A wise, young pastor whose congregation is experiencing healthy growth put this question to me:
“I love the unity we have in our church right now.
How can we maintain it as we continue to grow?”
(1) Don’t ever forget that you are in a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:10-20). Someone powerful is out to destroy your church, especially if it’s effective at making disciples.
(2) Make sure you have a clear, simple, unifying dream for what you believe God wants your church to become or achieve.
(3) Do change wisely. This means that you make (1) the right changes (2) at the right pace, and (3) in the right way.
(4) Communicate change lavishly. For that matter, communicate everything
(5) Maintain personal relationships among your leaders as if they are all-important.
(6) Use orientation sessions and membership classes to clarify “what your church is about.”
(7) Master humility early. Be prepared to be confronted with your errors. As the old saying goes, “Keep your words sweet; you may have to eat them some day.”
(8) Pray on your knees (spiritually, if not physically), as a leadership team, for God’s guidance.
Here are 4 more ways to maintain your unity as you grow.
(9) Be ever-vigilant for false teachers and disruptive personalities.
The New Testament has so many warnings about dangerous intruders into our assemblies that this should probably have been my first point (Matthew 7:15-20, Acts 20:28-31, Romans 16:17, 18, etc.). And it stands to reason that the larger the congregation, the more likely it is to be infested with the invasive species of false teachers and unhealthy, power-seeking personalities. No single leader can be expected to spot every dangerous person; every leader must remain “on the lookout.”
(10) Be deliberate about your church’s culture.
Culture is the feel of your church, the personality of your church, and it matters, big time. Culture is composed of values, expectations, behavior patterns, communication styles, humor styles (if any!), conflict styles, alliances, factions and more. Everything that makes a “personality” makes an organizational culture.
Do board members spend time together? Do staff members enjoy each other’s company? Do people eat together? Are your church’s leaders required to like each other? How hard and how much do staff members and lay leaders work? How respectful are we of each other? Are we a bunch of quiet introverts or noisy extroverts? Do we have close relationships with each other or are we actually quite shallow? How formal or informal are we? Do we whisper into intercoms or shout down hallways?
More than likely, if your church has had the same senior pastor for more than a few years, the culture of the church has been “set” (as in, concrete) by that individual. The personality of the church is probably his personality.
I’m suggesting that you become and stay aware of your church’s culture. Find out if it’s healthy or not. Be careful about who you ask about this. The wrong people – those who are swimming in it and used to it – will not give you accurate answers.
Find out why your church’s culture is healthy or not. Take action now if it’s needed; it won’t get better all by itself.
(11) Adapt your leadership style as your congregation grows.
So much has been written about this for so long that I’m quite surprised when I encounter pastors who insist on trying to lead their churches in the same way they led them several years and several hundred persons ago:
“My leadership style has served me well. It got me here; I’m sticking with it.”
The folks who came to the church because it was smaller, helped to ruin it (in some people’s minds) by making it larger.
Eventually, the pastor faces the difficult decision of whether he’s going to become a next-sized-church pastor – leading more, training more, delegating more, and doing personal care-giving less – or whether he will stick with his small-church shepherding style and see the congregation stagnate, shrink or even implode as a result.
(12) Similarly, the church must adapt its governance style while the main leader is adapting his leadership style.
Put succinctly, the larger the congregation the less democratic it’s able to be. Individual members must accept the fact that their voices will carry less weight. Typically, the role of the board changes from involvement in many decisions to monitoring and supporting the senior leader; from playing in the soccer field to continually revising the boundaries of the soccer field which the senior leader, staff and volunteers play in.
Can your church maintain its delightful unity as it grows? Absolutely, but it will take intentional effort and constant watchfulness on the part of – ideally – multiple, prayerful leaders.