This past weekend I met with leadership groups of two different churches. One has recently added new staff, doing innovative ministry, and growing very rapidly. The other church has struggled for the past few years and resembles many of our churches. One comment I made to both churches is that their system is perfectly designed for the results they are getting. The one church has systems in place that encourages growth while the other has systems that limit growth. This is true of all churches.
Because it's true I share it with those who attend my various workshops, and sometimes I get some push back from the pastors in attendance. They argue that they are in a church that wants to grow but they cite one reason or another why they cannot. I ask if there are churches in their area that are growing, and almost every time they admit there are. My response then is that this proves that the reasons they gave why their church can't grow isn't valid since there are growing churches in their communities, and I then repeat my statement that their systems are perfectly designed for the results they are getting. Our churches are what they are today because of decisions those churches made 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 20 years ago. Those decisions created certain systems in the church, that may have made sense at the time, but now they limit growth in that church. It is also true that your church will be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and 20 years from now what they decide today they want to be. The systems we create in our churches will determine what our churches will look like and what they will be able to do for years to come. If we want to change the results we are getting we have to first change the systems that influence those results.
An example of this is the decision making process in a church. We live in a time of rapid change in our society, and the church needs to be able to respond to those changes just as rapidly as they happen. In many of our churches the decision making process that are followed make this impossible. Even the most basic decisions often must be assigned to a committee for study, then taken to various boards in the church, and finally presented at a business meeting for a vote by people who have never studied the issue and have only heard a two-minute explanation. The decision can be blocked by anyone anywhere in the process, and by the time it does come to a vote the need may no longer exist.
Decisions must be made quicker and by the people who are closest to the situation. That will often be the pastor, staff, or key lay leaders. My experience in judicatory ministry has shown me that staff-led churches often grow much faster than board-led churches. This may not be possible in churches with rapid pastoral turnover, but in churches with stable pastoral leadership it is time that church boards cease being managing boards and turn that over to the pastor and his or her staff. The old board-led structure limits the church's ability to respond rapidly to new needs and limits the church's ministry efforts. Despite that, it will not be easy for many of these boards to begin operating differently.
I can quickly think of three reasons why this is true. One would be the church that does suffer from rapid pastoral turnover. Churches that have new pastors arrive about every 2-3 years are going to be very reluctant to trust these new pastors who know little about the church to make major decisions without board oversight. This is understandable. In this case, it is the frequent pastoral turnover that is part of the church's structure that produces poor results, and the cause of this turnover needs to be investigated. The second reason is unfortunate but needs to be named. Many boards want to retain their decision making power to control the church. Being on the board in some churches gives persons a level of power they have nowhere else in their lives. Such persons see the church as existing to meet the needs of them and their families, and they will not relinquish their decision-making power in fear that they may lose the ability to control the church. The third reason is just as sad: the board does not trust the pastor and staff to make good decisions for the church. This be true even in churches with long-term pastors who have demonstrated good leadership skills as they've served the church. Such faithful service often does not matter in a low-trust church. In my opinion, this attitude will also have a negative impact on the church's effective ministry.
This is only one piece of the overall structure of a church. As you spend time looking at how your church is structured, what aspects of that structure promotes growth and ministry and what prevents or limits that ministry? What needs to be changed about those aspects? What can you do to effect such change? Your system is perfectly designed for the results you are getting. If you are not happy with the results you see in your church you will have to begin changing the aspects of that system that no longer produces the results you want to see.