Opportunity for ELCA Management


There has been a considerable (local) political interest stirred up by the ELCA examination of a few hot-button issues.  From discussion, it was clear that this is not an unexpected action for the ELCA, and the reaction is no surprise either.  It should be accepted as a general indication of a separation of administration from performance-level within the organization. 

From a management-engineering standpoint, this is a source of great stress, and it indicates a substantial organizational inefficiency.  On second look, it is also an opportunity.


Working Foundation

I am a management researcher with expertise in industrial engineering – which applies efficiency engineering disciplines to the structure and operation of organizations.  This further results in technical support for those who will be effective in running organizations.

The subject is management engineering.  The purpose that drives this specialty is technical support for those who have things to gain through operation or direction of the organization.  It results in understandings for the individual manager or leader that support intelligent decisions and actions in terms of a purpose being served.

This is an emerging study.  It is not well established today; it is on the cusp of formal management recognition because of its remarkable potentials for supporting the working manager in being effective.  It addresses what the leader does as a work requirement, and a source of value for the organization.  The same approaches a divergence between top and bottom of the organization as a loss of focus, and potential loss of performance.

To put this into perspective, we are dealing with a challenge that arises because of a division between the leadership provided at the top of the organization, and the personal guidance accepted by those at the bottom.  The administration is marching in one direction; the people who are the church are not marching in that direction.  In common terminology, the ELCA clergy generally tend to be more liberal than their congregations; and organizational elements that are more loaded with clergy tend to be still more liberal.

We are being urged to enter into an administrative process that will lead to having the more contentious of several issues being brought to the front for resolution.

This is unlikely to accomplish a good result.  For a reality check, administrative organizations do not work in that fashion; they work internally, not externally.  As a group, they provide guidance and direction.  In this effort they are only testing the water to see what they can accomplish in the way of promoting their own leadership decisions; and have little interest in enforcing any conflicting decisions initiated in the pews.

Efficiency engineering has another perspective.  There is no present basis for ending the conflict in viewpoints, no path for bringing the efforts all to a single focus on what we will do as a larger organization.  Also, there is no less efficient way to do anything than to arrange a competition.  That division of purpose is what happens when management refuses to manage.

The deeper challenge is that administration is refusing to manage.  They do not accept what the organization is thought to be doing by those who are its foundation; and will not work to make it happen.  This is an incredible opportunity for others, those who are willing to step into management of the larger religious organization, bringing the resources of the organization to focus on a specified performance.

I specifically note that the action of the ELCA central organization is creating rifts in the congregations.  The corrective action will do the opposite, bring the resources of the ELCA to a focus that will preserve and strengthen the congregations.



Why would someone feel it valuable to put forth the effort to assume management over such an organization?  The answer is in the definition of “effective.”  There are those who make a living out of serving religious organizations.  There are others who are willing to volunteer their efforts to be effective in this arena.  They need little more emphasis to volunteer to take it over – should the opportunity arise.

The incentive initiates with the purpose being served by a religious organization; the reason that it exists.  This is an administrative organization that exists for a purpose set by its founders.  It exists on the basis of volunteer donations.  Without voluntary support, it would rapidly cease to exist.

The common arrogance of administration in modern business practice is where leaders of the administrative body feel they can set the purpose for the organization.  This is no more true in a religious organization than in a business that sells cleaning services.  The only ones who define value are those who receive product.  It does not matter what the central organization wants to provide as product, the customer is the ultimate determiner of value.

So what will the customers of the ELCA services value as product?  The answer does not change with the determinations of the central administration.  For this organization to seek to redefine its product to meet its own idea of value is a common weakness of all modern administrative groups.  It is overstepping of authority because there is a belief that no one can locally challenge the direction that the administrative leaders choose to follow.

Now for the deeper incentive: for anyone to receive property from a person for one purpose, but to redirect it to another purpose, is a common-law crime called conversion.  It involves a deep and intentional breach of trust.  It is immoral by almost any measure.

To put this into perspective, when it comes to treating someone else’s money this way, the term is embezzlement, and it is so serious a wrong as to be addressed as a felony.

The behavior of the central church administration in pursuing some of the directions taken is not simply immoral, nor even amoral; it is criminal.  To give this weight in a religious format, consider that the Lord does not solicit opinions or host discussions to determine what is right. 

These leaders have every reason to know that what they are doing is going to raise divisions; and that this is not what they were put there to do.  Pleading ignorance of what people really expect of them is little more than a statement of incompetence when it comes to their position.  If they are ignorant, they should long ago have done what was necessary to cure that ignorance.


Base Knowledge

Engineering supports intelligent and effective leadership.  It is based on providing such understandings of a situation in need of decision that the leader is able to determine a best course of action.  Engineering recognizes that this course of action is a matter of choice; and that the position of the engineer is technical support providing a basis for intelligent decisions.

Reality is a harsh teacher.  It is always better to learn from history than from one’s own experiences.  As mentioned in our congregational meeting, the divergent social approach to scriptural foundation is a persistent challenge to the conservative nature of the faith, and it arises most visibly in administration.  It will not be removed, or indeed even challenged as a driver, by any process available in administratively planned interaction between central administration and congregations.  If you want to cure this criminal misdirection of ELCA funds, the effort will involve decisions to take actions in other forums.

Our administrative structure is in place to insulate its leaders from responsibility, not to provide a working forum for alternative views.  For example, we deal as a congregation – which was why Kim Shultz’s motion to have his personal statement honored by the church organization was so soundly defeated.  Merit was not the issue, but how we, as a body, would have to deal with the central organization. 

Change at the administrative level does not now arise from the congregations, it is generated at the senior level.  If there is no reasonable possibility for holding the central organization to account, any responsibility will require a continuing pressure.  Also in the present situation, a weak sense of direction at the top of the organization can be steered by a relatively small pressure.

The general suggestion is for the Congregations, through local leadership, to assume an effective position as the steering force.  This need only address hot-button issues, as this will affect other areas as well.  It will involve a major paradigm shift, one where the congregations establish a forum where their voices have the opportunity to direct senior-level decisions.


Customer-Product Analysis – the study of value

Engineering serves management as the gaining of something through the efforts of others.  What we are to gain is a question of what will have value. 

Management engineering supports a simple two-step process for establishing value.  First follow organizational resources back to a source, finding where incoming value originates.  Discover the ones whose determinations and decisions affect what is given and how much, and you have found the functional customers.  Then discover what it is that these decision-makers value in their determination to deliver resources to the organization (and which also are recognized as coming from the organization) and you have found the functional products.

In an ultimately practical sense, the organizational operation that determines the health and continuation of the organization is defined as delivery of functional products to functional customers.

Application to the central administrative structure of the ELCA finds funds being provided by congregations through synods.  We were just witnesses to how this works in our local congregational budget process.  Funds were committed in spite of challenges to the value of what the central administrative bodies were doing.  The only alternative raised was breach with the ELCA – a high level of division instead of the low level divisions being consciously created by ELCA leadership.  The question of personal sense of value was not accepted as a basis for anything but a personal decision.

The existing administrative process for funding insulates the central organization from responsibility for delivery of value to those who provide its operating funds.

But let’s step back from this and look further.  The Congregation has no money of its own.  It does not buy and sell to get its income; but receives it from members and visitors in terms of donations.  We have a second layer of giving, a source where members receive value from their local church organizations sufficient to support their giving.  We have a second value flow between the local churches and the members.

With this, we see the point of leverage for change.  We have essentially two organizations, one that answers to its basic source of funds, and one that has managed to insulate itself from responsibility to those same givers – even if they are its ultimate source of funds.  We have two organizations, which accounts for how they can have different purposes and different bases for decision.


Who is the ELCA?

To open the door to a direction for action, we have two different organizations that claim to be the ELCA.  We have the Churches with their congregations.  We have a central administrative organization.  If they were in full agreement, there would be no problem to be resolved.  Anywhere that they are not in agreement is where the benefit of change can be realized.

The answer to whether the ELCA is defined by local congregations or a central administration might appear to be an involved legal question – right up until some conflict brings it up to a jury (individual people).  There is nothing like a show of administrative arrogance ( that leaders have some sort of right to seize upon what belongs to others ) to put the matter to rest.  The central administration just might be accepted as in control of the legal name of the organization – but when it comes to the right to claim property, or to spend donations as they please over the objection of those who give, there will be another answer.  There is less than a 5% chance that any jury would support the central administration.

Who has the right to determine what the ELCA believes as a central faith.  The right of the central administration is contained in its founding documents, or in representing the people of the ELCA.  It has no inherent right as a stand-alone entity to change from its founding documents, or to challenge its own membership’s beliefs.  We have already addressed that as a form of criminal behavior.

The only ones with a right to determine a new direction are the people, and that through their congregations – the working arm of the ELCA, and the ultimate reason for its existence.  To put this into a more practical perspective, the ELCA could still exist as a loose association of churches without a central organization.  The central organization would rapidly become a non-entity without the congregations.

The point of action is through asking the question – has the central administration drifted away from the ELCA?  The answer is the obvious – in some minor respects, they have.  While it is certainly not so severe that it would be reasonable to declare the operation to be abandoned, it has wandered from the path in some respects


The Action to Take

The organizational challenge is a failure in management.  The cure will be the establishment of management.  The cure will put the congregations into the position where they can (for at least exceptional actions) effect the behavior and decision process being performed in central administrative groups.

The congregations are not expected to manage central administrative groups, but are expected to review what these groups do and serve to keep them on track with the tenets of the ELCA as the membership understand the purpose standing behind the church.

The action to make this happen is also fairly obvious due to the nature of the existing relationships.  It involves removing the insulation that has allowed the central organization to drift away from central beliefs.

This only requires a one time action; and it will be fueled by the hot-button issue that central administration has, in its arrogance, raised to challenge the peace of the congregations.

There is no existing strong central management; if the congregations provide for a strong management, it will become effective.  The technique is the obvious one, customers setting value determinations upon those who provide.  The resolution is through congregations telling the central organization the limits of the ELCA, and providing a willingness and direction for potential enforcement.

The challenge is in customer relations.  The challenge is in assuring the value that the ELCA provides to those who will return operating income to the larger church.  Ideally, the ELCA central administrative effort will add value rather than challenging it.  Their current failure in this is the driver for a corrective action.

This should be especially appealing to the local church leaders; it involves bringing people together rather than attempting to do things that will drive people into factions or camps, or out of the church.

The idea that our central organizations are sucking up value is not a speculation that will have to wait upon what they are expected to release later; it is indicated by the heated congregational meeting – which was caused by their actions and by their failure to act.  The damage to the peace and solidarity of ELCA congregations is already being experienced.  Criminal redirection of religious emphasis is like any other criminal act – people are damaged, even if the crime is not fulfilled.

I also note that inertia applies to organizations as well as to physical objects.  When an organization is moving in a direction, it takes application of force to change that direction.

For the efficient application of force, it must have a direction.  Competitive or combative forces may prevent action, but are not effective for getting things done.  Effective force will be applied by bringing people together rather than separating them into sides and arranging a competition within the congregations.  Division is how you prevent a congregation from accomplishing things.


Step One: Establishing the Foundation

There are two parts to the foundation.  The first is to establish the rules.  In this case, the rules are the limits to which the ELCA organization will adhere.  It is to be established in the Congregation, not to be requested from a body that can’t even decide on its own proper direction.  The statement of the foundation for the ELCA faith is to be set – with the guidance of the same foundation documents used by the faith, and with such statements as will make determination for areas in question.  This statement of foundation is to be broad and supportable.

Most especially, it is not to be a statement of personal faith; it is to be a statement of the faith that people come into an ELCA church to have presented back to them, and in which the expect to share.  It is a statement of the value people expect from the ELCA.

From management engineering application of the pareto principle, the statement is to be so acceptable that 80% or more (of those voting) of the adult members of the Congregation will accept it as a valid and definitive statement.

The key for this (80%) figure is that those items that are acceptable at this level are not simply popular, they become a mandate.  You don’t run an organization by popular acclamation, but you do respond to a mandate from your organization’s customers. 

This foundation will also include the leash.  It will pave the way for congregations to have their own “comptroller” at the synod level.  That comptroller will receive synod payments in escrow, and distribute them to specific uses as approved by the Congregations.

This approval will be gained through synod-budget approval from congregations.  The budgets are generated by the synod, and passed to the comptroller for action, with special statement on the level of detail to be covered.  The comptroller transmits these to the congregations for approval.  Everything that is not “vetoed” by a majority of congregations (a positive act on their part) will be considered as approved for funding. 

Note that this allows the normal operation of the synod to go forward as planned with only a minor disruption necessitated by review.  Any attempt to step out of line, and pursue alternative purposes, is likely to cause delay, and may well lead to actual refusals to fund proposed actions.  This is like lead in the keel of the ship, it keeps it upright and sailing in a planned direction.

As an initial statement that might be approved at the desired level:

“The ELCA is the whole people who accept and practice their Christian Faith in the forms and traditions of the ELCA, and who have chosen to align themselves with this body of Christian believers through normal entry into an ELCA congregation.

 The ELCA is founded on the Word and the Sacraments.  No challenges to these shall be tolerated among those who represent the ELCA, for the raising of confusion and conflict divides God’s people.

The Bible that was in use at its founding is the unalterable and irreplaceable source of truth for ELCA Church doctrine and practice.  It may be translated and restated, but its truth may not be challenged or denied.  While men may differ in their understandings of what is written, it is foundation that the meaning and the intent of the written word is inherent in its writing, and not subject to other writings or deliberations among men.

The sacraments of the Faith are foundation; and are fixed in both purpose and in application.  They may not be altered or modified except in accord with the demands of scripture.  They may not be applied or given application outside of customary uses.  These sacraments are entrusted by the ELCA to its officers and representatives; and misuse or misapplication will not be tolerated.

While the validity of other faiths may be recognized and honored, those who represent the ELCA may not abandon or retreat from reliance upon the Word and the Sacraments, nor may they teach or publicly present  doctrines under color of the ELCA that deny the validity or sufficiency of Word and Sacrament.

The ELCA is a Faith, a collection of people who have accepted the forms and traditions of the ELCA for the purpose of worship and witness.  The fundamental administrative unit of the ELCA is a local church, a congregation, meeting for the purpose of corporate worship, and engaging in the accepted and traditional practices of the faith.  Higher-level administrative units exist and are supported for the purpose of supporting ELCA members and congregations in their fulfillment of their faith-based responsibilities.

Giving is a function and a scriptural responsibility of the people of the ELCA.  They are to be encouraged to give to effect; and they are entitled to direct their giving to the benefit of the ELCA based on such avenues of need or benefit as the central organization may identify or make available.

The congregations are the primary representatives of the people.  The congregations owe support and guidance to the members through seeking out proper pastoral care, and through management of giving opportunities to assure that giving supports the ELCA, its people and its founding principles. ”

Congregations will review and approve administrative budgets and empower administration-level fiscal agents to distribute funds to approved ELCA and Synod-level operations and to their identified causes.

It is crucial that this be a congregation-level product, and not one produced by central administration.  The fact that it is generated for a specific Congregation of an ELCA church is what gives it weight and substance.  It is to initiate an instruction to administration, not to accept the ultimate leadership of a centralized administrative organization.

A congregational vote supporting the use of the statement is the turn-key that starts the ball rolling – if 80% will agree that this is a good and effective foundation for the ELCA as an organization.


Step Two: Establishing a Customer Base

From another application of the pareto principle, there must be a customer base if there is to be any action from the congregational level.  There must be a significant acceptance of the validity of the foundation prepared in step one.

Significance starts at 20% of the congregations in a Synod.  These can be selected to be those most likely to accept the foundation as the original congregation has done.

Significance is reached when that 80% threshold of support is reached in more than 75% of the congregations in which it is presented.  At this level of support, there is an effective mandate from a significant minority – and the implied promise that it can become a general mandate.  That is the goal of Step Two, to become the tail that is big enough to wag the dog.

While this limited customer base is being established, there is likely to be notice from ELCA administrative organizations – coupled with concern.  This is a direct an frontal assault on the authority of the central administration to do whatever it decides is best, and that has the potential to initiate a very negative response from some of the leadership.

The most likely response will be in the form of a suggestion that the initiating congregation might want to leave the ELCA.  “If you don’t like it, then leave!”  This is not a genuine offer and should be sent back with the obvious response, that you will only leave if you find the Congregation to be out of step with other ELCA congregations.  Total denial of their administrative authority is both proper and effective at this point in development.

The truth is that the administrative organization is itself divided and ineffective.  That is why you are taking action.  Its inability to determine the effective direction is a further invitation to continue development.

The divisive nature of this action is also its strength.  It will divide the efforts at Synod and ELCA central.  There will be those who breathe a sigh of relief that they aren’t called to stand alone against the storms of change, and others who will take umbrage at even the suggestion of someone else achieving an effective voice in opposition to what they choose to do.  I expect administration to be carefully neutral.  The last thing they need is to become part of the problem that has initiated this root-level action. 


Step Three: Establishing a Customer Consensus

Once the customer base is established, there is a basis for political action.  There is no longer a need for the high level of consensus from other congregations, only for approval.  The foundation is delivered to other congregations requesting either a general support or lack of support.  The action will complete when there is response from 80% of the congregations, and only popularity is required for any further individual congregational approvals.  This widens the customer base.

With this approved, a congregational comptroller is elected/hired-to-serve by the action and general approval of the congregations.  This person is to receive the funds on behalf of the congregations for direction to Synod-ELCA level efforts in accord with approved budgetary guidance.  The Comptroller is to be paid from funds submitted to the Synod; and it will have to have its own account.  Note that it is entirely possible to hire the current synod finance manager for this.  This shifts loyalties, not functions.

Can a congregation still directly support the Synod without going through this comptroller?  Of course – but then they have lost their voice in what the Synod is doing with the funds they provide.

Can a congregation individually pressure the Synod by withholding their approval?  You bet they can, but only as they represent many more.  This, however, is not all that much stronger a control than before, it just has a more effective way for the congregation to assure that its voice receives proper attention.

Will the synod represent the people of the synod?  Everything they do as a funded project or direction will have the approval of the people.  They will be far stronger at representing the people than are other synods, and be better equipped to speak for those they serve.  This will increase their potency in dealing with other elements of the larger organization.


Step Four: Publication

The goal is establishing effective management where it now is weak.  This is not just for the local synod, but addresses the larger organization.  The plan of action and result is published to other congregations, with the potential for securing the same sort of control over the use of their funds.  They will be facing the same sort of challenges, but will have a working example.

The action to this point only solves the challenge at the level of the Synod.  It does, however, establish a changed model for organization, with an extremely potent foundation.  Strong management replaces weak management, and the central ELCA organization will have to respond to prevent total loss of top-down control.

In specific, our Synod will speak on covered issues with the support of the congregations, and that is a pretty frightening thing to a central organization that has otherwise insulated itself from having to answer to those who control the purse strings. 

To prevent the same sort of control from being imposed by the synod comptrollers in response to customer demands, the logical step is to create their own comptroller to receive funds from the Synods.  By having this be an officer of the senior organization, rather than a representative of customers, it will be possible to retain some additional assurance that its central efforts are not controlled from below in the organization.  Otherwise, the model will be to only deliver funds in escrow, and demand budgetary explanation before committing them. 

The freedom of the senior organization from constraint, of course, is only partly true.  It is very likely that the Synods, in order to assure their support from congregations, will demand ELCA comptroller budget reports that they can include with their submissions to the congregations they represent.  It is only where they are not forthcoming that the escrow delivery will become a likely response.

Member-based decisions are likely to remain indirect in effect, but the desired result should still be accomplished.  If the central ELCA organizational element is pushing things that are offensive or divisive for the members, it is likely to find its use of ELCA funds being challenged by local administrative authorities to keep from having to answer to “customer groups” for their misdirection of effort.



Analysis and Development by

Jesse W. Brogan, Management Engineer