How ambiguity chokes an organization

By Sam S. Rainer III

A problem with organizations is the larger they become, the more layers of complexity are added. More people equates to more information. More information leads to greater complexity. The larger the organization, the greater the potential for information to get misconstrued or lost. Like someone who is deprived of oxygen, a lack of clear communication can choke an organization. The same holds true when there is a large amount of erroneous information. Without good information flow, uncertainty is bound to build. By nature, larger organizations must work harder to avoid this dilemma of ambiguity.

Even in “flat” organizations – where information flows through fewer layers – the sheer number of people can make an otherwise simple message confusing. Top-down or side-to-side, it does not matter. Lateral communication filters through people like vertical communication; it just moves in a different direction.

Here’s the issue for church leaders: growing a local church inevitably means planning a strategy to communicate. One difficulty of leading a church is growing the Kingdom without choking the body. When information bottlenecks form in the church, these pinches asphyxiate – depriving  the body of much needed communication, choking it with ambiguity and uncertainty.

Ambiguity almost always begins at the top. It’s more than (but includes) a lack of transparency. Most of the time, leaders with good intentions simply do not strategize about how to communicate differently as the church grows. Let me share with you some key signals – or statements – of ambiguity in a church, as well as what happens when these signs are ignored:

“We might have a problem, but we are not sure where it is.” Something’s wrong. You know it intuitively, or some obvious symptoms are emerging. But you don’t know where the problem originated. You can’t pinpoint it or tell if it is perceived or real. Not talking with your team about potential problems means they will each seek a variety of individual solutions, and they might move in opposing directions to solve the same issue, compounding the problem.

“We’re growing, but we are not sure how to gauge success.” Ministries are booming. God is working. It is clear the church is growing. But you are not measuring anything, and you aren’t sure what metrics are relevant. Not communicating relevant metrics means people make up which ones they believe are important.

“We’ve got a great team, but we’re not sure where to put people.” You love your team, but you do not know their true strengths and weaknesses. They are competent wherever you place them. They are passionate. They support you. But you do not have a strategy to place them in a position that best fits them. Not communicating with your team about where they sit on the bus means they will choose their own seats—or worse, compete for the same seat.

“Something’s happening, but we’re not sure what.” Growth occurs. People in the church are excited. What exactly is fueling the excitement, however, remains elusive. Not communicating with the people about what God is doing in their personal lives means you are a disconnected leader doomed to overlook the one thing people are excited about.

“We have a vision, but we’re not sure how to implement it.” Everyone is on board and they’re cheering. They can’t wait for the ship to head out. The captain knows where to go, but can’t figure out how to start the engine (or who to give the start key). Not asking for help or communicating a need means no one goes anywhere.

Here’s the ultimate problem of ambiguity: What people do not know, they make it up. Most people do not settle for long periods of confusion.  If you do not communicate with them, then they will fill the gaps of uncertainty with their own ideas, strategies and execution. Leaders are responsible to casting a vision, setting the tone, but also planning a strategy of how to communicate with everyone.

Sam S. Rainer III is president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY.


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