As a church leadership team, you might have lots of great ideas, but how can you make sure they actually become reality?
What is an action point?
Simply put, an action point is what’s needed to make ideas a reality. Scott Belsky in his book Making Ideas Happen: overcoming the obstacles between vision and reality puts his finger on a weakness in church life and leadership that many of us, deep down, are aware of.
We often have a long list of mundane and routine things to do and can feel that our biggest challenge is our inability to generate innovative, creative, attention-grabbing ideas to make the church go forward.
Not so says Belsky. He argues that many creative ideas abound, but most don't get anywhere because the savvy of how to make it happen is missing from the agenda. Leaders put many ideas down on paper but time and again few come to fruition. Meetings by the score are held; of elders, deacons, members, congregation or even inter-church. And yet, so little actually emerges. Information overload seems to be the order of the day.
Here’s the problem: few pastors are trained in how to make ideas really effective in practice. I have to confess my own failing here. It was only after a decade of running elders and deacons’ meetings that I realised I could lead more helpfully if I put together a better thought-through agenda. It then took another seven years – or more – to get around to putting action points after each agenda item. Even then I wasn't good at really following things up. Belsky suggests this is key.
Every Item Actioned
Ideas only happen in the church (as in other organisations) if they are action pointed. Every agenda item in every meeting needs to be action pointed. The action point may be, “We will go away and each summarise in 200 words what we think we have learned.” That means it’s okay to have a meeting where mutual understanding is the goal. But ‘talking shops’ without action points aren’t as helpful as we assume. Belsky questions:
- Are our meetings worth regularly scheduling just because we have always done it this way? (think the monthly elders’ meeting for example); and
- Are they worth having at all if no action points emerge?
Now that might be too radical for us, but we can acknowledge the point he is making; pointless meetings can sap a lot of energy and time and not take us forward into gospel effectiveness.1 He also suggests that at the end of the meeting each person present should say what their own personal action point is. So, it isn’t left just to a leader to read them out or send out minutes sometime later with names highlighted for the action people agreed to. Instead, if every group member reads out the action point as they understand it, this gets a far greater degree of personal and group ownership. It is no longer left to the leader to follow everything up. Subsequent meetings can also check things out to see if they were acted on. There is clear accountability. These action points are made more practicable if they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Recorded, and Timed.2 But with individuals now owning these action points, there is a greater likelihood of things happening.
Now, there is a place for delaying decisions of course, what Belsky calls putting them on “the backburner.” These may be important things that will need to come up later – and must not be forgotten. So, the book has insights on how to keep them in the loop.
He also talks about ‘references’ or archiving; that is storing and retrieving the myriad of notes many take and keep for future reference (currently I have files that I think I might need – some nearly 40 years old!). Belsky has some wise things to say that are worth considering – and actioning of course.
He also talks about gaining community backing, and leading well, but it’s his emphasis on action points that really helped me.
I know it seems too simple. Surely good ideas don't fail for lack of action points? But it rings true in my experience.
Seth Godin says on the book’s blurb, ‘This book can simply change your life’. He’s going too far, but I for one wished I had known – and action pointed – all this decades ago.
1. Les McKeown in his latest book, Do/Scale (Do Book Company, 2019) suggests that this doesn’t mean decision-making is rushed, but that implementation is swifter after what he calls HQTBDM: High-Quality Team-Based Decision-Making.
2. I've mentioned the SMART acronym before in an article, but it also has variants: e.g. Specific, Meaningful, Assignable, Relevant and Timed.