(By Dana Allin, Synod Executive for ECO). I was recently re-reading Les McKeown’s book Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization on the Growth Track and Keeping it There. He talks about the life stages of a startup organization. The initial stage is called “Early Struggle” and it is about the challenges that an organization faces in getting off the ground.
I think that first two years was a time of early struggle for us in ECO. After the initial Fellowship gathering in 2011, we had to write our polity, theology, do the things necessary for incorporation, and provide the services that a denomination provides … before we even existed. Then, ECO officially launched in January of 2012 and had to prove that we were a legitimate denomination that was more than a “flash in the pan”. It took five months before our very first congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Washington joined ECO. By the next national gathering in January of 2013 we only had 20 congregations. It was definitely a rich and fulfilling time, but there were certainly struggles as well.
The second stage McKeown writes about is named “Fun”. This is an appropriate name because everyone is having fun at this particular stage and it takes relatively little to keep people happy. I think of the next two years in ECO as the “fun” years. Churches were rapidly joining, people were getting ordained, and new churches were beginning to be planted. It wasn’t always clean and easy, but it was fun!
The next stage, according to McKeown, is “White Water”. The white water stage is still a period of growth. There is still plenty of fun (just like white water rafting is fun!), but there is also some turbulence. It is the time when the organization grows to the point where the process and system that has been in place needs to be transformed in order to meet the demands of the new reality. I think there are two factors that are currently pushing us into white water.
Growth & Change
First, organizationally, we have grown in complexity. In the period of time where we have doubled our number of churches and overall number of covenant partners, we have more than tripled our number of presbyteries. Additionally, most presbyteries are in the second or third generation of leadership, which leaves behind some institutional memory. Also, the flexibility afforded in our polity can make for a sometimes messy process, i.e., the temptation to want to back-fill polity with “one-size” fits all rules. Managing in the midst of these situations can be turbulent!
One way in which we are navigating these white waters is by calling Nate Dreesmann as the Executive Director of Ecclesiastical Support. Nate is working very hard to streamline training processes for various presbytery ministry teams and their leaders. This will be a huge asset to our presbyteries that are primarily run by volunteers. In creating these resources and individually assisting local leaders, he is maintaining the culture and ethos of ECO while helping to ease the work of presbytery leaders.
The second issue that leads to a time of white water is simply the challenges that churches face while doing ministry in the 21st century. As often as we say to the contrary, there is still the hope among congregations that simply joining ECO will revitalize their churches. While I wish we had that ability to snap our fingers and bring about revitalization, we realistically know that only the Holy Spirit can breathe new life into people and congregations.