and is not given directly to each individual ministry - other than, perhaps, as approved in the annual budget. Giving may increase or decrease as the finance committees report out to the members weekly/quarterly financials, but the relationship between offerings and individual ministry costs is unclear. Any guidance you might offer from using the Matrix Map with religious nonprofits would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks.  

 

Warm regards,

 

Rev. Martin E. Lee, IIP

Intentional Interim Pastor

 

On Monday, March 29, 2021, I received the following reply:

Reverend,

 

Thank you so much for your email and for your kind words. It is so rewarding to hear about the various ways the book has had an impact and how it is being used in practice. You raise a couple of good questions and I wish I had a specific answer to give you. As I read what you wrote, I related it to a membership model – where members pay dues and, in return, have access to a series of programs or offerings from an organization. The revenue from the dues is not typically allocated out to the individual offerings. In this case, I would envision a program for the weekly offerings which would bear the relatively small expense of gathering the money and show a surplus in the end of money generated. There would also be a series of programs for the various individual ministries which would all operate at a subsidy. In these cases, the relative impact of each of the individual ministries becomes important. As you are completing the mission impact assessment, we really focus on each of the criteria and ask, “Relative to other programs, how does this program . . ..” The completed map would then show the big picture financial relationship of how the weekly gatherings subsidize the ministries and the relative assessment ensures that the highest impact ministries should get funded first. It is a bit messy but allows for a robust discussion.

 

As for volunteer time, we do not typically capture that on the matrix map, unless there is someone who is coordinating the volunteers and making sure that it happens. That said, if most of the efforts are volunteer, there can be ways to allocate an arbitrary amount to each program based on the amount of effort that they take to conduct. The key when I have seen this applied is to make sure you look at all the programs together and then allocate an amount (say a total of $100,000) between all the programs based on which require more effort than others.

 

I hope this helps somewhat. Please let me know if you’d like to discuss more. Again, thank you for your email!

 

Steven D. Zimmerman

 

 

The finance committee agreed that one-third of general offerings should be allocated to PLC worship ministries and two-thirds of general offerings should be divided equally among the five remaining ministries. The finance committee also agreed that any major gifts received from general offerings during the year were to be smoothed into the spending plan from that point forward. The finance committee agreed funds designated to a specific ministry would be credited as revenue to that specific ministry fund in the given year.

Data was gathered to assess the “true cost” of each ministry activity, including staff and volunteer time. In determining the true cost of each ministry (Appendices 16 and 17), the finance committee was tasked to calculate the combination of all costs related to the particular ministry, including (but not limited to) staff time, volunteer time, shared costs, direct costs, and administration costs.[19] The goal was for PLC’s finance committee to agree on, for internal use only,[20] a formula for calculating shared expenses. Shared ministry expenses (common costs) do not relate to any one ministry but are shared among multiple ministries; for instance, the pastor, church secretary, musician, utilities, and mortgages.[21] This entailed allocating income and expenses of each core ministry, including staff salaries.

The bookkeeper concluded, after pouring over the numbers, the only model that made sense to share the value of staff salaries was to follow the staff’s time allocation and use the same percentages to calculate revenue shared and administration costs (expenses). Since two of the core ministries (Revive LA and STAR Preschool) are not part of the approved spending plan (budget) they do not receive any credit for revenue out of the offerings, but any identified time the staff reports is allocated to those ministries as a shared expense. The following is the formula used to calculate a ministry’s true cost: Total Hours allocated to a ministry divided by Total Employee Time multiplied by Total Cost of employee equals “True Cost.” The finance committee agreed to use the same time-allocation percentages resulting from calculating true cost for employees for the remaining expenses less direct costs.

To understand even further the true cost of each ministry, PLC could quantify the volunteer hours associated with each core ministry represented on the GIST Ministry Map. The authors of Nonprofit Sustainability note, “Similar to in-kind expenses, if it weren’t for the generous time of volunteers, many nonprofit organizations wouldn’t be able to survive, yet alone thrive.”[22] Each ministry may be supported by hundreds of volunteer hours each year. At this time the finance committee elected not to calculate volunteer time.

Assumptions, Role of Researcher and Limitations

Assumptions

Ministry leaders have ample access to resources about tithing time, talent, and treasures on an individual basis (i.e., as a pastor, teacher, or church member). These resources also detail how best these individuals may give to support ministry endeavors. This research study assumes a general understanding of individual stewardship practices and instead concentrates on congregational stewardship practice.

Similarly, LCMS ministry leaders have ample access to resources about spiritual and emotional well-being and it is assumed they are engaged in daily prayer and devotion. Consequently, I did not attempt to analyze the spiritual condition of the congregation or leaders in my study. That is, I did not assess ministry leaders’ church attendance, Bible study participation, or devotional and prayer life, but assumed a basic minimum standard in these areas.

Role of Researcher

Understanding that the presence of the researcher in the system is enough to influence the system, the role of the researcher in action research is to actively engage the subject of the research and move toward transformational change. The researcher becomes part of the system, using a “spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action and fact-finding about the result of the action.”[23] Similarly, as an IIM pastor, trained in “adaptive leadership skills, tools, and techniques” to encourage healthful change within a system, I entered the system at PLC for this research project. I used a series of tools in a spiral of steps to gauge the current state of the organizational system at PLC and encourage movement toward PLC’s future state goals. Ultimately, however, maintaining a neutral, research posture was crucial to the success of the project, avoiding becoming fused in the system and of no clinical use.

Through participating with PLC in this action research project, I experienced numerous stewardship conversations on topics such as church governance, staffing configuration, and finance. Often congregations struggle in balancing how best to steward the human and capital resources God has given (as He generously gives to all ministries) to reach local communities. To have these conversations required me to provide attentive pastoral care and encouragement of each leader and their assigned ministry’s value and worth. During the process it was important for me to be aware of various leaders’ discomfort in discussing the specifics of the various ministries, particularly the ones they are stewarding. As both pastor and researcher, I reminded participants this activity was another way to view their particular ministry in relation to the others and look for what is working, what is not working, and what might be improved. I assured the participants this activity would not be used to criticize any ministries or the leaders of those ministries.

It was necessary for me to grow comfortable with being honest about how the leaders scored each ministry and challenge leaders to discuss what the scores and “true costs” of the various ministries might mean. Ultimately, I had to be comfortable with uncomfortable stewardship conversations about ways to improve stewarding God’s mission, God’s people, and God’s things. My challenge in the project was to suspend my personal and professional opinions, based on experience with stewardship practices in local churches and schools. I had to seek a balance, being open to new learning, allowing for greater dialogue and contributions from PLC members related to their specific experiences and goals.

Limitations

Research in developing the GIST Ministry Map was robust in that multiple and varied methods and tools were used to assess PLC’s current state for the eight core ministries (Appendices 2–17). However, the Gospel Impact Survey included only seven participants to assess the relative Gospel impact of the core ministries for plotting on the GIST Ministry Map. This sample size would have been insufficient had the other supporting sources not been used to confirm the survey findings. The survey sample size would also have been insufficient to assess ministries of a larger congregation. Since PLC only worships an average of 45 people weekly, a sample size of 7 is 16%.

Another limitation of the research methodology is assessing Gospel impact at all. Prior to distributing the Gospel Impact Survey and the final GIST Ministry Map, it may have been helpful to provide a better explanation to the PLC leaders regarding the concept of relativity. For example, the “Y” axis on the GIST ministry map illustrates Gospel impact for each ministry relative to the other ministries in the survey. It is not an actual measurement of Gospel impact (which we leave to the Holy Spirit). The same applies to the financial data plotted on the “X” axis. First, the financial data is not actual financials but the totality of the approved spending plan (proposed budget) and the combination of projected direct costs, shared costs, and administration costs. The financial data, then, is a cost-benefit analysis of each ministry in relation to the other ministries at PLC.

PLC’s leaders were to be given the opportunity to rate their trial experience using the GIST tool and GIST Ministry Map for assessing stewardship knowledge and practice. Instead, the questions in the final GIST Leader’s Evaluation Survey pertained mainly to assessing PLC’s core ministries and only indirectly pertained to their impressions of the trial experience with the GIST tool and GIST Ministry Map.

The most significant limitation of this research project involves testing and evaluating the GIST Ministry Map for its usefulness in improving strategic decision-making towards aligning ministry efforts. The GIST Ministry Map was designed to assist congregations make the hard strategic ministry decisions to best align resources for Gospel impact and financial viability. The dynamic self-study and implementation phases are not yet complete to properly test or evaluate the GIST tool for its usefulness in making those hard decisions. The “Action” column of the Gospel Imperative Decision Table remains TBD, or to be determined, as the decisions are yet to be made. Based on the GIST findings, the congregation has agreed to the self-study process to explore further the implications. A task force has been created of nine members to lead the congregational self-study.

The Gospel Impact and Stewardship Tool (GIST) is customized to plot core ministries (no matter the size) into a collective image on a single sheet of paper. With a new view of each ministry in relation to one another and the dual bottom line, hopefully leaders are able to see and discuss these ministries in a more robust way. As Steve Zimmermann notes in his email, “It is a bit messy, but allows for robust discussion.”[24] With a clearer idea of each ministry’s Gospel impact and financial viability, leaders can more readily make those difficult stewardship decisions in order to be faithful participants in the economy of God.

Further research could possibly make the process a little bit less messy. For example, a longer-term study could give more data on the Gospel imperative decision-making process and how best to lead a congregation through these tough decisions. Using the GIST tool in a larger, more complex ministry setting would give more data on the scope and reach of the tool. The GIST tool may be used to analyze possible mergers of congregations and new staff hires.[25] Also, a better assessment process could gather more feedback from leaders as to what worked and what didn’t work.

 

[1] Bell, et al., Nonprofit Sustainability, 75 – 95.

[2] Bell, et al., Nonprofit Sustainability, 171 – 173.

[3] Bell, et al., Nonprofit Sustainability, 76.

[4] Bell, et al., Nonprofit Sustainability, 76.

[5] The average weekly attendance of 250 is used as the “best guess” of the current leaders of the PLC.

[6] $500,000 in ministry funds; $1 million in a parsonage fund; $3.6 million conservatively in property valuation.

[7] Three pastors from the LCMC-side of the congregation and three retired pastors who continue provide pastoral care and teaching at PLC, one of whom is the spiritual leader of the congregation. Three of these pastors are also members.

[8] See Appendix 25 for Pacific Southwest District President’s 1st Quarter Report feedback.

[9] See Appendix 26 for Town Hall meeting Questions and Answers sheet. The members were invited to email any questions between the delivery of the 1st Quarter Report on May 7, 2021, and the Town Hall meetings on May 17 and May 20, 2021.

[10] The congregation as a whole formally consented to conducting the Major Applied Project during the IIM Agreement process.

[11] The “true cost” of each ministry program includes direct expenses, shared expenses, administrative expenses, staff time, and volunteer time. 

[12] Bell, et al., Nonprofit Sustainability, 75–95.

[13] In this approach the role of the researcher is to stand with the community or group, not outside as an objective observer (Mark Rockenbach, PRA695A Research and Writing Course, Concordia Seminary, Handout 2, 3).

[14] “The unique time between pastors” is a term of art quoted from the Intentional Interim Ministry Agreement.

[15] Intentional Interim Ministry Agreement.

[16] Loren Mead, A Change of Pastors, Chapter 1.

[17] See Appendices.

[18] Bell, et al., Nonprofit Sustainability, 30.

[19]  For purposes of the ministry map true cost is the allocation of actual costs to each ministry where these costs are borne.

[20] Not intended for public financial reporting or statements.

[21] To help account and monitor these time allocations the Brown University job description template provides a place to allocate percent of time spent on each core ministry. See the Church Secretary position description I developed for Yolanda.

[22] Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell, The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2015), 109.

[23] “Action Research,” Wikipedia, accessed October 30, 2021,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_research.

[24] Steve Zimmerman, Author of The Sustainability Mindset, March 29, 2021.

[25] I have been asked to evaluate a proposed ministry merger-partnership of three congregations and one university ministry. I will be using The Gospel Impact and Stewardship Tool (GIST) to assist in the impact analysis. The seven congregations being considered, for the analysis located on the westside of Los Angeles in what is referred to as the “Coastal Communities” or “Ocean Cities” are: Palisades Lutheran Church (PLC); Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Santa Monica (PSM); First Lutheran Church of Venice (FLV); First Lutheran, Culver City; Our Savior Westchester Churches, Manhattan Beach; Palos Verdes; and LA University Ministry. The GIST is able to provide a visual map for each of the individual congregations to then create an overall picture of where the efficiencies or dilution of efforts may exist. In the book “Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability” under the sections “Analyzing New Opportunities” and Using the Matrix Map to Analyze a Possible Merger” the authors discussion using the mapping tool for conducting impact analysis in considering a significant restructure. They comment, “The decision about whether to merge is multifaceted and involves not only finances and program similarity but also organizational culture and governance” (p. 123). He adds, “As discussions of a possible merger begin, it is helpful if both organizations have a solid understanding of themselves. Creating a Matrix Map is a good way to give a visual demonstration of the activities in which the organization engages and how they interrelate” (p. 123). Strategic decisions will need to be made, such as, which core activities would be combined? How will each congregation’s other core ministries be impacted? Will there be efficiency savings? What will the impact be on each congregation’s current governance models and staffing configuration?