The Big Five  (organizational development)

Good intentions alone do not automatically produce good results. It is wonderful that so many charities and government agencies intend to help people around the world. Sometimes they succeed, other times, unfortunately, they fail. Why? What determines the outcome?

The challenge occurs at two levels. First, are the programs really doing good or are there unintended consequences?  The quality of programs is the first success factor. Second, are the organizations doing the work healthy? Even service and missions organizations can lose perspective and become self-serving rather than really making a difference in the lives of the people they are supposed to be helping. This second factor is internal to the organization itself. The Big Five list that follows are steps to take to assure that all our efforts not only have good intentions, but also great outcomes.

We live in an era of dizzying change. To keep up, stay healthy and be effective, we need to be asking ourselves tough questions. That kind of reflection is the basis for my list of principles below which, I believe, are the five top-level issues that all ministry organizations face. Deal with these issues well and they will map a positive course into the future.


People always act according who they think they are. So do organizations. People perform poorly when they are not sure who they are or try to act like someone they are not. Again, the same is true for organizations. So, who exactly is your ministry organization? What is its personality? What is its passion? What is it really there for? Is it making a difference? Does everyone buy-in to that dream? And who, or what, should the organization be in the future?  

In most cases, organizations need to project a unique character. What are your organization’s distinctives,? Marketing professionals call this “positioning”? Discovering and defining that identity is a first priority. 


Once we know who we are (identity), we can decide where we want to go (vision). While we cannot predict every detail in planning the future, we can and should set our sights on a specific destination.

Actually, this is even more than trying to envision the future. The greater meaning of vision is to fix a dream in our hearts of what we want most passionately to accomplish. That kind of dream brings out the best from everyone. People need a dream because we rarely achieve more than we dream. A person may win the lottery by chance or, by accident, fall into some other good fortune. No one, however, has ever won an Olympic gold medal that way. Winning a race takes deliberate effort toward a specific dream. The Bible says our calling is a race to cross an actual finish line (1 Corinthians 9:24). It takes fervent personal vision to win a race.

Clear vision not only energizes ministry programs, it also helps fundraising. Donors prefer causes that are: simple, compelling, distinctive, relational, and demonstrate impact. Clear vision highlights those features. 


Vision only endures long-term if it turns into provable results. Unfounded or exaggerated claims discourage people. Timid vision does not inspire either. And weak or vague vision quickly fades away. On the other hand, vision grows strong when it is validated by believable results.

Since credible impact underpins identity and vision, we must constantly ask ourselves, “Does what we promote actually happen?” In business language this is called Brand Promise.  We certainly don’t want to make hollow promises.


These steps, that I am listing here, build on one another. Once we know who we are (identity), we can decide where we are supposed to head (vision) and determine whether we are making real progress (impact assessment). Next, can we actually get underway? That’s the question of agility. Unfortunately, many ministry organizations are not very agile. They find it difficult to move beyond their entrenched habits.    

Developing agility requires strong leadership from the board and senior management working in unison. In addition, it takes buy-in from the key stakeholders. These are essential ingredients for cultivating a will to change. Without a strong will to change, the organization’s natural immune system will instinctively kill off any growth that differs from its past.


As a mission or any organization finds its way and wins champions for its cause, an upbeat culture begins to form. This is a delightful stage. People instinctively move in the right direction even when there is no formal policy on every specific question because they know the soul of the mission. They own the dream personally and pull hard toward it. This is similar to what Hebrews 8:10 describes about God writing his law on our hearts rather than merely dictating rules. The drive becomes internal.

When there is a healthy corporate culture, people enthusiastically head in a common direction because they carry the cause and vision in their hearts. The culture of an organization is the shared beliefs and common actions. When those align and energize, the ministry becomes increasingly fruitful.

© Eric Thurman 2015