The Lean Church
Gods work is business. Luke 2:49 says ‘And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’. In Matthew 25:14-31 and Luke 19:12-28, we understand that people who make use of the resources God avails to his people are considered ‘good and faithful servants’. Can we say this of today’s ‘everyday’ Christian? Let’s think about how church itself is run. A local church starts in a classroom. Members get preached to. They engage in prayer, fasting and evangelism and get more members. The church expands and they start making contributions toward getting into a bigger auditorium. Members contribute until there is donor fatigue. Some even leave the church because their perception changes. As to whether those remaining are just growing in terms of numbers or in depth of knowledge, ‘by their fruits…you shall know them.’ A few more ‘new believers’ join and some of the old members leave or become less and less committed because someone has offended them or nobody visited them when they were sick. The story continues on and on and one without anybody realising that there is a problem to be solved. What would you do if this was your business? What do you do if your customers leave you? How does it affect your profitability? Remember that the owner of the ‘business’ is God. God expects us to run His business in a way that glorifies Him. Remember what made the wicked servant wicked? 1 Peter 5:2 says ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;’
Prayer is key to doing God’s work. We need to take territories by prayer. We also need to evangelise and feed the flock with green grass. But what do we do after that? What other effort can we put in place to ensure we are continually building on what God has placed under our care.
One of the techniques that businesses are using to drive down waste, improve customer satisfaction and improve bottom line performance is Lean Six Sigma. I never imagined that lean principles could be combined with religious principles. But two men in Wisconsin are doing exactly that, creating the concept of what they call Lean Ministry.
Their goal is to achieve spiritual transformation and continuous spiritual improvement. And yes, they really are applying lean principles to achieve that goal.
One of the two is Charles Duffert, a retired Naval officer and business executive who currently teaches lean and six sigma methodologies at a junior college. The other is Dr. Tom Nebel, Director of Church Multiplication and Leadership Teams for Converge Worldwide – the new mission name of the Baptist General Conference.
If the goal of a lean manufacturer is to focus on creating value for customers, Duffert and Nebel suggest that the goal of a lean church is to focus its resources on the transformation of its people.
Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste. Indeed many aspects of life in general are prone to waste. In Lean Six Sigma, types of waste have been categorised by the acronym DOWNTIME: Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-utilised talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Extra-processing.
Examples of these in the church setting include:
Overproduction: Teaching or preaching to large batches of disciples at the same time under the assumption that they are all in need of the same message and are all at the same place on the timeline of the transformation process.
Extra-processing: Separating the congregation into batches by age or gender and placing them in classes with the assumption that God transforms people by age and gender. Also, music, instruments, worship teams, choirs and other productions having more entertainment value than impact on the transformation process.
According to Pande et. al., the “Ideal Six Sigma Roadmap” consists of five steps:
1. Identify core processes and key customers;
2. Define customer requirements;
3. Measure current performance;
4. Prioritize, analyze, and implement improvements; and
5. Expand and integrate the Six Sigma system.
This sounds basic. Right? It becomes even more outstanding when you think about what you are trying to achieve here.
How good is 99.9%?
Approximately 4 million babies are born in the U.S. annually. If the probability of taking home the correct baby was only 99.9%, then 4,000 families would leave with the wrong baby each year…Yes 4000. So we need to take a second look at what we consider ‘OK’ when it comes to God’s business.
“Six Sigma” describes any process which successfully meets all customer requirements 999,997 times out of 1,000,000. In other words, by attaining 6 sigma, you would have taken the time to ensure that given 1,000,000 opportunities, there can only be 3.4 defects. Your efficiency is 99.9999966%.
Lean Six Sigma uses a model in the acronym DMAIC in its problem solving approach.
DEFINE: To bring about any improvement, you need to know what the problem really is. Is it attendance, spirituality, contributions, loyalty, engagement with scriptures, etc.). Is it a real problem? Determine what excellent would look like and what is ‘critical to the customer’ about what you’re trying to improve?
MEASURE: You would then need to put this into actionable terms and determine a goal that is attainable but challenging. The goal should be measureable. In fact ‘SMART’ as we know it. This could be for example: number of new memory verses learned by members per month, new members per month, donations per member per month, tithe payment per month etc.
ANALYZE: This phase deals with understanding why the problem occurring. Use “5 why’s” to get to the real root of the problem. Again, what’s critical to the customer? If it’s attendance, why are people staying home? Because they have better things to do on a Sunday? Why? Because watching football is more exciting than sitting in a sermon? Why? Because football provides social stimulation? It’s exciting? Folks don’t have to dress up? Etc.. Get to the root of the customer expectations.
IMPROVE: Once you’ve really found the problem, then you can tackle this step. Map out the process to find out every relevant step taken in the existing process. What one thing could you do to solve the underlying problem?
CONTROL: Continue to measure, to see if the steps you’ve taken are working. Stay in tune with the customer to see if they perceive the problem improving. Control the improvements, and continue tweaking. Now, move on to the next problem.
I would end with explanations of a few of the jargons and acronyms used in Lean Six Sigma with the hope of driving the point home.
CPI or CI is Continuous Performance Improvement, which begins with Continuous Personal Improvement. Continuous Personal Improvement is the process of sanctification.
Sigma = standard deviation = missing the mark = sin. The closer we can get to the designer’s intent, the more consistently we can deliver the “ideal” to those around us. Missing the mark may not mean falling outside of the specification limits, but always has a cost to society.
Spec limits = the law. Think 10 Commandments. Thou shalt not…. doesn’t tell us what we should be doing — only what we shouldn’t. Focus on the law begs us to challenge every little activity as acceptable or not acceptable (“don’t commit adultery” is the law, but does that mean I can still flirt? Can I read baudy magazines?). Focus on the law will always lead our eyes away from the true goal, and will always have a cost to society. But, focusing on the ideal state — on the designer’s intent or the “middle” of the specification will always drive down variation, because our focus is continuous improvement rather than “good enough”.
The correlation between CPI / Lean / Six Sigma and the Christian walk is truly one-to-one. As you grow in performance improvement training and thinking, you will increasingly find that your job becomes a mission and a calling rather than just work. You become His hands and feet, transforming the world to a better place for everyone around you, for God’s glory.
Credits: This write up includes views and notes from thought leaders, writers and bloggers such as John Porcaro Bruce Hoppe; Scott Bonney, E.Kweku Haizel, and many others.