New Report Measures Progress in Diocesan Culture Change

Not quite five years ago, Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee announced that he would restructure the diocesan office and the bishop’s staff to better serve congregations “and to further God’s work in the world.” He organized his staff, which now numbers 22 people, into three departments, each overseen by a member of the executive team. The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows is director of networking, Courtney Reid is director of operations, and the Rev. Jim Steen is director of ministries.

“When everything is done,” Lee wrote to the people of the diocese in 2011, “I hope you will know that all of our effort has been in answer to God’s call and in service to the world.”

Late last year, Lee and the standing committee decided to find out if they’d accomplished their goal. They hired the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, one of the two consultants who had conducted the 2011 research that prompted the restructuring, to conduct a second study. Jennings, who also serves as president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, interviewed a dozen leaders across the diocese and conducted an email survey of 62 people using a process developed by Human Synergistics, an organizational development consulting firm by which she is certified.

This time, Jennings’ task was to assess whether the 2011 restructuring had changed the culture of the diocese in measurable ways. Her finding? It did.

“Both in 2011 and now, we measured people’s perception of how the diocese is articulating its mission and how it is doing with ‘customer service,’” said Jennings. “In 2011, those two areas were ranked lowest of the 31 we studied. Today, they’ve skyrocketed.”

“The survey results and the interview data together suggest that people in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago recognize there has been a shift in the culture, are clear about the mission of the diocese, and appreciate the reorientation of the bishop’s staff as a group of highly capable professionals ready and willing to engage with congregations and leaders,” wrote Jennings in the summary of her report.

Jennings also found that the bishop’s staff and diocesan leaders can build on the progress made since 2011 by focusing on working collaboratively and setting clear, organization-wide goals. In particular, she found, those interviewed expressed “a desire to stay on course and build on the current trajectory of the diocese” and to have the diocese focus on congregational development, sustainability, and vitality. “The single most-mentioned need in the interviews,” she wrote, “is continuing and deepening work with congregations at risk.”

For Lee, Jennings’ report provides data that confirms the diocese’s progress, but also provides a roadmap for the next several years.

“Changing culture is complicated business, and we’ve made amazing strides,” Lee said. “I’m thrilled to have data that confirms our progress and clear recommendations about how we can continue making the Diocese of Chicago even stronger and even more committed to building vital congregations and healthy leaders.”

One big change to the diocese’s congregational vitality initiatives will come at the end of May, when Steen, a long-time clergy leader in the Diocese of Chicago, retires.

“Jim joined my staff in 2010 after a long and highly effective career in parish ministry,” Lee said. “He has provided support, advice, and more to countless clergy and lay leaders and to congregations in transition, and he has helped so many of our congregations thrive. I am grateful that he flunked retirement the first time so that we could benefit from six years of his expertise, devotion, and passion.”

Lee describes the new report as the first step in Steen’s transition. “First we wanted to be sure that we have the right staff structure in place,” he said. “The data from the report will help us craft an appropriate job description and find a candidate who can help strengthen and lead a collaborative team devoted to congregations and their leaders.”

Details on the search for a new director of ministries will be available this spring, he said.