Being a part of a new church or turnaround church that is growing is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had. When people are receiving Christ and a sense of harmony seems to fill and surround the people and the ministries, it is like heaven on earth. A healthy church is something for which we church leaders strive to lead. I have had two experiences in churches that enjoyed significant growth and momentum—for a while. What stopped the growth? Outdated ineffective dysfunctional silo-style guiding structures reversed the positive spiritual momentum.
In a new church start in Texas, I served in the leadership to directly assist the pastor. The church began as a mission of another church in the community that had a church planting ministry that was very intentional. Planting a church is the easy part; keeping it growing is another. The goal in time was for the new church to stand on her own two feet, as it were, and constituting as an autonomous entity. The parent church and local denomination had several requirements before the new church’s identity and autonomy would be recognized—constitution, By-Laws, documents of incorporation as a non-profit in the state, and so on. I was young in the ministry and did not understand why the pastor kept putting off officially constituting the church. We finally completed all of the work to establish the legal identity of the church, enjoyed a great celebration, and then watched the growth slow to a trickle. The excitement was gone and I then understood why my pastor waited as long as he could.
In my current ministry, we experienced what we thought was a turnaround. I hoped we would be one of those “break-out churches” as Dr. Thom Rainer identified in his book by that title. We overcame a church split, established new ministries, began to intentionally share Christ, and established our discipleship process. Six years after a devastating church split, the church had doubled in size, had two worship services, and was reaching unchurched people. Once again, the growth momentum came to a screeching halt and people began to slowly depart. Why… outdated ineffective dysfunctional silo-style guiding structures borrowed from the corporate world.
Space does not allow for me to fully elaborate, but in both cases the guiding structures that were to provide stability stopped the growth. In the first case, the constitution and by-laws slowed the growth like concrete setting-up as the leaders’ energy was sapped by frequent and lengthy committee meetings that seemed to accomplish little. A turf mentality emerged that stifled the collaborative culture of the new church. In the second case, the guiding structures were very weak as related to selecting and installing deacons and other leaders. Selecting leaders became a popularity contest. When conflict later emerged, the guiding structures that were designed to deal with such conflict actually became an instrument that slowed the response of the leaders. Here are some important questions:
- What are the guiding structures of your church…or better stated, do they work?
- How long has it been since they were examined or modified?
- Leaders should not wait until a conflict during which to try to fix weaknesses in guiding structures.
- Are the guiding structures too confining, inflexible, unclear, or contradictory of one another or of the Bible?
- Do the guiding structures encourage collaboration or silo and turf mentalities?
- Do the guiding structures take on more importance than the ministry they are designed to support?
- Do your guiding structures support a discipleship process and leadership development process that is Biblical?
Guiding structures establish an organization’s identity but, like a growing disciple of Christ, they are to be growing, flexible, and empowering.
Dr. Tom Cocklereece
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