Although he cannot be credited as the sole creator of continuous improvement or Total Quality Management, W. Edwards Deming certainly popularized the concept. Deming is best known for his work in Japan with the leaders of Japanese industry after World War Two. In an address at the Hakone Convention Center in Tokyo in 1950, Deming introduced the concept of Statistical Product Quality Administration (SPQA). Many credit Deming’s ideas as the driving force that brought Japanese industry out of postwar devastation to world economic power.
Deming taught that small incremental changes, many suggested by those on the factory floor, could help an industry develop quality products that would be preferred by consumers. Although I would prefer that we not think of ministry as developing products, many of Deming’s ideas can be applied to transitioning a church to becoming more missional, embracing its role in the missio Dei (mission of God).
The cycle of instituting change that Deming encouraged is one example we might try. There are four components to the cycle—Plan, Do, Check (or Study), and Act.
First, in order to plan a change aimed at an improvement or expansion of ministry, you identify one particular item that has the potential to be done more effectively. You try to keep this change to item in order to measure only one variable—time expended, participation, expense, etc.
Second, you attempt this change by doing it on a small scale and keep record of the results; i.e., increase or decrease in participation, time allocation, cost, etc. There is no long term commitment to the change. It is an experiment.
Third, you study or check the results to see what was accomplished or learned and monitor the effects of the change. Feedback from those involved in the change as well as statistical data is helpful here.
Fourth, you act to adopt the change, abandon if it was not useful, or try again using what you have learned. If it is useful, you institutionalize it. If not, you try move on.
What are some examples? Imagine that you are trying to provide a Bible study group for young adults. You have been doing this on Sunday nights in the church building for several months and response has steadily declined. The experiment would be to move it to a nearby coffee shop, let people know about it, and see what happens. You change only the location; nothing else. Over a period over three months, you keep track of attendance. If it works, you may tweak the format a bit further (content, process, leadership, etc.). If it doesn’t, you go back to what you did before or try something else based on the feedback of participants.
Another possibility would be finding a way to engage church participants in mission outside the church. You offer Sunday morning Bible study classes the opportunity to take turns doing their lesson in a nursing home, homeless shelter, or correctional facility on a one time basis. Try this for a few months and ask each group to do an evaluation of their experiences. What did they learn? Are there needs there that your church can meet? Did some class members decide that they might volunteer in one of these situations? How can this type of outreach become a regular part of the church’s life?
This is a simple process-- Plan, Do, Check, and Act--but it can open the door to new possibilities.