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Leadership
Thoughts

Finding the Right Fit

I’ll begin this issue with a confession. It’s been three months since the last issue of the Leadership Connections. The silence is not due to idleness. In fact, it is just the opposite. Over the last three years, as I’ve labored hard to discover how to effectively direct the resources of Leadership Development, I’ve initiated several critical ventures. These ventures have matured to the point where they have given birth to solid products, and over the last few months their delivery has required my full attention.

One of the initiatives, The Best Practices for Church Boards, has proven to be quite fertile in creating further instruments to help strengthen healthy churches. As we’ve opened conversations with Church Boards, I’ve become aware of a number of significant shared issues. A survey of Churches that had attended the Basic Edition of Church Boards revealed that the number one issue that they faced was Vision Development and Strategic Planning. This issue became the focus for our first Advanced Edition of Best Practices for Church Boards and has produced a workshop that will be held later this month.

Running a close second to Vision Renewal and Strategic Planning was the issue of organizational structure: how to find the right structure for a healthy church governance. That struggle is faced by many churches.

There is no guarantee that if a Church finds just the right constitutional structure that it will have an effective ministry. But, having the wrong structure can almost certainly inhibit the ability of a congregation to serve and grow. Sometimes a church outgrows its structure and sometimes a structure outgrows a church. In either case, there are moments where it becomes evident to Church leaders that they are no longer configured in a way to handle to matters of ministry. It’s time for an administrative tune-up.

Gordon MacDonald, wrote of his personal experience with this moment in Leadership Journal [When The Wineskins Start To Rip, January, 1984.] While the Bible doesn’t prescribe a template for a standard Church Constitution and By-law structure, it does illustrate the dilemma. This is revealed in Acts 6 in the words “in those days, when the number of disciples was increasing, there arose a murmuring in the church.” Murmuring…interesting word related to an administrative breakdown. The complaints of the congregation expressed the sort of  friction and irritation that requires the discovery a new organizational system, one that would free people to concentrate on the mission of ministry.

In the course of research for the Best Practices for Church Boards, I have developed a catalog of different governance models. As the United Way of Canada has looked at non-profit agencies, they have identified 4 different types of Board structures: Policy Board, Policy Governance Board, Working/Administrative Board, and Collective Board [www.boarddevelopment.org] An article published by Banff Executive Leadership, Inc. [The Challenge to Govern Well] identifies five different models: Structural [Traditional], Policy [Carver], Outcome [Cortex], Process [Consensus], and Competency [Skill/Practice] Models.

A lot of attention has been given to the Carver – or Policy – model as a clearly defined system, and many churches are finding that – given a few adaptations – the Carver model is quite helpful. But, at the same time, I am finding that many churches – particularly smaller churches – require a different model. They are finding, as Gary McIntosh says, that one size doesn’t fit all. The problem is, it’s hard for them to find a system that fits.

Gary’s book [One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Revell, 1999] is one of the standard texts that we give to the churches that attend Best Practices for Church Boards. His argument is that the size of a congregation creates it’s own unique environmental demands. McIntosh identifies three sizes of congregations: Small [15 – 200], Medium [201 – 400] and Large [400+] Others, like Bob Gilliam [of T-Net International], have identified more distinct size categories [25-45; 75-110; 150-225, 400-450; 700-750; 1000-1200] that represent various levels of congregational character. In essence, being a Church of 700 is much different than being a Church of 225. The dynamics at each level possess their own requirements and a structure that works at one level is not appropriate for another.  In addition, the structure of a congregation is a significant factor that will determine whether or not a church both thrives at it’s level – and/or proceeds to the next. The challenge is to find a structure that would easily flex and adapt to the needs and conditions of growth patterns and leadership styles. Finding the right structure is critical in promoting healthy relationships, effective service and a mandate for mission.

The response that I am getting from the Best Practices for Church Boards churches has led me to expand my study on Church structure and Board models. Over the next year, I would like to create an instrument that would help guide churches to find a Board structure that would fit their needs.

To do that, I need your help. Here are some things I would like to know:

  1. What size is your congregation?
  2. How is the Church structured? Does the structure work well? If you were to change anything about it, what would it be and why would you change it?
  3. Who sets the direction for the congregation? How are decisions made?
  4. Who determines the use of the congregation’s resources?
  5. What is the Pastor’s role? What is the role of staff? How do they relate to Boards and leaders?

These are just a few of the questions that I’d like to know. You may have more. In fact, you may wish to send me a copy of  your church constitution with some sort of commentary: what do you like about it? How does it serve the needs of ministry? What would you like to change in it? Why?

It’s a critical issue, and we are in a position to help each other. I’ll look forward to hearing from you

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