There are nearly infinite versions of organizational systems that can be found to frame churches around. Some are traditional/pragmatic, such as having elders make decisions or using ‘men’s business meetings’. Some are progressive/research based and are introduced after serious study of culture and organization. Some are simply marketing tools generated to sell books or capitalize on churches that have grown successfully.
I’ve already said that I don’t believe there is any one system that is appropriate for every church to use. Initially I made the mistake of trying to take whatever was successful at other churches and use it for my local church. I’ve seen others do this as well. It’s really sad to see. Much time and energy is expended by people getting others excited about the “new thing” that’s coming. They get buy-in through many different avenues: classes, announcements, sermon series, etc. They ask people to credit them with their trust as they put this new system together, and initially they will. However, as with anyone that defaults on a loan, when we let our people down when the “new thing” doesn’t succeed, we damage our credit worthiness. Eventually, people quit buying in to the next “new thing”, and churches begin to plateau and stagnate.
I have also witnessed leaders that understand this principle (or who are at least aware of it) use it as a reason to not try new things. I was presenting a leadership meeting on church health principles when after a break someone said “we were talking about it in the hall and decided that these things worked for other churches because they were built around them, but they probably won’t work for us”. Dismissing something out-of-hand like this is just plain narrow-mindedness. Yes, we should beware of any system that says something like “Step 5: find 12 leaders to function as middle managers for your ministries. Jesus used 12 apostles, you should, too.” Specifics like this may not transfer, but general leadership principles can translate across multiple systems.
So, what are those universal items? Here’s a list of what I look for. It’s my list, so it may be lacking in some things. It’s just what I’ve found in my experience in looking for an appropriate organizational system for churches.
An effective church organization system will be/have:
- Appropriate levels of complexity
- Culturally appropriate
- Power neutral
- Focused on individual care and development (Jethro II principles)
- Fluid and permeable (hat tip to Matt Dodd for helping me come up with the words)
I’ll address these in future posts. For now, tell me what you think of the items on this list. What do you think they mean? What would you add?