CORE COMPETENCIES & How to find them and why they matter (A Leadership Exercise)

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/6/15.

In other postings (and in my chapter on “Strategic Management” in the book, The Church Leaders MBA) I explain how church leaders can easily plan their organization future with a simple SWOT analysis.

When doing a SWOT analysis, my students often wonder about the difference between a “strength” and a “core competency” (CC). I explain that a core competency is a strength that is so strong, that the community basically knows your ministry by this.

Therefore, all core competencies are strengths, but not all strengths are core competencies.

(NOTE: If you need a reminder about how to conduct a SWOT analysis, here is a downloadable copy of my chapter on “Strategic Management” from the book, “The Church Leaders MBA” [as always, if you enjoy the chapter please consider supporting the publisher and the author by buying the book]: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – MBA Strategy Chpt. 5 ).

Examples of Strengths That Are NOT Core Competencies (and some that are)

So, to help distinguish which strengths are core competencies, I’ve embedded my comments (below) to another student’s question about this (with their permission).  Student comments in italics, my responses in parenthesis:

Dr. Whitesel, here are our church strengths that I think might be core competencies too. Can you give me your thoughts on this?

A significant small group program:  81% of average adult attendance is committed to a small group.
(Dr. W.: That sounds like something for which the community would recognize your church, and thus could be a core competency.)

An intimate atmosphere and setting:  Set 4 miles outside of town in an agrarian area – could appeal to some.
(Dr. W.:You may be not as well known for this unless you are on a major thoroughfare, thus not likely a CC.)

Volunteerism: A significant number of people volunteer each week.
(Dr. W.: Because this is primarily known internally, it is probably not a CC which is usually known more externally.

The Wesleyan connection: It keeps us rooted theologically and provides stability.
(Dr. W.: Again, primarily known internally, and thus is probably not a CC which is usually known more externally.)

Preaching and Teaching: We have above average preachers and teachers.
(Dr. W.: This could be a CC if it is what your church is known for [e.g. Mars Hill, MI and Rob Bell].)

Risk-taking and educated leadership: Pastor is willing to try new things and pursues further education.
(Dr. W.: A definite strength, but not maybe a CC that is widely known.)

Children’s ministry: We do it very well and it is a high priority.
(Dr. W.: Could be a CC if your church is known for this in the community.)

I think these examples can help distinguish between core competencies (CCs) and regular strengths.  You may also want to look at Figure 5.2 in The Church Leader’s MBA (p. 80) for business examples (see the downloadable chapter above).

Remember this saying: A core competency is a strength that is so strong, that the community basically knows your ministry by it.

A Leadership Exercise

Here is a exercise they can help you distinguish between strengths and core competencies (CC) by which you are know in a community. And if you are one of my students that was directed to this post, this is your follow-up assignment for the week.

Create a list of well-known ministries (give their URL) and tell us the core competencies for which they are known. (Pick ministries for which many of us may be familiar, or give us a website so we can see for ourselves).  You can also add or challenge the conclusions of others (but of course, do so in a respectful manner 🙂

I’ll start (just add to my initial list.  If you are a student, just copy-and-paste the most recent posting and add your insights below):

Mar’s Hill, Grandville, MI and its former pastor Rob Bell

St. Thomas’ Church, Sheffield, UK

  • Core competency: missional clusters (i.e. midsized missional communities or culture-specific sub-congregations)

North Coast Church, Vista, CA

Now its your turn.

Use this exercise (above) with your leaders to sharpen their strategic skills.  Or if you are a student who was directed to this post, finish the rest of this assignment in our online discussion room.

And finally, share one paragraph telling why you think knowing a ministries’ core competencies is good for a ministry.  In other words, how can discovering a ministry’s core competencies help an organization minister more effectively?