Credence Newsletter Articles

June 2023: How & Why Credence Does Organizational Health Assessments

by | Jun 16, 2023 | Congregations

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I wonder how many of you enjoy puzzles. As a child I recall reaching an age where I thought of puzzles as boring. I loved math at school and realized at some point that math was only a vehicle for puzzling things out, for applying a rubric or analysis strategy to a problem in order to speed up one’s ability to generate a viable solution. I left math behind when I graduated from the 12th grade, but I still love to puzzle things out – whether that means solving the NYT crossword or achieving “genius” status in the NYT spelling bee. My real joy in my life, however, comes from puzzling out the intersecting array of challenges congregations encounter: Interpersonal challenges, size and structure misalignment, leadership pressures, policy gaps, external stressors, theological challenges, volunteer burnout, mismatched spoken and lived values, skill enhancement needs, clarity of mission and vision, defining historical narratives untethered from current reality, the impact of change, and more. Peeling back the layers of congregational life to understand the diversity of opportunities (and barriers) to congregational health and wellbeing is both important and fruitful.

In our work we often say: “To transform conflict, turn people problems into situation problems.” In conflict it is tempting to focus on people as the problem rather than digging into the situational and structural realities that aid and abet congregational challenges. Of course, structures are not disconnected from the people that inhabit them. Congregational health assessment processes are designed to help sift and sort through the various factors impacting a congregation – whether those are situational, structural, theological, skill-based, or interpersonal.

Just like in our personal lives, every congregation goes through ups and downs, moments of glory and seasons of hard slogging. Sometimes congregations “get it right” and soar. Other times they get it wrong, and upon reflection think, “how did we not see that?” And at still other times, tough seasons are thrust upon the congregation through no fault of their own – change has happened in one way or another and the foundation upon which the congregation now rests is on shaky ground: the congregation must find its footing once more. At Credence, our job is to come alongside congregations and the individuals who work and volunteer within them to help them find sure footing and to discern a path forward that is both truthful and grace-filled. Our assessment work is a part of this journey.

A congregational health assessment is not an investigation. There is no ruling, no declaration of who is at fault – that is the work of an investigator for formal complaints involving harassment or discrimination. Instead, congregational health assessments consider overarching themes in the congregation that lead to health or ill-health. In practice, this involves reviewing and analysing key congregational strengths and challenges. It also includes a series of recommendations to strengthen the congregation and those who lead it.

At Credence, when we engage in a congregational health assessment, we look at the situation from multiple angles. We consider existing congregational documents. We offer surveys (most often, that invite paragraph answers), and conduct interviews to ensure every person involved in the assessment has a voice. We devote significant time to tracking the themes identified during our listening process to ensure we understand and reflect the situation accurately. Then we write.

I need to pause here to reflect on how weighty the three words in the last sentence are. Writing an assessment report is a gargantuan task. We want to get it right. We do not want to miss anything, and we are committed to our work being both tender and hopeful, while still being truthful. Leading congregational health assessments is sensitive work. Credence’s goal is that the completed report functions like a touchstone for the congregation, helping the congregation to accurately understand its current reality while also offering a clear strategy for moving toward health.

Sometimes we encounter groups who ask us to simply forego an assessment. They say things like: “Can’t you just start facilitating?” While urgent facilitations are sometimes necessary, addressing congregational challenges and opportunities without an assessment first, can be a bit like building a house without a floor plan. It is possible, but generally ill-advised, especially if one would like the house angles to line up properly and the roof trusses to match the actual size of the house. Moreover, a congregational health assessment includes strategies to ensure that those in the congregation have a voice and can speak into the challenges impacting them. An effective assessment is like building a house where the people moving into the house have an opportunity to express what they would like to see in their new lodgings.

We are committed to you, our clients. We wholeheartedly believe that congregations can be places of joy, delight, meaning, and purpose. On the congregational journey, each congregation and its leaders will fall down – no one gets a pass on this. Our goal is not to eliminate falls, but rather to help you fall down less often. When any one of us does fall down, we benefit from having people in our corner to help us up and to cheer us on as we do so. Our goal at Credence is to be the kind of people who do exactly that: help you up when you fall, cheer you on when cheerleading is what you need, and through whatever we do, help you find your way to thriving and soaring once more.

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