Merry Christmas from MSC

To all the congregational leaders, staff and pastors that believed in evidence-based discernment and the services of Mustard Seed Consulting this year, thank you!

Merry Christmas with the biggest of wishes that the awareness you have of the Good News of Great Joy and the perspectives of your people gathered through the Church Assessment Tool (CAT) will be a blessing to you in the new year ahead.EF53D267-FEA6-4FB4-89CF-C165DD972B09

Leadership Clarity

To be effective, leaders must have an accurate understanding of the starting point for the organizations they lead. This is especially true for Christian organizations where the incarnational model established by Jesus impels us to enter into the lives of the people we want to serve. If leaders have widely differing estimates of where people are, it can be an underlying source of conflict, reduced giving, and low morale. (From Holy Cow! Consulting)

One Conversation at a Time

“While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a (church) a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.

What gets talked about in an organization and how it gets talked about determines what will or won’t happen.

Why conversations? Fierce believes that success or failure occurs, gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”
-Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations

Mustard Seed helps churches start crucial conversations for many purposes. Contact us today.

The Conflicted Congregation

(Repost from by Emily Swanson, President)

All congregations have conflict. So, the question really isn’t “is there conflict?” – we Unknown-7.jpegknow it is there. The real question is “how do you manage the conflict you have?” Or put another way, is this congregation a place where people can say “I was wrong and I am sorry” and receive an open and loving response in return. High levels of conflict that remain unmanaged or unhealed in congregations can be painful for everyone. They often result in a loss of missional focus, a loss of membership, burnt-out leadership, a loss of the sense of family, and a deterioration in our spiritual life together as a congregation.

The questions that bring conflict to light in the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) ask whether folks are feeling there is a disturbing amount of conflict, if they move through conflict by mutual effort, if there is a healthy tolerance of differing beliefs and opinions, and if there is frequently a small group of people that oppose how the majority wants to move forward. Sometimes these questions in the CAT will reveal that a congregation has become extremely conflicted. When we review the data with these congregations there are often tears, as well as the frustration of feeling so stuck in the conflict, and many times, deep sighs and a statement that “it is nice to just finally admit that there is conflict out loud.” We always say to these congregations this is your story today but it doesn’t have to be your story tomorrow with the warning that the road ahead will take commitment and intentional steps.

In 2015, a congregation in New England took the CAT while in a pastoral transition. When it was compared to other 1,500 churches in our database, their dashboard indicated that there were in the 11% in conflict, meaning that 89% of the other congregations in our database were managing their conflict better. This high level of unmanaged conflict had bleed into everything – leaving them with low hospitality scores (8%, or 92% of the other churches were more hospitable), low morale (24%), and affecting all of the other performance areas where we want them to be doing well.
After working through the review of their data with the support of their Synod, this congregation had to decide what to do. Prayerfully, they chose to own the data, recognizing that it was time to deal with their conflict and started their new story.

This congregation realized that during this time of pastoral transition they would need help to clearly address and respond to the conflict. They couldn’t rush forward to call a new pastor without serious self-reflection and initial steps. They instead hired a skilled Intentional Interim who led a series of cottage meetings, openly discussed concerns, and directly addressed what had become “the two sides” engaging conversation and reconciliation.

The congregational leadership then prepared an honest profile to call a new pastor. They were better able to articulate both the skills needed in their next pastor and the challenges they still faced as a congregation. The congregation was transparent about the tremendous steps they’d taken with the strong leadership of their interim, acknowledging that there was still work to be done in moving forward.

When they found their new permanent pastoral leadership, that person came with the experience they needed – because the congregation knew exactly what they truly needed and were honest with their pastoral candidates. Their new pastor brought experience, strong mediation and communication skills, and a great deal of enthusiasm and energy for ministry. Together, they continue to face some challenges but the match is strong and the foundation for moving forward was strongly set with their Intentional Interim.

This same congregation ran the CAT again and we sent them their new reports two weeks ago. This is their new dashboard – their morale is in the 79%, conflict levels are at the 55%, and look at the hostility score moving up: west barnstable 2017

This is a congregation that has made enormous strides in the last two years. If you asked this congregation, their middle judicatory team, or their pastors, I am sure they would say it has been a lot of work. But their ability to say “this is our story today but it wouldn’t and it can’t be our story tomorrow” has allowed God to move them closer towards true healing.

I would like to extend my gratitude to both the congregation and the New England Synod for allowing us to share in this work. When we see the data tell this kind of story we jump out of our chairs at Holy Cow! Consulting because this is why we do what we do – not so that congregations can have a lot of numbers and statistics, but instead, so that congregations can see where they truly are now so they can become and move to who they are called to be.

-Emily Swanson, President of Holy Cow! Consulting

One Conversation at a Time

Evidence based decision making for churches is not different from conversations that business, families, even marriages need to have for increased effectiveness and satisfaction.

Susan Scott, author of “Fierce Conversations – Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One conversation at a Time” says this:
“Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you can have.

To seek out the perspectives and desires of others with whom you share goals and community is a worthy endeavor.

This is critically important for churches. But where to start? Gaining evidence about people’s perspectives and desires via a credible data collecting assessment is a worthy starting place. Then, with evidence in hand, engaging in conversation – sharing stories and listening to one another results in awareness previously unavailable. This is organizational intelligence which makes available evidence based discernment for making decisions and plans together.

In this approach, all voices are invited. Everyone has a place at the table’s conversation.

Again, Scott says “Seeking out people with different views, different perspectives, different ideas is often challenging, because it requires us to set aside judgment and open our minds. But we have to remind ourselves that to get beyond where we are, where I believe most of us are, we would all be be well served to choose our music carefully, to stop talking and listen to one another.”

For churches that enlist the services of Mustard Seed Consulting, the important things get defined, evidence is presented and conversation ensures. Scott says “Remember that what gets talked about and how it gets talked about determines what will happen. Or won’t happen. And that we succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”

Mustard Seed Consulting works with churches seeking trusted insight and guidance for leadership to discover relevant, data driving evidence to address a wide-range of endeavors and challenges for effective and meaningful change.


It’s tempting to think of faith as a kind of magic formula. If you muster up enough of it, you’ll get rich, stay healthy, and live a contented life with automatic answers to all your prayers. But life does not work according to such neat formulas. As proof, the author of Hebrews presents a stirring reminder of what constitutes “true faith” by reviewing the lives of some Old Testament giants of faith (Hebrews. 11).

As a result of their faith, some heroes triumphed: They routed armies, escaped the sword, survived lions. But others met less happy ends: They were flogged, stoned, sawed in two. The chapter concludes, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised”

The picture of faith that emerges does not fit into an easy formula. Sometimes it leads to victory and triumph. Sometimes it requires a gritty determination to “hang on at any cost.” Of such people, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (v. 16).

What our faith rests on is the belief that God is in ultimate control and will indeed keep promises—whether that happens in this life or the next.

Trusting Leadership

People follow leaders they trust. When churches have weathered the storm of failed pastoral leadership, people  are understandably challenged to put their trust in someone else. Then it is that those responsible for governance need data driven insight to have accurate evidence on people’s perceptions and perspectives in order to move forward with confidence, while regaining people’s trust.

The connection of leaders to church members when strong, can be an effective pathway to navigating change with positive outcomes. Lasting change cannot be effective with a less-than-trustworthy leader.

Leaders that engage in evidence based discernment that engages all members in offering their voice, perceptions and insights have the greatest opportunity for results that prosper a congregation’s future.

Escellent tools are available today for evidence based discernment are available to faith communities and other non profits.