Avoiding A Legacy Of “Too Little Too Late”


To: The Right Reverend James Cowan
From: Dr. Gary Nicolosi & the DCDT
May 26, 2009


And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” Do I dare?”…
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

T.S. Elliot From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

During the past four months the members of the Diocesan Congregational Development Team (the DCDT/the Team) have been working to carry out the mandate we were given by Synod. Yesterday the Team met to conduct an indepth review of the Parish Annual Reports. It turned out to be a very grim task. Overall, but with some notable exceptions, there was very little joy in what we found, and in what we were forced to conclude. Namely:

• that even Pollyanna would be hard pressed to continue to convince herself that the status quo is an option for our Diocese; and
• that we are in danger of leaving a legacy of having done too little too late!

As a consequence, this memorandum is in the form of a request that the DCDT’s mandate, and our existing approach to bringing about needed change in the Diocese be modified and strengthened.

In the following sections of this document I set out, in brief point form, what we believe must happen, and soon.


Please approach what follows with the understanding that the members of the DCDT applaud what the leadership of our Diocese has done in the past several years to begin to confront the challenges the Church faces. In 2004 it took real courage to set in motion the work of the DMRT, and subsequently the work of the DMRIT, and now the DCDT. These were clearly timely, mission-critical interventions.

However, 2004 is now five years ago and we have not made discernable progress. Therefore, we need to change our approach and immediately set about to develop and implement a robust, realistic and bold change strategy.

More specifically, we need to immediately undertake to transform the Diocese’s organizational and operational framework and stop approaching this as a transactional exercise. Here are some of the reasons why:

• The transactional approach is driven by a managerial mindset; it is tactical and can be effective if only incremental changes are required.
• The transformational approach is driven by a leadership mindset; it is strategic in nature and responds to situations where bold, radical change is needed.

The former sees us looking at the patient through the large end of the telescope at a narrow landscape dominated by threats. The latter sees us looking through the small end of the telescope at a broad vista full of opportunities for those who are prepared to make sacrifices and bear pain.

Additional changes in our frame of reference for this essential undertaking are as follows:

• We need to view the patient as the Diocese, while continuing to care deeply about each individual parish.
• We need to quickly get on with shifting resources from marginal activities to fund strategic initiatives. Experiment, and live with the resulting wins and learn from the losses.
• We need to have a realistic plan for ensuring that our clergy, and others who serve on our behalf, are, to the extent possible, treated well should their circumstances change as a result of transformation.
• In designing the new Diocesan framework we must stop talking about “the new way to do Church”. Instead, we need to, to quote Cicero, “Begin acting our way to a new way of thinking, as opposed to thinking our way to a new way of acting. We can do this without throwing the baby out with the bathwater). We need to “Preserve the Core” while “Stimulating Progress”.

We have to stop the bleeding and create a sustainable platform for growth. Based on my current understanding of our strategy for bringing about needed change, I suggest that it is based on a flawed assumption. That assumption is that by attempting to grow each parish by 2% each year we will survive. With all due respect, that won’t feed the bulldog that is nipping at our heels. Simply do the math: Since the 1960’s we have been losing adherents at the rate of 11% a year.

What we need is a two-stage strategy:

• In Stage One we must create a sustainable organizational, operational and financial framework for the Diocese while re-visioning what Stage Two should look like.
• Then we will have the energy and focus required to journey out of our wilderness in Stage Two. This shift in where we focus our energies begins with a shift in our collective Frame of Reference for the task ahead, as depicted in Table 1.

Changing Our Frame of Reference

Envisioning healthy Parishes Envisioning a healthy Diocese
Growing each Parish Growing the Diocese
Growing each Parish by 2%/year. Growing some Parishes (differentially according to their existing reality), and taking different action with other Parishes.
Focusing first on growth, Parish by Parish Stopping the bleeding, by focusing:
• first on creating a Diocesan model that is sustainable; and
• then on growth.
A two-stage strategy
Delaying decisions for months and years Courageous, expeditious action
Incremental, transactional change Bold, decisive, transformational change
Allowing Parish resources to atrophy Shifting resources from marginal activities to mission critical/strategic priorities.
No apparent strategy or resources for ensuring that those who are negatively impacted by change are kept whole to the greatest extent possible A robust, well resourced strategy for ensuring wholeness
Feeling vulnerable because their will be negative consequences An acceptance of the fact that at times you have to die to live, and that every beginning ends something

We need bold, radical change! Tinkering at the margins will only prolong the agony.


It is my considered opinion that the cost of staying with our current change strategy will see us pay a much steeper and more painful price than if we grab the nettle and lead a transformational change.

Alternative A: Transactional

• The Diocese’s current strategy; 2% growth, etc.
• Gentle urgings, “consultative and voluntary” change
• Tactical
• “Managerial” approach
• Locus of control is with the Parish
• Optimistic

Alternative B: Transformational

• Bold, radical, decisive
• Visionary
• Strategic
• Locus of control is with the Diocese
• “Leadership” approach

I leave it to you to do the math. If you do, please let me know what you conclude.

COSTS                                          ALTERNATIVE A          ALTERNATIVE B
1. Human;clergy and lay
2. Financial
3. Lost opportunities
4. Leadership Credibility
5. Spiritual
6. Other?


If we agree to move forward with transformational leadership mindset, it will be essential that we craft a compelling narrative, a story that engages our people in how we came to this juncture, the edge of the Red Sea, and how we will cross that Sea. The narrative must:

• confront the denial and complacency that stalls progress;
• name the fear and the anger;
• feel the grief; and
• in faith, accept the inevitable with hope.

I have found Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, full of insights that
would help craft such a narrative.


As you know, over the past year I have spoken at length with a cross section of clergy and lay members of our Diocese. In doing so, I have come to appreciate many parishioners appreciate the need for the Anglican Church, and this Diocese, to engage in bold, radical change.

They “get it”. But, are they willing to speak truth to power? Seldom!

I sense that they have been dissuaded by the fact that, when they broach the subject of meaningful change, they are met with denial, the smell of fear, inertia and complacency; typical (and very human) in attempts at major change.

However, were Bernard Lonergan observing some of our behavior over the past few years, I am certain that he would say that another large cohort of lay and clergy in the Diocese are caught in “a flight from insight”.

The real danger now is that those who want to be advocates for change are shifting from being skeptical about what is possible to becoming cynical. If they make that shift in attitude, we will be in even more dire straights. In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins relates a story called The Stockdale Paradox, which is as follows:

Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of difficulties

AND at same time…

Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

I suggest that we will benefit by having our actions be guided by the Holy Spirit – and The Stockdale Paradox – as we take the action necessary to restore the Diocese to full health.

As an aside: Hope and optimism are two different things:

• Optimism is a belief that things will get better, but it is a passive virtue that does not require courage.
• Hope is a faith that, together, we can make things better. Hope is an active virtue, and it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.