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Posted on Nov 1, 2017

Faithfully Relevant

Faithfully Relevant

by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊

If you were to measure the success of your Christian school, what benchmark would you use? You could choose enrolment trends, reputation, program development, growth of donor base, or your results on provincial learning assessments like FSAs. Undoubtedly, your mission and vision statements along with your strategic plan would also be important benchmarks.

Measuring success is a challenging but useful activity for organizations. Any legitimate attempt to determine your organizational health is critical in allowing you to address challenges and adopt a culture of continuous improvement.

Measuring institutional success was not a priority for the founding generation of our school. Those folks worked tirelessly and sacrificed deeply to open schools with spartan but functional facilities, trained but not necessarily certified teachers, and limited classroom resources. For our founding generation, it was enough that our schools were Christian schools run by societies whose purpose it was to educate students in the way of the Lord, and staffed by people committed to that cause.

Today’s generation, however, desires not only Christian education, but quality Christian education. Gone are the days of unquestioned loyalty to schools or to any other institution. Today, institutions need to gauge the satisfaction of their members and clients, and need to continuously seek ways to improve their reputation or service profile.

In this context of seeking excellence, measuring your success is not only useful, but perhaps a critical activity. Once you decide to gauge member satisfaction, how likely would it be that you would use your school’s relevance as a benchmark? I’d suspect that relevance would not be in the first number of criteria we would list, yet in their book Race for Relevance1, Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers posit that relevance is a key factor in organizational success.

Coerver and Byers observe that most associations governed by volunteer boards are:

  • tradition driven
  • slow to change
  • averse to risk
  • dependent on face-to-face interaction
  • reliant on print for publications, communications and information delivery

However, the authors submit, the client or membership base of associations has changed and the young, professional client of today:

  • views membership as a value proposition
    (consumer mentality)
  • places less inherent value on community
  • is willing to shop around for services
  • relies on technology for communication and information

Organizations and institutions, like SCSBC and our member schools, are vulnerable to the trends of the times. We rely heavily on member satisfaction, and perhaps more importantly, membership commitment. In our organizational infancy, member commitment might have overlooked mediocrity, but that is no more the case. Today we need to demonstrate high value, excellent service and organizational relevance.

Coerver and Byers write that to remain relevant, associations need to:

  • overhaul the governance model and committee operations
  • empower the CEO and enhance staff competence
  • rigorously define the member market
  • rationalize programs and services
  • build a robust technology framework

SCSBC has certainly taken steps in these directions over the past number of years, and we will continue to do so. We also support our schools as they strive to meet the above objectives to remain relevant and vital in today’s market.

As the title suggests, Race for Relevance implies that some associations and organizations are redundant, ineffective and irrelevant to our times. I would suggest that the mission and vision of our Christian schools remain as relevant and vital today as they were half a century ago, perhaps more so.

The challenge for school boards and leaders is to initiate and embrace organizational change that is firmly rooted in the foundational mission, and is viewed as vital, fresh and relevant today. As part of this process, it is critical that we pay attention to our governance model, leadership structure, market analysis, service and communication profile and technology infrastructure.

Some will despair, disappointed by changing commitments and daunted by challenges of change management. This work is not for the faint of heart. It is, however, vital work. As Andy Crouch reminded participants at the Christian Schools Canada 2016 conference  in Banff2, our biblical call to impact culture is not an individual call. It is a collective call, and a multi-generational call. God calls Abraham and blesses him to be a blessing to the nations for generations to come.

Christian schools have been a blessing for decades. If we build on our foundational mission in creative and authentic ways we can remain faithfully relevant in today’s culture and for generations to come, being salt and light, showing our culture a more excellent way, the way of shalom.


References

  1. Byers, M., American Society of Association Executives., Center for Association Leadership. and Coerver, H. (2011). Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations. American Society of Association Executives.
  2. Conference 2016 | Christian Schools Canada. Available at: http://christianschoolscanada.com/conference-2016.

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