Structuring The Church for Health and Growth

Jenga 1 Call this a TimSpivey.com rewind. Reprinted from a previous post.

Structure is a word that seems, to some, unspiritual on the surface.
Perhaps that's why so many churches pay so little attention to it.

Church
structure
is spiritual for several reasons. However, the most important is
that it allows for or prohibits the growth of the body–and thus the
reaching of people for Christ. If a church
refuses to change it's structure, it will not grow beyond a certain
point. It's spiritual physics. You cannot plant an oak tree in a flower
pot…or, you could…it just wouldn't grow past the size of the
container. It's the same with a church. God can do anything. If a camel
can go through the eye of a needle, a church can grow with a restrictive
structure. But, I haven't seen it happen yet. 

We can see the
counsel to restructure in Scripture in
several places. The most vivid and obvious are Jethro telling Moses to
delegate responsibilities to capable people, and Paul telling Timothy
to appoint elders in every place. The greatest is Creation itself.
Notice that in each case, it was
understood that ministry needs leadership. But, leadership structure
must adapt to it's context. 

Most churches are structured to
be the size they are
. This is part of the problem. Growing and
"Turnaround" churches need structures that allow room to grow. Usually,
churches that need a turnaround usually need a retooling of their
structure. However, not all need to expand.

Some need a retooling
because they once were big, but now are smaller–but maintain a
large-church structure that burdens them. I call this condition,
uncoothly, "Al Roker Syndrome." This is when a church loses a lot of
people, but keeps it's calendar, resources, and ministry as it
was…there's lots of leftover skin on a now-shrunk body. What is needed
is a simplification and reduction…but it's hard to help the church
view contraction missionally. It's hard to convince people that getting
smaller for a time will help you get bigger later and that doing less
will help you do more in the long run. However, until the church can get
a bit leaner and meaner, a turnaround will be all the more difficult.
This is one type of restructuring that can be helpful when a turnaround
is needed. It's more typically needed by churches in precipitous
decline, or churches who have experienced protracted periods of decline.

The
other structual change is typically needed by churches that were
growing but have plateaued. It is an expansion of structure.
Notice I didn't say, "Expansion of ministry or activity." I mean a
structure that decreases bottle-necking and hoarding of ministry at the
"top." Such change frees up entry points for new people to come, and
substantive ministry opportunities for more people. This means adding
leadership, but changing it's orientation from doing to equipping.

To
use a basketball image–as a church grows or earnestly seeks to grow,
ministers should move from the guy or gal who takes all the shots to the
Point Guard who looks to pass first–and pass to the right person at
the right time. To use yet another athletic image–they should become
more like a player-coach, and less pure player. 

Ironically, as
the church grows bigger, the elders meetings and staff meetings should
get shorter. They should move away from operations toward toward prayer,
pastoral concerns and big-picture strategy. More time will be spent
equipping others for ministry rather than feeling the need to do it all
oneself–an exquisitely biblical concept. This doesn't absolve anyone
from the need to continue to serve in a hands-on way. But, the focus
must change or the structure will choke off growth.

If your church
has experienced substantial decline, simplify, simplify, simplify. This
is good advice for any church…but especially those in decline. If
your church is plateaued or growing, structure yourself to be double or
even triple the size you are…now. For
instance, if you are a church of 100, ask yourself how you would need to
function as a church of 300. And then implement it. If your are in a
church of 500, structure yourself as a church of a thousand and keep
expanding as growth comes. Again, this doesn't mean one should add the activity
of a church 3 times it's size. Most churches are already neck-deep in
activity. We're talking structure, here.

What structural moves
need to be made? It will vary from church to church. But, look at
assembly times, assembly space (try not to have a service more than 75%
full at the most), elder/staff functioning, the essential calendar, what
ministries you will need and need to take away, cultivating leadership
from within the body, and infrastructural needs – facilities, web,
things of that sort.

One other potentially helpful structural
change has to do with the overall ministry system.

More on that
in the next post.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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