Thursday, September 13, 2012

Simplifying church structure

As I coach churches one of the things I typically find is that they are often over-structured.  Members of the congregation complain that they are asked to serve in too many places within the church, and yet when I question them about their structure many of these same people want to defend it.  What I have learned is that quite often the structure that is being followed was put in place many years earlier when the church was much larger.  It made sense to have all the committees back then, but it makes much less sense now, especially if the same people are being asked to serve on several of these committees.  One church leader confessed that their average attendance, including children, is ten less than the slate of officers and committee people their constitution requires.

At the same time, during most of my workshops someone will ask how they can get their congregations involved in ministry.  The first thing I do is ask them to take a long, honest look at their structure and see what can be eliminated.  In most churches, a large percentage of the boards and committees could be eliminated, and the church would not suffer.  Eliminating these formal positions would free people for ministry.  The way many of our churches are structured right now really works against having people involved in any type of ministry to persons outside the church.  You cannot ask someone who sits on 3-4 church committees, teaches a SS class, and sings in the choir to engage in a ministry to unchurched people.  They have a life and a family outside the church.  If we simplify our structures, eliminate those committees and boards that are not necessary, and trust our leadership to make the decisions that have been made by these committees and boards we will have people with the time to serve those outside the church.  Those are the ministries that will grow our churches and, more importantly, the Kingdom of God.

The question that follows this discussion in my workshops is how does a church do that when their constitution calls for all these committees, boards, and positions?  Here's a thought...rewrite your church constitution to reflect what your church is going to do in the future and not what it has done in the past.  Your church constitution should be a fluid document that provides order to your church but not strangle it as you move forward.  It should be reviewed at least every five years to make sure it is serving you and not hindering you.  When I was pastoring we spent a year revising our church constitution and removed a number of positions that were no longer needed.  Every board, committee, and position in your church was created because they were needed at the time, and they made sense.  But today is a different time.  If it no longer makes sense to keep them, revise your constitution to eliminate them.

One caution before you do that.  Several of my churches began by voting to suspend their constitutions for a period of 2-3 years.  They did not necessarily suspend the entire constitution but only the part that addressed church structure.  They did this so they could experiment with a new structure that was less detailed and gave more authority to make decisions to leadership.  At the end of the suspension they would vote on making that permanent or they could go back to the old committee/board structure.  So far, none of the churches I served that have done this have voted to return to the old system.  They found the new, leaner structure was much improved and led to more people involved in ministries outside the church.

You can read more about this in my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church.

No comments: