I recently read an article title "When the US air force discovered the flaw of averages" which talked about a key development in aircraft development, namely adjustable cockpits. As the jet age dawned in the 1940's the air force began losing pilots at an alarming rate, once losing 17 in a single day. 17 pilots in a SINGLE DAY. The investigations consistently concluded pilot error because the planes were found to be in perfect working order. Pilots however were convinced that is wasn't their abilities or errors that were resulting in so many crashes, so what could it be.
The article goes on to tell how the air force had standardized cockpit design based on the average measurements of hundreds of men selected to become pilots. These averages determined the dimensions of and distances between the of the various elements of the cockpit. The idea being that each pilot should fit comfortably into a one-size fits all cockpit, especially as those selected to be pilots already were considered to be of average size. The air force in 1950 undertook to update the average measurements by measuring over 4,000 pilots on 140 dimensions to determine the most accurate average they could. As the article describes, it was a young medical researcher who was tasked with measuring pilots who had the inkling the average didn't exist. With the data on hand, he sought to find how many of these 4,000+ were average in only 10 of the dimensions and found exactly ZERO. Even using only 3 dimensions he was only able to get 3.5% of the pilots to fit.
The eventual outcome of these findings was that there was no one size fit all and this led to a revolutionary change to cockpit design. Cockpits had to be adjustable to fit pilots in the 5% - 95% range of the key measurements. Aircraft manufactures protested but fell in line. The new principle of individual fit was eventually applied to equipment throughout the armed forces. This new paradigm caused crash rates to plummet as pilots were no longer wedged into a cockpit that fit no one.
The article is worth a full read but I've been thinking about how these principles apply to the church. We often have an idea of what church should be, of what every church should be. I heard a speaker say once, we like to think the church should be like a balloon that stays a uniform shape as it grows with every side expanding in sync. The reality is, there is no average, there is no set of metrics that apply equally in all cases. Every church is different which means there is no formula for that will fit every dimension of your church. No curriculum, conference or method that worked at a church across the country or across the street will have the same outcome in your context. That is not to say you discard everything that worked elsewhere, it means you need to find the individual fit for your church right now, where it is. This will mean taking what other
I believe too this applies to our pastors. The article also goes into to how the same pursuit of "average" was used to create the "normal" female form. A contest was run to find a woman who fit the criteria created by combining the measurement of over 15,000 women. Just like the pilots, not one woman was found who matched every measurement.
Now, as one who has been on both sides of the search committee table I've seen this played out. Often a church will approach the process with a set of ideals and assumptions based on where they believe they are at and what they need to fulfill the role at hand. They put together a picture of the ideal pastor based on the skills and strengths. This ideal can be based on a number of things. Usually it is based on a collection of criteria seen to work in other churches or even in their own in the past. Consciously or not, often the weaknesses of the last pastor end up being important strengths sought in the next.
Too often search committees (or boards after they've hired) run through multiple candidates because they don't fit all of the numbers they are looking for. I fear too many churches are looking for the one person who like, the air force was, fits an impossible number of criteria that should seem "normal" only to find they don't exist. Instead, I believe we need to be willing to look at adjusting our criteria and let our pastors and ministry leaders be in places they fit, rather than forcing them into an impossible combination of expectations. Perhaps looking at how expectations can be adjusted for better individual fit will result in fewer crashes as we have fewer pastors and leaders wedged into slots that don't fit.
The US Air Force went from a peak of 17 crashes in one day to becoming the more formidable armed force in the world by adjusting their expectations and setting their pilots up for success. Perhaps if we look at individual fit for our ministries and our pastors we can see a revolutionary change as we cut our crash rate and set them up for success.