Defy The Trend

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in Atheletics - Change - Church Leadership - Systems Thinking

The System is Designed to Get the Results It Gets

I walk a lot. Living near downtown Kalamazoo, MI, it makes much more sense to walk the mile or so to downtown shops, restaurants and church than it does to find a parking place and pay to have your car sit on the street (and potentially get a parking ticket.) This is true especially in winter, when parking spaces are taken up by snow piles and the time it takes just to clean your car off surpasses the time you would have spent walking anyway.

Walking this much, even in a downtown, college area, in the winter turns into something of an Olympic event. Residents take varying degrees of care of the sidewalks in front of their houses. Some long stretches of sidewalks in front of open lots are never shoveled at all. By late February and early March, sidewalks are blanketed by giant raised piles of packed snow. After the first freeze/thaw cycle of spring, the packed snow turns to lumpy slicks of ice. Snow plows create giant snow piles at the end of each block, making it feel like you should have brought an ice pick and worn cleats to scale these mini-mountains that appear in front of you every few hundred yards.

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One of the ice “mountains” at the end of the block. The system is not designed for walking. Photo by Nicole Havelka

Each time I make this slippery and awkward trek downtown, I think to myself: The system is designed to get the results it gets. People stop walking (unless they are crazy like me) because it is simply too difficult or dangerous. The reason is that most of the resources — both public and private — go toward making sure that the driving surfaces are clear of snow and ice. (With the exception of Kalamazoo’s immediate downtown business district, which I will admit is very clear for pedestrians.) We end up driving more not just because of the cold, but because the system is geared toward car, not foot traffic.

When I’m not totally struggling to keep my balance during these snow and ice filled walks downtown, I think about how often all kinds of organizational systems create the same reality. Churches, with which I work most often, will complain they don’t attract visitors and yet do not have a website, a welcome sign or, most importantly, empower their church members to invite people to church programs. They will complain that there are no young people in church anymore, but may not even reach out to support the school that is right across the street from them.

The system is designed to get the results it gets.

How could you resdesign your church’s or organization’s system to get the results you hope for? What results DO you hope for?

2 Comments

  1. Yes! When we tackled governance and leadership in our church renewal process, we used the metaphor of a ‘church machine.’ The old church machine was designed to serially exhaust a cohort of about 12 leaders at a time and spit them out the door. The question was, what would a more sustainable church machine look like?

    • That’s exactly the thing I mean! The burnout is only one of the things that a governance system does to create an environment that ultimately discourages ministry rather than gives it room to happen.

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