How Your Church Could Benefit From a Positive What-If and Why-Not Culture

In Uncategorized by Robin Maguire

Is your church characterized by a “culture of stuck” — where the dialogue is a loop of negative what-ifs instead of positive why nots?

In Chapter 3 of his book Organic Outreach for Churches, Kevin Harney asked three critical questions, the third of which I found particularly compelling. He asked: “Are the people in our church willing to sacrifice to the point that they will joyfully embrace change?” My 25 years of experience has shown me that change starts with leaders, so I have to ask: Are your leaders willing to change? Are you? Are you willing to hold your leaders accountable for creating this type of culture?

Organic outreach requires innovation (see details in Chapter 9 of Harney’s book), and achieving innovation requires trying new things — and failing at those endeavors. For instance, as a director at a university, I led an initiative to boost student engagement through a video contest. Nobody had done anything like it before, so we were very excited. We even secured a few company sponsorships for the contest winners. The only problem? Nobody entered the contest.

Though we were surprised, we weren’t defeated. The other departments, however, were dumb-founded. Why weren’t we mortified by our failure? The answer is quite simple: It’s just as important to embrace the effort toward failure as it is to celebrate your successes, and that necessitates creating a culture of positive what-ifs.

Building a Positive What-If Culture

Imagine someone in your church congregation proposes an idea for a new ministry, outreach effort, or process. How do you think people would react? Would they focus on the negative what-ifs: the potential problems, the associated costs, etc.? Or would they focus on the positive why nots: the solutions to the issues, the value the idea adds, etc.? To determine how open your culture is to new ideas, answer these six questions:

    • In the past month, has anyone challenged a current process or perspective?
    • Have you tried something new at your church within the last quarter?
    • How do people typically respond to proposed ideas?
    • How does your church treat individuals who challenge the status quo?
    • Does your church try to learn from failed ideas or pretend they didn’t happen?
    • Does your church use past failures as ammunition to shoot down the next new idea?

Now, take these six steps to change your church’s culture.

  1. Break the what-if loop.
    It’s not uncommon for people to shoot down ideas based on what-ifs that are highly unlikely to occur. So next time you hear someone make a “what if” objection, stop the conversation. Then, push the entire group to think through how likely the what-if is to occur and how you would resolve it together should it occur.
  2. Celebrate learning from your mistakes.
    Mistakes are a fact of life. As a leader, if you act ashamed of those mistakes, you’ll only teach your team to be more risk-averse. Instead of shying away from mistakes, embrace the postmortem learning process. Hold your head high and use your learnings to inform your next big idea.
  3. Embrace agility.
    Create an agile environment within your church. Rather than try to predict and solve every potential problem upfront, move forward in developing the idea when it’s 80 percent formed. You can always adjust your strategy as you go.
  4. Leave negativity at the door.
    When a member of your congregation proposes a new idea, ask “why not?” Encourage other members to do the same: Root around for why you should pursue the idea and how it might work, and leave potential downsides at the door.
  5. Capitalize on your strengths.
    To better understand your church’s cultural tendencies, examine your congregation through the lens of Gallup CliftonStrengths. If it’s full of individuals who are strong in the themes of deliberative, analytical, context, consistency, and discipline — and weak in adaptability — you may get bogged down in negative what-ifs. To counter the effects of these strengths, include people who are strong in the themes of ideation, learner, maximizer, activator, strategic, restorative, and adaptability. They’ll help keep the conversation positive.
  6. Foster a positive what-if culture.
    Kids like to imagine all the (generally positive) what-ifs of life. Personally, I used to dream about the possibility of drinking chocolate milk out of the water fountain. As adults, though, those positive possibilities become negative possible outcomes. It’s time to hit reverse. Hold in-person brainstorm sessions that exclusively focus on possibilities, where you incite creativity and continuous learning. Encourage others to propose any and all ideas — even if they sound wildly impossible — and write them down on a “what if” discussion board.

How will you build a culture of positive what-ifs and why nots? I challenge you to go out and resolve one of these actions within the next week.

Loriana Sekarski is founder and president of BONSAI, a consulting company that transforms leaders (and businesses) into the best version of themselves. As a leadership coach, Loriana teaches leaders how to hone soft skills, spur workplace engagement, and achieve untapped levels of potential. Outside of BONSAI, Loriana serves as an adjunct professor at Washington University’s graduate student program. Additionally, she’s fine-tuning her passion project, TakeFlight, a program that addresses domestic abuse within the Christian community.