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We need to reconstruct the Church

28 February 2014

John Tuckett says that time is running out for the Church of England. It requires organisational transformation if it is to survive

ALL organisations like to claim that they are "unique". The Church of England is no exception. But how unique is the Church compared with other public organisations that work for the public good?

My experience is with large-scale-change programmes in the public sector, such as the NHS and the Ministry of Defence, and the part I am playing currently is to bring about the dissolution of three dioceses in West Yorkshire, and create a new entity.

I am no theologian, but my experience across many public and not-for-profit organisations does qualify me to consider how the Church, with its Christian outlets in every community, its many staff (paid and unpaid), and budgets of many millions of pounds, contrasts with similar bodies.

My approach is to assess the "fitness" of the Church to thrive in the 21st century, by holding up three "mirrors" that represent the hallmarks of a modern agile organisation.

Mirror One: A compelling vision with clear goals which are achievable

UNDOUBTEDLY, there are plenty of national aspirations - the current goals of spiritual and numerical growth being promoted by the Archbishops and General Synod are among them - but arguably there is no overarching vision or Church-wide strategy to deliver outcomes that are increasingly the norm of other organisations.

Does this matter? If the Church is happy for its total output to be the sum of what each diocese achieves on its own, then, perhaps, no. Looking at what the Church is achieving now, the trends on indicators such as congregation sizes and levels of giving are static or downwards. Public demand for what the Church currently offers is a very different picture from the ever-growing demand for, say, NHS and local-authority services. This may seem an unfair comparison, but how an organisation's outputs are sought, whatever their nature, says much about their relevance.

Mirror Two: A simple structure with clear lines of accountability, and responsibility at all levels

THE structure of the Church, with its 44 dioceses linked to a "centre" of General Synod, Archbishops' Council, et al., seems straightforward. But add other central Church House departments, Lambeth and Bishopthorpe Palaces, and the autonomous nature of a diocese, and understanding just who is responsible for what becomes more complex.

Within a diocese, the massof committees, boards, and sub-committees, coupled with the synodical structure at diocesan and deanery levels, makes it especially challenging to identify where responsibility and accountability actually lie.

In such situations, decision-making will "float" from one level to another, making for bureaucratic, slow processes that are a far cry from any modern norm of best practice. There is also a risk that the valuable resources donated by the public are supporting inefficient organisations, and are not being used to best effect.

Mirror Three: The culture and values that drive decision-making

DECISION-MAKING processes within the Church show three prominent characteristics. The first is representation. Every part of the Church has a say in key decisions, through elected representatives, whether at synods or in the many diocesan boards and committees, often enshrined in Church Measures, but this makes for numerically very large, and potentially unwieldy bodies.

The second is a strong desire for consensus - doing everything possible to ensure that everyone agrees.

The third is historical heritage and maintaining continuity - only stopping something as a final resort. (Here, the Church is similar to the NHS, which still agonises over stopping ongoing health-care in order to reinvest elsewhere.)

THESE characteristics can re-sult in high levels of commitment when decisions are finally made. But decision-making can be time-consuming, and inherently opposed to radical change. In comparison with other organisations, two characteristics are noticeably less apparent.

First, ensuring that relevant skills and expertise are available to address complex issues, and that competency is as important as representation. Second, the use of evidence from research or performance-management pro-cesses to inform decision-making. There are signs of this emerging, but the Church has a long way to go in catching up with contemporary counterparts.

The evidence of the three mirrors, taken together, suggests that the Church has significant issues to address that are of a system-wide nature, and affect all parts of the Church.

Is restructuring - changing boundaries and the numbers of bodies, so often favoured by organisations - the solution? My experience is that restructuring only has real benefits when it enables people to do things in new ways, to achieve new results.

Restructuring for the sake of it is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, and many restructurings in the public sector failed because they were responses to short-term financial, or political, pressures, without new goals or ways of working.

If restructuring is not the answer, then we enter the realms of significant organisational transformation, whereby the entire "system" of the Church is overhauled and renewed.

This is what is happening in West Yorkshire, where the complete dissolution of three dioceses is, in effect, a letting-go of the past and outdated practices as far as is possible, in order to allow a rebuilding and reinvention of how a diocese works.

A TRANSFORMATION agenda for the Church as a whole would focus on three aspects:

1. Constructing a meaningful vision for the Church, using tan-gible measurable outcomes, and success factors that demonstrate progress and what change is being achieved.

2. Deciding the critical processes that the Church wishes to use in achieving its vision; and in this, being radical, and going be-yond "simplifying" into reinvention.

3. Designing a system that supports and enables, with clear accountabilities and responsibilities, with all parts working together so the output is greater than the sum of its parts.

Transformation on this scale for a complete system is rarely undertaken, and must be carefully planned, and the implications thought through. This requires expertise the Church does not have, yet would have to be acquired and paid for.

This is not work for well-meaning amateurs. Also, any change must be driven from the top, with the commitment of all at the top. Anything less only results in subterfuge and dissension - undermining implementation.

Furthermore, radical change affects everyone. No one can stand aside and say, "This is not for me". Finally, transformation needs confidence to move forward without knowing all the answers in advance - with a willingness to enjoy confusion as being the source of new thinking.

SOME organisations wait for an external event, like a change of government or financial crisis, to precipitate major change. This is high risk, as the event is often more draconian than was ever imagined or wanted. In this case, organisations are left running to catch up, no longer in charge of their own destiny.

Successful organisations initiate radical change themselves, while they are still on the up". They recognise that there is aways a need for revitalisation, and re-invention, and that to carry on as before while expecting a different outcome is organisational insanity.

The Church may not be on the "up" but - if it is not to be dictated to by events, or governments - it needs to start planning major radical change sooner, not later. Time is running out. The real question is not whether such change should be adopted, but can the Church afford not to?

How unique does the Church want to be? It can claim that it is so different from other organisations that their experience can be ignored, and it can carry on as before.

Or else the Church can show the world how unique it really is, by having the courage, the confidence, and the faith to take organisational transformation way beyond what many others do - and explore new ways in which it professes the Christian faith.

John Tuckett is programme manager for the emerging West Yorkshire & the Dales diocese. Previously, he led transformation programmes for the Ministry of Defence, and the Prison and Probation Services. Before that, he was a CEO of health authorities.

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