Peering Forward

The series of posts discussing the need for ministries to look at developing trends and consider what is in the near future have been combined here. This allows reading the string of posts in chronological order.

Peering forward – We all need to become armchair futurists

Where our culture is headed and the resulting impact on ministries is the focus of the Winter 2010 issue of Outcomes from Christian Leadership Alliance.  Lots of great articles that I’ll talk about a while.

The rate of change around us makes me dizzy. 

Whether you look at our culture, the economy, technology, or tax/HR/legal compliance issues, the rate of change seems to be increasing.  It’s not just our  imagination.

Two tidbits to chew on:

  • Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google is quoted as saying that every two days we create as much information as all of humanity created from the dawn of civilization through 2003.  (The Kevin Ring article gave the info, TechCrunch verified.)
  • Ray Kurzweil said in 2001 that “we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).”  (comment mentioned in the Ring article.)   His point is that technology change is exponential. 

Think about those statements for a few moments.  Ponder what an increase in the rate of change from what we have seen in the last five years will mean in terms of the effectiveness and relevance of your ministry.  We are already past the point where that increase in the rate of change is very disorienting.  Yet the rate of change will increase.  I explained Schmidt’s point to my son this evening by saying our society is creating more information in two days than the information that existed when he was born. 

Those of us in leadership of ministries need to focus on what is happening around us and think about what is down the road.

You’ve heard of arm-chair generals?  We all need to become amateur, arm-chair futurists.

Peering Forward – Some of the trends

What are a few of the changes today that impact the faith-based nonprofit community?  Barna Group has a few ideas.

David Kinnaman had a great article in the Winter 2010 issue of Outcomes from Christian Leadership Alliance.

He describes what he calls the ‘new context’ that is already in place.  One of them is the fade in popularity amongst younger people of high visibility leaders.  He graphs the positive public opinion of a variety of secular and religious leaders.  Great charts – check them out in the article. 

Two things jump out at me.  First, the leaders in the faith community that have been around a long time (Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, James Dobson) have a high positive opinion amongst those aged 65+.  That drops off with each younger age reaching surprising low-level of positive opinion amongst those aged 18-26.

Second thing that jumps out from eyeballing the graphs is based on comparing the positive-opinion-curve for 9 secular people to the graphs of 9 faith community leaders.  Eight of the faith-community leaders have lower positive opinions amongst all age levels than all but one of the secular names. 

Let me rephrase that:  Across all age spans (18-26, 27-45, 46-64, 65+) Britney Spears has higher positive opinion ratings than Robertson, Dobson, Franklin Graham, Osteen, Warren, Colson, Hybels, and Andy Stanley. 

Another trend Kinnaman mentions is for-profit entities working in areas that are generally considered to be the area where NPOs serve.  Two examples:  First, TOMS Shoes, which donates a free pair of shoes to needy children for every pair they sell.  Second, the University of Phoenix has around half a million customers paying top dollar for formal, higher education.  Until a few years ago, that area was served by state universities and private NPO institutions.  So now in addition to having ‘competition’ from other NPOs, you have to deal with for-profit entities seeking the attention and dollars of your constituency.

Like it or not, that is the environment we are working in.   Whether those are good trends or not is irrelevant. 

We need to understand the changing landscape.  Then we need to work with it.  That is the subject of the second half of the Kinnaman article.

Peering Forward – How do we respond to developing trends?

Earlier discussed that we need to pay attention to the trends in our culture and then looked at some of those trends identified by David Kinnaman.

How do we respond to those trends?  Kinnaman raises four superb questions in his article.  I will quote his questions and share my thoughts.

“Do you have practices in place to clearly see reality?”

The question raises its own question.  Are we willing to consider what is beyond our current practices and beliefs?  It is difficult for many of us (most of us? everyone?) to seriously listen to reality beyond our current situation.  If we are not going to be overwhelmed by the changes in our culture, technology, and regulatory burdens we need to get outside ourselves.  We need to have some way to see clearly what is happening around us.

“How responsive is your organization to new opportunities?”

You recall the old joke:  Question — how many Baptists/Catholics/Lutherans/fill-in-the-blank does it take to change a light bulb? . . . . . . . .

Answer — What’s change?

We need to have the willingness and flexibility to adapt to the changes taking place around us.  We need to have the flexibility (Kinnaman calls it ‘nimbleness’) to take advantage of new opportunities that arise because of those changes.  Change is hard.

“What are we asking people to love?”

With all our fundraising and communication, where are focusing our donors and constituents attention?  Are we focusing them on healthy spiritual growth or turning us in on ourselves?  I think I can see where Kinnaman is going with this question.  I hope he will develop it in more detail.

“Are you prepared to revise your scorecard for impact?”

Can you say ‘outcome measure’?  We can’t continue with a focus on the dollars spent or the number of people in our program as the sole measure of success.  That data is important, but the entire NPO world needs to figure out how to measure what actually changed as a result of the inputs (dollars spent) and outputs (number of people in the program).  This is the topic of a lot of discussion in the NPO community today.

By the way, check out the Barna site and the research they make available for free.

Barna is developing some pages that expand on this discussion.  Check back for more material.  I look forward to more of their thoughts on these issues.

Peering Forward – Technology will change even faster

I’ve been talking about the Winter 2010 Outcomes from Christian Leadership Alliance. You would learn and stretch if you could take a few minutes and browse the issue.

Kevin Ring has a great article, Future-Proof Ministries that talks through some of the current and long-term tech issues.

This is the article that gave the Schmidt and Kurzweil comments I mentioned earlier, saying we are generating more information in two days than in all of history through 2003 and we will have 20,000 years worth of tech change in the next 100 years.

Ring focuses us on the need to pay attention to technology changes at many levels. 

While anyone reading this blog is probably heavily focused on web-based technology, he draws our attention to television and mobile phones as the technology having the biggest impact around the world now.  This is counter-intuitive, but makes sense when you think about it.  In most of the world where there is minimal technology of any kind, television has tremendous educational power.  In places where farmers in the local market know nothing of prices two villages over, mobile phones provide powerful tools to find out whether your goods could sell for higher price down the road or if there are actually some buyers in the opposite direction.  In places where doctors are a two-day walk away, phones can provide a timely diagnosis when you can talk to someone right now who has medical knowledge.  If your ministry works in majority-world places, the highest impact might just be in TV or phones, not some cool, just-released app.

For those of us working in high-tech cultures, Mr. Ring points to three technologies that will have a huge impact.  Quoting him:

“Social media will become the platform upon which people live their lives.”

“Analyticals will allow ministries to access the power of real-time information gathering and analysis.”  (Extracting real-time, usable knowledge from your database will be easier with ever-more powerful computers.)

“Cloud computing will transform the role of ministry IT.”

Peering forward – what is going on around us?

Another great article in the Winter 2010 Outcomes from Christian Leadership Alliance is from La Piana Consulting.  Their research in the wider social service sector has identified five major trends.  Quoting them, the five are:

  • Demographic shifts redefine participation
  • Technological advance abound
  • Networks enable work to be organized in new ways
  • Interest in civic engagement and volunteerism is rising
  • Sector boundaries are blurring

The La Piana team thinks these trends will reinforce each other. It will take an intentional effort to understand these trends and deal with them.

To cope with these developments, they perceive nonprofit organizations will have to expand capacity in three areas. Quoting again, NPOs will need to grow in:

  • how they lead and manage people
  • their facility with new tools and technologies, and
  • their strategic use of partnerships and new organizational structures”

The La Piana team has made their research available online here. I have not yet read the 29 page report but plan to do so soon.

Peering forward – We all need to be Futurists!

The last half of the article by La Piana Consulting in the Winter 2010 Outcomes has a section title that says Be a Futurist.  In this section they talk at length about how organizations can learn about the changes going on, study them, and then adapt. 

This will require studying the changes around us, listening to uncomfortable analysis, and putting forth the serious intellectual effort to grasp new things.  That is essentially becoming a futurist. 

Making that transition will be hard.  My natural tendency is to be more reactive than forward thinking.  That is the approach of most people I hang around with.

For me, the breakthrough idea is when they suggest we all need to be futurists.  We all need to make the transition to studying and analyzing trends and guessing future developments.  That way we can adapt to the rapid and crazy changes instead of continually being washed over by change and feeling like the deer-caught-in-the-headlights (sorry for the mixed metaphors!) 

Putting this into the concept of being a futurist describes the attitudinal change we all need to make.

Peering forward – We need to try really hard to see reality clearly

One of the questions raised by David Kinnaman in the article I discussed earlier is this: “Do you have practices in place to clearly see reality?”

It’s really hard to even ask that question.

You might think it is most difficult to deal with outcome measurement concept.  Doing so is really tough, but by far, the most difficult of Kinnaman’s four questions is whether you have practices to see reality as clearly as you possibly can. 

To see reality clearly means moving beyond our deeply held beliefs and long-time practices.  It means we have to evaluate the very real possibility that we have misunderstood some of the basics.  Maybe, just maybe, we have been wrong in some basic operating assumptions in our business or ministry.

It means getting outside our comfort zone.  We might even have to admit that those rigid fundamentalists, or those wild charismatics, or those tradition-soaked Catholics, or those traditionless Protestants or (shudder!) those people that we disparagingly refer to as cults, are right on some issue and we are wrong.  Maybe we need to learn from those people.

That is really, really hard to do.  I know that is hard for you to do because it is hard for me.

But still. . . . . .

If we are to move our ministry, or business-as-a-ministry, forward in a change-soaked tumultuous environment and have the maximum impact on the kingdom that we possible can, we need to see and understand what is taking place around us.  We need to deal brutally with the facts of changing circumstances and growing comprehension of our world.  Then we urgently need to make some changes so we can adjust ourselves and our ministries accordingly. 

Failing to see reality means our impact shrinks.  And that is not acceptable.

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