Would that every church leadership team would be faced with the challenges of significant church growth!
A pastor who is dealing with that happy situation put this question to me:
Again: wouldn’t it be great if hundreds of church leaders were asking me that same question?
For those of you who are, and for those of you who are working hard at growing effective, disciple-making churches, here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t ever forget, for one day, that you are in a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:10-20). Someone powerful is out to get you every day. The higher your leadership role in your church, the more valuable a target you are. Eighteenth century naval sharpshooters positioned themselves in the rigging of their ships so they could fire at the officers on the decks of enemy ships. If they could take out the officers, the battle was over for chaos would ensue.
Moreover, the greater the disciple-making effectiveness of your church, the more successful your congregation has been at storming the gates of hell and rescuing sinners (Matthew 16:18), the more important a target your congregation becomes.
You must put your spiritual armor on (most of which is God-given Christian character) every day. Period.
- Make sure you have a clear, simple, unifying dream for what you believe God wants your church to become or achieve. This is a controversial subject, of course, but here’s the bottom-line reality: You cannot achieve and maintain unity without a unifying dream.
Without one, your problem will not be the lack of a dream; your problem will be that almost every person in every chair has their own dream. More songs, louder songs, older songs, stronger coffee, better chairs, shorter sermons, more ministries for their age group, a nicer parking lot, etc. Without a widely owned, unifying, heaven-sent dream, your congregation, like so many before it, will be drawn and quartered by its own members. Without a dream, energy is dissipated, alignment is non-existent, and conflict is inevitable.
- Do change wisely. In a crisis, and your church might be in one right now, you can usually change many things quickly. Even if there’s lots of resistance, what do you have to lose?
But if your church is not in crisis, or doesn’t see itself as being in crisis, you’ll probably need to make changes incrementally. “Wisely,” the word I used above, also means: (a) with lots of counsel from within and without (b) using concentric circles, convincing the most important leaders first, then a wider circle of leaders, next, a still wider circle of influencers and finally, bringing the change to the congregation.
At the very least, you must demonstrate that you are willing to carefully explain every change to every congregant. “What happened to the meet-and-greet time?” “What happened to the praise-and-prayer time?” “What happened to the flags?” If you don’t tell them why they will assume the worst.
“Wisely” also means putting first things first. Is paving or repaving the parking lot really the first change that needs to be made? What comes first, moving toward a streamlined church leadership structure or training the leaders who will, ultimately, make the new system successful? Do I really need to write my own curriculum or is someone else’s curriculum going to be sufficient? Is changing the constitution really the first thing we should be working on?
- Communicate change lavishly. When you make those important growing-pains changes, you must communicate them to one and all multiple times and through multiple methods.
Announcing something from the pulpit on one Sunday only reaches about a third to a half of your people. Of those who are present, half of them aren’t listening and of those who are listening, a substantial number won’t understand what they’re hearing. Minimally, you must announce the change on several Sundays and through several other communication channels as well.
Better yet, announce your changes in interactive settings. Explain what you’re doing. Explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Allow for questions. Expect push back.
- Personal relationships among leaders are almost all-important. The more leaders you add to your growing church – and that includes board/council members and/or staff members – the more complicated and vulnerable your leadership structure becomes.
When the staff was one pastor and one secretary and the pastor was accountable to four board members, life was simple. The Pastor had five key relationships to maintain and he also had to watch over the relationships of those five folks (six with himself) with each other.
As your paid or unpaid leadership team grows, these relationships multiply exponentially and they all matter, profoundly. I’m always surprised to learn that another pastor has been aware of poor relationships between his leaders – sometimes between himself and other leaders – and ignored the problem, as if it doesn’t matter. It does.
Senior pastors: There may have been a time in America when the typical staff member wanted support, autonomy and independence. Today, far more staff members come from dysfunctional backgrounds and long for the senior pastor to be their father substitute. Their senior pastor bosses don’t understand this and think they’re doing their reports a favor by leaving them alone. The results of this are not pretty. Today, you must pastor – if not father – your staff.
Next week: More suggestions for maintaining unity as your church grows.