Church Organization in the Church-Planting Age
Having only been in ministry, officially, for a little over a year, there are many things I have yet to learn. Therefore, I am thankful for blogs like preach-lead-love that can provide helpful wisdom from pastors from various stages of life and ministry. But there is one pattern I have noticed over the years in various internships and now in my first year of vocational ministry that I feel I can speak to: the majority of pastors are not organizationally-minded. This is not foreign to many. If you are a lead pastor or church planter you are probably nodding your head. If you are the “#2” in your church, like myself, then you may be nodding your head as the one who is organized. This, of course, is not an absolute truth, but I have found it to be generally true.
This is not a bad thing, as lead pastors generally have gifts of being able to gather people, form community, cast vision, and love and lead people spiritually in profoundly important ways. The other side of leading a church, though, is leading it organizationally. In the decades of the church growth movement, organizational leadership sadly seemed to trump spiritual leadership by pastors, and the effects of this are still felt in many churches across America and around the world. But, in recent years of heavy church-planting initiatives, both to urban and rural communities, the pendulum seems to have swung to the other side where now we send out planters and pastors who love God and love people, both critically important, but who have little organizational acumen. The danger of this is that we will have, and do have, churches that are spiritually well-fed and loved, again critically important, but whose membership will become tired under poorly organized ministries and volunteer coordination. Additionally, these churches will eventually hit a ceiling in their growth (not just numerically) because of poor structure, which causes bad first impressions, visitors to fall through the cracks, and eventual irrelevance.
If a church is well-organized, however, it can remove barriers to growth and the Gospel can go forth unhindered and continue to do the good work of saving, healing, growing and restoring it is meant to. Organizational leadership will not save people in your church, only the Gospel can do that, but even with a little bit of organization it will allow your church or church plant to be better able to go the long-haul, firing on all cylinders. Organizational leadership is also never meant to replace spiritual leadership (i.e. shepherding). Good organizational leadership is simply meant to help spiritual leadership happen more effectively and efficiently, so that a church can better live up to its potential. Therefore, I would like to share six practical steps that any church should take to help get more organized and be relevant in current times.
1. Have a Vision Statement – Maybe you recoil at that term “vision statement” which may make you think of corporations and other large enterprises, but for any organization it is crucial. Your church, the members, the volunteers, as well as your outside community need to know why you exist. Why should I go to your church instead of the one down the street from my house? Every church should exist to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but local congregations are (and should be!) as varied as the Body of Christ is and should reflect that, within biblical parameters. A vision statement should be clear and concise, while at the same time communicating the hallmark of your church.
2. Get (and maintain!) a good website – In our internet-driven world this is crucial. For most potential visitors, your church website is the first place they are going to check to decide whether to even come on Sunday, for better or worse. It should be informative, but concise; attractive, but not cluttered; and user-friendly, but not simplistic. It is not hard to have a professional-looking website made for cheap or to even do it yourself if you have any technological savviness. If you need help knowing what content to have on your website, here is an article that every church should check out to cross-check with their own: http://thomrainer.com/2016/07/eight-mistakes-churches-make-websites/
3. Electronic Giving (E-giving) – Again this is crucial in the age of smartphones and internet. Every church should want to make giving as easy as possible to remove any potential financial barriers to church progress. E-giving is the best way to make that a reality, especially for any non-local supporters. E-giving platforms can sometimes be unnecessarily elaborate and expensive, though, so you have to do your research and decide what’s best for your church. This is not meant to replace the Sunday offering basket and one may have to cast a vision to show that worshipful giving can be done from one’s computer, but I would say at this point it is a necessity.
4. Simple, Consistent Volunteer Coordination – Whether in smaller churches where various members may be serving in multiple roles, or big churches where volunteer coordination can be an administrative nightmare, the burden should be on the church to make volunteer coordination as easy as possible for the volunteers themselves. I’ve seen several churches where one ministry uses an elaborate spreadsheet, one ministry uses a simple Word document, and yet another uses a volunteer coordination software, all in the same church. This puts the burden on the volunteer to communicate their availability with each ministry and juggle their various responsibilities. This will lead to volunteer burn-out and holes in the various ministries on Sunday.
5. Establish Yearly Rhythms – Another way to deter volunteer and congregational burnout is to have some consistent rhythm to your year, with natural breaks. If your church likes to do large outreach events, try to do them at consistent times from year to year. This will be good for the church and for the community that can come to expect these events. If your church has a small-group ministry, some may disagree with me, but I always highly recommend that churches take the summer off from their small groups. This will allow your church a chance to develop community and fellowship in different ways and it will also give your small-group leaders consistent breaks. It also gives you as the pastor a chance to “circle the wagons” each semester or at least once a year to assess small-group fitness, leader prowess, etc.
6. Church Management Software – This step will probably take the most work and the most hand-holding, but it really pays off. So if you have room in the budget, I highly recommend looking into a church management software, regardless of your church’s size (the sooner you start the easier it is). Like e-giving, there are many software platforms out there that vary in price, capabilities, format, etc., so you need to research and compare to see what is best for your church for the long-haul. Think and pray hard over this decision because once you get started with one platform, moving to a different one is a major headache. Elaborate is not always best and you also have to keep things like customer service in mind, as they may be needed frequently. But if done well, a good-fitting church management software can be your volunteer and small-group coordination platform, it can facilitate e-giving, it can make planning Sunday services stress-free, it can allow you to keep track of visitors and general attendance, and can also allow you to communicate with your entire church easily. I’ll make a plug for Elvanto, which my church utilizes and I highly recommend.
We see in the Creation account that God turned chaos into order as He was creating. Our God is a God of order, and thus we should value order as well. Organization should never supplant the Gospel or the spiritual well-being of our congregations in priority, but it should certainly be valued and sought in our churches. Well-organized churches are a blessing to our members, our volunteers, our visitors, and our communities, all of whom we as pastors seek to shepherd. As we seek to honor God through organization, He will surely bless those biblical efforts as He sees fit.
Brandon Ryan serves as the Pastoral Resident at Red Village Church, an SBC church plant in Madison, WI, and obtained his Master of Divinity from Denver Seminary. He and his wife, Valerie, have been married for 8 years and have three wonderful children.