Bible School
This is the third and last post on lessons gleaned from my time in Brazil. This lesson looks at the role of soccer in shaping the leadership style of the church in Brazil!

In Brazil, soccer is pretty big. And while I'm not a big sports person, I think the "soccer phenomenon" has actually had a rather positive impact on the church. Here's what I mean by that.

One of the venues I spoke at was a pastors' retreat near Florianopolis. There, I was surprised to see the entire group of nearly 50 pastors divided into 5 soccer teams--each with their own colors and uniform. And every spare minute was spent playing soccer in a giant tournament between those teams, with official referees and all.

I have never seen anything quite like this at any other pastors' retreat I have attended. Yet it is my understanding that these soccer tournaments were a regular part of pastoral life there.

     It was a friendly competition, but the pastors, by and large, played with great enthusiasm. One pastor actually broke his arm in a collision during one of the matches I watched! :(

By the end of the retreat, the teams had been winnowed down to two finalists, and the championship match was scheduled for the next retreat. The suspense was high!

At first, I didn't think too much about these games--other than that it was an interesting facet of life in Brazil. But then I listened to the conference president give one of the closing presentations at the retreat.

In his presentation, he shared detailed analysis of all sorts of numeric trends in the conference. And the performance of each region was compared with each other, and with prior year performance as well. It offered an amazingly detailed overview of exactly what was happening throughout the conference.

The data came from SS reports. Teachers did a quick survey at the beginning of each class with detailed questions on prayer, Bible study, family worship, tithe and offerings, small groups, personal Bible studies, and more. These records were then sent to the conference and carefully tabulated and analyzed. In addition, data on baptisms, attendance, revenues, retention, and other statistics were included. This was the information being shown on the screen.

It many ways, it reminded me of the sports commentators I used to listen to as a kid, giving play by play updates combined with all sorts of statistical analysis about each athlete. Coaches use the same kind of information to try and find ways to tweak the performance of each individual on their team. And no doubt winning teams, in virtually any sport, analyze piles of data to continually refine and improve their game.

In the context of this pastors' retreat, it felt as if the conference officials were true coaches, working hard to lead a team of pastors on to greater victory.

The conference cast a clear vision of where they wanted to see their churches go, and then used some algorithm to generate a single score from all the data collected in the weekly SS reports to evaluate the progress of each pastor. Those who achieved the highest scores received a small gift and special recognition.

It was all done in a highly positive way. Everyone gave an enthusiastic cheer to those who had the best scores, and no one was singled out for poor performance. It was more as if the pastors were all on the same team, and the entire group was celebrating the successes of those who had done especially well the preceding quarter.

There are a lot of lessons about leadership to be learned from how the church operates in Brazil. Careful tracking of key metrics. Good statistical analysis. Clear goals and priorities. Constant encouragement to improve in specific areas. Accountability. The acknowledgement of success. And of course, teamwork--combined with supportive coaching. It all led to a pastoral team that was united, engaged, and victorious.

I'm not sure this leadership style came from soccer, but I do believe it is part of the secret to the great success of these pastors in reaching the people of Brazil for Christ!


How important is it to have clear goals, accurate data, and constant improvement in our churches? How important is teamwork, and true coaching? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Posted by Dan Vis on 09/07/17 - Coach
I think that's a great attitude Joyce. What we track doesn't always have to be numeric. Of course at the conference level, they are talking about hundreds of churches and thousands of individuals, so they need some way to abstract whatever it is they are trying to improve. That makes numbers even more important.

Great quote Qing: "meaningful data is collected with a strategic purpose and right attitude". I love your example of how your company encouraged a no blame culture with a view to improving worker safety. And also a great example of how to use information to inspire change in your report to your church. Johnny Wong talks about using information to "turn up the heat" when it comes to leading change. And last, another great observation about the importance of tracking data over time, and looking specifically for trends. Thanks for sharing!
Posted by Qing Ling on 09/03/17 - Coach
I absolutely love data mining, and I agree Ann Jason Barbara Dan that it's important that meaningful data is collected with a strategic purpose and right attitude. In the quality improvement industry, we seek to have all incidents/near misses reported, so that we can collect information that is crucial to investigating the incident, with the intent that we use the data to help us troubleshoot and work out ways to prevent the incident from happening again. We consistently inform the employees that it's a "no blame" culture because it's not about finger pointing, but rather working out how we can improve on our quality systems.

I recently presented a report on some statistics in my church relating to member attendance and involvement in worship/sabbath school/small groups. The summary/interpretation of the data was key - it was all about using the data to motivate and encourage our church family. I highlighted the awesome work we are doing, the creative ways through which we are connecting with community, and then proposing even more creative ways for how we can further impact our church and local community. The report was a tool to validate the good work being done by the members; and as for the areas that had room for improvement, it gave them something concrete to recognise and develop a goal to work towards.

It's cool how they do that survey in Brazil on such a regular basis. Sometimes data can be meaningless until it is 'trended' with comparison of results over a given time period.
Posted by Joyce Augustinis on 09/01/17
I just went through a review at my workplace and that ties right in to what you are talking about in knowing your progress in what you are working at and making assessments and goals as you work on shaping what you would like to be. I don't keep a lot of stats, but in my mind I am thinking about improving my performance in different areas and not sitting back thinking everything is OK. I want to advance and be the kind of great person that that Abraham and Moses and Paul were. They put their whole effort into being close to God.
Posted by Dan Vis on 08/29/17 - Coach
Great idea Nicole. We are hoping to do some different kinds of challenges in the future for things like exercise and drinking water. A lot of other projects to finish first, but some neat possibilities. Thanks for suggesting this!
Posted by Nicole Walker on 08/29/17
I think it would be excellent if our churches did this not only for results but for actions/habits developed in each individual and/or family.
Posted by Diane Castanon on 08/29/17 - Coach
Yes, Dan! The Great Commission is what you have been teaching us all along, along with bible memorization. I love reading your posts. Thank you!
Posted by Dan Vis on 08/29/17 - Coach
I love that quote, Diane. When we think about disciple-making, there is definitely a coaching process involved. I love how the conference in Brazil is so actively engaged in "coaching". Learning to cooperate with God in helping others grow is such a big part of the Great Commission, isn't it?

Actually, our next challenge is entitled The Lost Art of Disciple-Making. It's goes right along with this topic.

Absolutely Ann! Except I think you meant there are no "perfect" analysis tools & inspectors! :)
Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 08/29/17
Ultimately, God's data bank is the best and there are no imperfect data analysis tools and no imperfect data inspectors. (smile)
Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 08/29/17
A message for you, Dan, from Diane.

It is encouraging, Diane, that God is watching over us and encouraging us to press on, and to come up higher, as we are told - which makes me think of Philippians 1:6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:. :-)
Posted by Diane Castanon on 08/29/17 - Coach
Olympian runner, David Torrence, in a 2013 interview with Runner's magazine, wrote the following to encourage young people in running:

“I would say the most important thing is to listen to your coach. That person is there every day to watch you, to help you, to develop you. It’s a person that can shape you into an adult..."

This made me think about how God is our coach watching us, helping us, developing and shaping us to become mature, in His image.

I think this ties into what you said, Dan.
Posted by Dan Vis on 08/28/17 - Coach
Great post Jason, as always. Wes is doing a great job emphasizing the unChristlike aspects of sports--and I definitely support that. But like you said, that doesn't mean that there are not some lessons we can learn. Tracking data is just one of the lessons.

Certainly, the system is working well in Brazil where that once conference was seeing several thousand baptisms per year. What I found most interesting, is that the primary number they were trying to asses wasn't baptisms, but commitment to mission: in terms of relationships and discipleship. By setting the right goals, attempting to track that as accurately as possible, and cheering the team on, they are maintaining strong growth despite the increasing secularization there similar to what's happening here in the USA.

Thanks Barbara! It was definitely a positive approach. The pastors were able to see where there was need for growth, where to focus their efforts, and when there was success, it was enthusiastically celebrated together.

I loved the close relationship between conference leadership and the pastoral team.
Posted by Barbara on 08/28/17
Great analytics Dan! I love the fact that the attitude in the conference is that it is just data and not a judgement call.
Posted by Jason Diehl on 08/28/17
There is a short documentary out there by Wes Peppers and Little Light Studio called "Competitive Christianity". It goes over some of the big issues of competition, and how that can hurt our Christian walk. How sports in general leads to un-Christ like behavior. I think it even provides some EGW quotes and such to back up a lot of points.

But we have to remember that it's the unchecked competitive selfish nature that is bad. There are things we can learn from team sports when practiced as Christians. The world distorts it and highlights the worst parts sometimes, but that doesn't mean there is no value what-so-ever.

Take the example of Ann, her husband has pressure on people already stressed. Does that mean data is bad? Well not necessarily. It can be used in a bad way to drive people into the ground. But sometimes we aren't collecting enough data also. The full picture can be hidden from us without all the data. Let's say you have someone that isn't producing the numbers so you fire them. Then a new manager comes along and pulls more data including quality and returns and finds out the slower person is the only person that had 100% perfect quality work. He then hires that person back, and now we create a team of him and a couple of the faster people to find how to improve speed without compromising quality.

Just like reading your Bible, if you only look at one facet of the equation (number of verses read) then you are missing the bigger picture. Moving through the scriptures quickly equates to fast food, and doesn't provide a lot of nutrition. Moving through the scriptures slowly sometimes is a necessity to truly satiate hunger. There are ways to track this, I can easily see the difference in my journals. My journal entries are often the same length whether I study 2 verses or a whole chapter.

I'm an analytics junkie, but may we all look to log and analyze our statistical data with an attitude of always looking to capture all the data, and always with the attitude to improve and help one another not to drive them down or look down on them, just as the Brazil conference seems to do.
Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 08/28/17
Too many times data is collected to chastise or put pressure on people that are already stressed. My husband is finding that out in the manufacturing job where he works. Also cut and dried facts do not give a full picture. Data can have its place as in analyzing the feasibility of a project but an over emphasis on data can also be counter productive. For instance, your Bible reading record records only chapters read, not verses or the in-depth concentration of a particular passage. The spirit of prophecy states that a few scriptures prayerfully read can be a much better way of studying the Bible. I read it through by the end of July. Now I am concentrating on certain passages, thus I cannot record chapters read every day. The data is scewed towards only chapters read. It does not show that I am reading my Bible at all. (No reward for you. You are not complying with the data collection criteria.) Just an example.   :)
Posted by Dan Vis on 08/28/17 - Coach
It is true Ann, data can be counterproductive if we are measuring and valuing the wrong things. But without data it is hard to focus our efforts or track progress.

Good leadership needs to constantly assess whether or not they are tracking the best numbers. It also needs to combine that tracking with strong relationships. I wonder if bad experience wasn't more from a poor relationship emphasis than poor use of data. (Or both). Appreciate your comment!
Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 08/28/17
Clear goals are important. I am not so sure about data. I just retired from a data driven situation and really important things were totally discounted and left out from the data analysis. Teamwork and coaching are invaluable in addition to goals. Data, if done correctly, probably could help I just have a very bad "taste in my mouth" for today's view and usage of data.

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