Friday, September 7, 2012

Scaling back

As I work with smaller churches across denominational lines there is one issue that is common to many of of them: they are much too structured for their size.  In many cases, they currently have the same structure they had when they were a much larger church.  The church may have shrunk in size over the years, but they still have the same offices, committees, boards, and organizations.  Trying to staff these positions each year becomes a major challenge.  Often, some positions go unfilled even while people in the church may hold five or six different positions.  What I tell these churches is that smaller churches can accomplish more by doing less.

Too many smaller churches are trying to compete with the larger church in town by offering ministries and programs they are not equipped to provide.  These churches believe if they don't have the same ministries as that larger church they will lose their people to that church.  They're probably right, but it's likely they will lose those people anyway.  See, it's not just a matter of offering a program; it's doing it with excellence.

Several years ago a smaller church asked how they could develop a youth ministry.  My recommendation to them was that they not.  I told the church there were two churches in their community that had youth groups of over 200 young people that met each week.  This church had three youth.  I asked how they thought they could compete with the ministries of the other church.  A person in that church corrected me saying there were actually four churches in their community with large youth groups, and I was right in saying they couldn't compete.  My challenge to them was to find a target group of people in the community that were not being served by another church and develop a ministry to them.

A smaller church should identify two or three ministries their church can do with excellence and focus on those ministries.  Everything else should be let go.  Concentrate your resources (time, energy, finances) on two or three things and drop everything else.  You will find that you can build your church on doing those few things rather than trying to be everything to everybody, and you'll find that ministry is much more exciting.

You also should look at your church structure.  Do you really need all the committees and boards that exist in your church?  Quite frankly, you could probably abolish 80 percent of those committees and boards and nobody would ever tell the difference.  If your church is like most, the majority of time these groups add very little, if anything, to the overall ministry of the church.  The benefit of doing away with non-productive boards and committees is that more people would be freed up to do actual ministry that makes a difference.  If a committee is needed for a specific need, create a ministry team to address that need, and as soon as their work is complete, the team is abolished, but eliminate the many standing committees that are doing very little.

In order to do this your church will have to become a permission-giving church.  Instead of making people jump through various hoops by getting approval from this committee and then two more, a permission-giving church has a clear vision for its ministry and anything that fits within that vision receives automatic approval.  This encourages people to become more creative in their thinking and challenges them to pursue their giftedness and passion for ministry.  As more people become involved in ministries they have created more people are reached for Christ and for the church.

How can your church begin to scale back?  As we approach the autumn months, this is a great time to look at how your church is structured and what changes you might want to make in that structure.  You'll find that the more simplified your structure is the better it will be able to serve others.  You will find more help on this issue in my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-so-Mega Church.

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