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Flourishing Update - September 11, 2019

Current Musings

Last week a colleague sent me an article on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, as a follow up to a rather vigorous dialogue we’d had about a shared circumstance of observing unconscious incompetence. It was new to me (the Effect was). This resonating article defined the Dunning-Kruger Effect as “a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority. They mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is . . ..” My goodness, I thought, on occasion that perfectly describes me; especially as I see competence as being task specific. Perhaps it borders on unfair arrogance to talk about this psychological phenomenon unless we see ourselves susceptible to its features. The Peter Principle comes to mind here.

Our engagement in, and with, day-to-day organizational and congregational life can be incredibly complex and challenging; who hasn’t found themselves in, but over their heads, and suffering “imposter syndrome”. Arm chair quarter-backs in congregations/parishes are abundant and will sometimes ring the bell of awareness for us but they also may be partly right. I can still hear a favourite pastoral mentor, the late Dr. Walter Boldt, say to me: “Keith, there is often a seed of truth in most critiques or complaints; you should think about that.” Our admission of the possibility of distorted self-awareness when it comes to our capacities and capabilities opens us to leading without over- or underestimating our personal acumen for particular times and functions. As the diagram below illustrates, asking for wisdom and seeking to hear the wisdom of others is a likely antidote (remedy for a poison), when undergirded with humility (1 Peter 5:5-6; James 4:6; James 3:17-18). Engaging in mentorship networks, nurturing vital and truth-telling friends, watching where people’s feet are taking them, going to God as a willing candidate for His grace, asking for advice (even when I think I know the answer), listening for the seed of truth when there is a sense of “push-back”- these are merely a few habits and mechanisms that may help us to avoid the Dunning-Kruger Effect.


Congregations and Discipleship

Dr. Arch Wong, Professor of Practical Theology, Associate Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute

As mentioned in previous newsletters, Stronger Philanthropy partnered with the Flourishing Congregations Institute to fund a national survey of Canadian congregations. Up to now, over 120 congregations/parishes and 4,000 congregants have completed our survey throughout Canada across ecclesial family lines: Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant settings. These congregants also identified themselves to be in congregations/parishes that they perceived are either growing, declining, or staying the same with respect to weekly attendance. Although weekly attendance is not a perfect indicator, it does give us an approximation that may help us see some general leanings/inferences.

Before moving into the preliminary data and making some general observations about discipleship, what do we mean by this term? Robert Coleman defines a disciple as, “A learner who’s following Christ. You learn by following. And that means since we are finite and God alone is infinite, there’s never a place in the journey where we stop learning.”[1] Dallas Willard states that a disciple is an individual who, “desires above all else to be like Christ.”[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes a disciple “as one who adheres to Christ.”[3] Although all of these definitions of a disciple are nuanced in a different way, the shared idea that brings them together is this “movement toward Christ.” While there may be agreement on what a disciple is, the problem is figuring out how to actually move people toward Christ and disciple them! Our preliminary data offers some clues that might help in the spiritual formation of those in a congregation/parish.

If the characteristic of discipleship “is movement toward Christ,” what do congregants say about having a clear and effective discipleship process in their congregation/parish? In Figure 1 below we see that nearly 60% of those in growing congregations agree and strongly agree that they have an explicit discipleship process, while close to 36% of those in declining churches agree and strongly agree to have an explicit discipleship process. Nearly 44% of churches that are staying the same report having an explicit discipleship process.

Figure 1- Explicit discipleship process for people to grow

When we asked, “Our congregation has helped me to grow spiritually,” we might expect that growing congregations would help their congregants to grow spiritually. Figure 2 below indicates that close to 55% responded that way in growing congregations, and for declining congregations 26%, and 36% in churches perceived to be staying the same in size.

Figure 2- Your congregation helped you to grow spiritually

In Figure 3, we see ways in which congregational life has impacted congregants’ spiritual lives. We asked congregants, “Identify the three most important elements of congregational life that impacted your spiritual growth.” Below are the top 7 responses.

Figure 3- Most important elements that impact spiritual growth

Preaching in a worship context and teaching in other congregational contexts, and singing and music either in some type of liturgy or in everyday life have the most responses. The top 3 discipleship attributes do give us a description of what shows up in the life of a maturing disciple: preaching and teaching, singing/music, and volunteering in a congregation.

From the preliminary data, a few reflection questions for consideration around discipleship:

  1. What are your overall goals for spiritual growth (results and output) in your congregation/parish? Do you track such things, and pivot when your goals are not consistently obtained?

  2. What are the pathways (input) for discipleship in your congregation/parish?

  3. In what ways is your discipleship process clearly communicated throughout the congregation/parish in formal and informal ways?

Want to know more about the Flourishing Congregations Institute, get involved in our national survey, or access free resources to arise from our research? Check out our website for more information and sign up there for our newsletter.


  1. Robert Coleman, interview by Scott McConnell, August 10, 2011, Phase 1 qualitative interviews for the Transformational Discipleship project; quoted in Daniel Im, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017), 954, Kindle.

  2. Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), 248, Kindle.

  3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 2001), 17.


We’re Reading…

The Essential Theory of U

Otto Scharmer

I have used Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer (2013) Leading from the Emerging Future: From Eco-system to Eco-system economies and Scharmer’s Theory U (2nd Edition, 2016), together with Carol Dueck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2007) for a number of years to stimulate mindset conversations (growth vs. deficit). These books have been quite helpful. Scharmer’s more recent The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications (2018), along with TedTalks, Youtube, podcasts, audio books and online resources from these authors are quite useful for leadership development and as prompters to enlarge and enrich the conversations that are designed to help us to be wide-awake to what the world needs from us and as we continuously decide what we need to pay attention to, for the Kingdom sake. Of course, one will want to read these MIT and Stanford professors (any another authors) with a critical eye but their perspectives can be properly stretching, disturbing, reorienting and useful to our discernments.


Upcoming Opportunities

  • Include your congregation in a national congregations survey, and receive a free report with your church's data! To learn more about this opportunity visit our website, and to sign up your congregation, contact our Research and Program Coordinator, Joy Epp, at 403-410-2000 ext. 2987.

  • Register and find out more about the Global Leadership Summit for October 17-18th at:

  • Church Planting Canada Congress 2019 for October 22-24. Theme: Planting the North: Celebrating the Stories of New Churches in Canada. Click here for more information and to register.

  • New Leaf Events:

  • Rural Church Leadership Conference - Saskatoon, SK - October 29-31, 2019: Save the Date to join the Rural Church Leadership Conference, hear from Jared Siebert and significant leaders in rural churches in Saskatchewan.

  • The New Leaf Project is a podcast that shares the stories of Canadian Christians who are instigating new things, innovating in our post-modern Canadian context, planting new churches and starting missional minded conversations, conversations, and communities here in Canadian soil. Click here:

  • Missed our latest newsletters?

  • August 14, 2019

  • July 17, 2019

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