Flexible Systems

Different churches need different types of organizational systems. I think most of us would agree to that. For example, a local church without elders for qualification reasons is no less of a church than the large church with dozens of elders. However, different organization systems are required for each one.

One area of organization that we tend to overlook, though, is the fact that churches change over time. People come and go, world issues change, technology develops, sociological approaches to gathering, sorting, and evaluating data evolves. We frequently have people that visit our worship services after being gone for several years say things like “this is nothing like I remember it”. The reason for that is pretty simple. It is nothing like you remember it.

Over time, a church will completely reinvent itself with small, incremental changes. While we recognize that different churches that exist simultaneously require different organizational systems, we fail to realize that churches that change (basically different churches separated by time instead of geography) also require different organizational systems.

Inflexible systems of church organization and leadership, then, can cause the church to become unhealthy because they fail to adapt over time to the new needs of the church as it changes. As churches change in size and complexity, the required elements for church health also change. Not being able to adjust to a new system leaves the needs unmet and creates opportunities for conflict and immaturity.

Arlin Rothague has identified four sizes of church with different needs and motives:

Size Type Led by
<50 Family
– Matriarch/Patriarchs in power
50-150 Pastor
– Pastor/Minister
150-350 Program
– Ministry Leaders
350+ Corporate
– Executive Leadership/Staff

These are not optional, per se, but instead are representative of needs at various levels of size. A family size church can be led by one or two family leaders because the church is probably made up of one or two families. When we get above 50, though, we have to start looking at one person to coordinate the activities of the church. That works until about 150, when we have to expand the leadership team and include volunteer leaders in specialized areas of leadership. That works until about 350 when the demands on the leadership positions become too great for volunteers to handle and specialized skill and training are required to be most effective.

It is impossible to support a Corporate Size church with a Program Church system. It is much more impossible to support a Corporate church with a Family church system, however many of our churches operate in such a manner with a matriarch or patriarch that we have to tiptoe around or pay homage to. Churches may grow into a larger category without changing their organization system, but they are unable to maintain that size without making adjustments. One of my favorite things to say is “You will become the size you behave”. If a 500 member church acts like a 200 member church… they will be.

To help churches be flexible as they are making plans, decisions, and building ministries, I encourage them to ask the question “How long will that work?” If you have an invitation song where people respond to the front to submit prayer requests, how many can you logistically handle before a bottleneck forms? How big can we get and still use a single key for the building that has to be signed out after hours? How many members can we have and still expect them to get a yearly visit from church leaders? Asking the “How big can we get and this still work?” question will go a long way to helping churches work flexibility into their planning.

What do you think about flexible church systems? Is this concept foreign to you? What issues are your churches dealing with where flexible system issues are contributing factors.

2 Responses to Flexible Systems

  1. Meowmix says:

    Since I’ve missed several blogs, I need to catch up before commenting. But I’m here!!!

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