Size Matters…So?

changeContinuing from yesterday

Gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to be a pastoral-size church necessitates changes in our leadership and ministry structure. For starters, the senior pastor and I will be leading the various ministry teams. In order to make that manageable, I am faced with making changes…changes which feel like the antithesis of everything I’ve learned and practiced to this point! However, being mindful of equipping values–prayer, priesthood of believers and vision of the church as contained in Ephesians 4, servant leadership, team ministry, intentionality, proactive towards change–is my insurance against sabotaging the progress made in developing an equipping culture. What follows are some of the changes necessary to adapt to our smaller size.

1. Streamlining ministry tasks

In the program-size church paradigm, I’ve encouraged division of ministry tasks into “bite-sized” pieces, creating more opportunities for people to participate according to their unique design for ministry. However, in our pastoral-size church, I have to face the fact that there are simply not enough people to fill all those roles. Therefore, I am re-evaluating each task, asking if it’s truly necessary,whether it can be combined with other tasks, and then re-writing the ministry description to reflect the changes in tasks and qualifications.

2. Delegating tasks

In the program-size church, my primary role was to lead the leaders. I was not focused on the ministry tasks–that was the ministry leader’s responsibility. My role was to develop their leadership ability and encourage their spiritual well-being. In my new role as ministry team leader, delegating tasks becomes my responsibility, in addition to identifying potential leaders and encouraging the well-being of all the team members. Some tasks I will be able to delegate according to the gifting/design of the individual team members; however, having fewer team members means that there will be some tasks that will fall to me (incentive to do a good job with #1 above!).

3. Consolidating ministry teams

Because there are now two of us providing leadership for the various ministries, we will be consolidating some of our teams. For example, our Toddler and Children’s Church teams will become one. That is not to say that we are combining toddlers and elementary age children! Rather, those two teams will become one. Another example: all those who serve in the sanctuary for Sunday worship will fold into one Worship Team, rather than having an Altar Team, a Lay Leader Team, and a Music Team. By consolidating teams, we will be better able to coordinate and provide leadership.

4. Ministry training

This is probably the biggest challenge of all. In the program-size church, each team leader would provide the training for their team. Now that we have only two leaders and larger teams with more diverse tasks, individualized training would require too much time and energy. Our ministry training will need to be crafted for the larger group, more generalized, yet provide enough specificity to be sure that everyone is fully equipped to accomplish what is being asked of them. Two benefits to this larger training: 1) it provides a natural opportunity for re-casting vision and 2) everyone will have a general feel for all the ministries, potentially providing a larger pool of “substitutes” when we are short-handed. Specific training for each ministry task can be recorded and given to the individual team members to view at their convenience, with opportunity for follow up conversation as needed.

Size matters. Understanding the different expectations based on church size is essential to developing a successful equipping culture. While I work to adapt the equipping practices I’ve learned over the years to a pastoral-size church, I must remember that the day may come when our parish outgrows this pastoral-church paradigm and I find myself faced with the transition to the (once familiar) program-size church paradigm. With that in mind, I will continue to cast vision for a less clergy-centric leadership structure, identify and develop potential leaders, and give away ministry as God provides the capable and willing people he has called to serve.

In the meantime, I won’t be trying to fit that fat size 9 foot into a sleek and slender size 6 shoe!

Size Matters

In the culture of American church-dom, we hear and read often about the declining membership of churches–all denominations, all sizes. I don’t know of a single pastor or ministry leader that enjoys admitting that their congregation or their ministry is shrinking, no matter how obvious the shrinkage is! Declining attendance is often construed as failure. Sometimes it is; but sometimes the attrition is based on circumstances beyond the control of leadership. For example, my church has said good-bye to several members who have had to re-locate due to employment opportunities, as well as some who have gone to the mission field. That’s hardly failure! But whatever the reason for the decline, denial and a refusal to adapt to the change will most certainly lead to the failure we fear.cinderella slipper

I’ve recently begun to feel like one of Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to stuff a fat size 9 foot into a sleek size 6 shoe, and I am beginning to understand why. I have continued to use practices suited to a larger church even as our numbers have declined.

When church size changes, leadership and ministry structure must be adapted to fit the new size.

I’ve been reading up on church size and why it matters. Several years ago Arlin Rothauge wrote about the relationship between leadership and church size in a little publication entitled Sizing Up A Congregation*. Rothauge classified churches into four categories based on size:

  • The Family  Church: 0-50 members
  • The Pastoral Church: 50-150 members
  • The Program Church: 150-350 members
  • The Corporation Church: 350-500+ members

Rothauge (as well as the writings of a few others) has helped me see why church size matters. (Let me say now that I don’t think it prudent to lock in on these mathematical models–in fact, there are other studies that reflect different models–but they do offer a context for understanding the dynamics associated with different size churches.) I understand more fully why it’s not possible to simply “scale down” practices designed for the program- and corporation-size church in an attempt to make them work in the pastoral- to family-size church.

My church was teetering on the edge of becoming a program church in our ethos, if not quite in our number. However, we are now firmly a pastoral-size church, and Rothauge’s assessment that “the membership looks first to the central leader for direction, inspiration, and pastoral care” is spot-on. The very fact that we have an average Sunday attendance of 55-60 means that it is quite natural and easy for members to relate directly to our pastor. In larger churches, it’s more difficult to have that same ease of access to the senior leadership.

Simply understanding this relationship dynamic helps me see why it is a challenge to raise up team leaders. One of the key arguments used in a program-size church for enlisting volunteer leaders is that there are too many people–too many ministries–for one person (senior pastor) to lead. However, in a church of 50 that argument won’t win the case. Add that to the general busyness of most people’s lives and it’s understandable why they are unwilling to step into a leadership role. They don’t see the need. Yet, without volunteer ministry leaders, the landscape of ministry changes considerably.

It’s time we changed with it. In fact, it’s imperative. Come back tomorrow for a look at how we are navigating change…


*a PDF version is available online

The spice of life?

decisions3Variety is the spice of life!

It’s an old saying that, for some of us, holds a lot of truth. Culturally speaking, I think we’ve taken variety to an all-time high. I’m currently in the market for a new computer. My laptop has a defect that can’t be repaired and, though it’s only four years old, it’s destined for the computer graveyard. I can’t tell you how much I loathe purchasing a new one. It’s not just having to shell out a chunk of cash, although that’s bad enough. No, what really frustrates me is trying to find the right machine for my needs for the right price. There are simply too many choices, and sorting through the variety of available options requires more energy and time than I want to invest.

For ten years I served on staff at a large church. The immense variety of programs was certainly attractive to me and to my family when we began worshiping there, and I was excited at the prospect of  coordinating their volunteer ministry. I remember the first time I actually counted all the serving  opportunities we offered: 250. I was really proud of that–so much for people to choose from! However, many folks coming through our discovery and placement process found it overwhelming. Choosing a ministry from the wide variety could be a daunting task. It often took several conversations, several trial runs, before we found the right fit. There were some who quickly tired of the process and simply opted out, never finding a place to serve that would grow their faith.

I now serve a small parish as the pastor of ministry development. Ministry development, however, is certainly not limited to creating serving opportunities. I do that occasionally. But primarily I am concerned with developing a person’s ministry–their vocation— for wherever they are at any given moment. I begin by engaging in meaningful dialogue around one’s passions in life, their personal preferences, the talents they were born with and the skills they’ve acquired, the experiences they have had, and the way the Holy Spirit has uniquely gifted them. When we take those discoveries and line them up with that person’s daily routines, we begin to see how all of life can be ministry and how ministry can be the wellspring of life.

In this way, those who thrive on variety can see that each new day offers plenty of opportunity for ministry, while those who would be overwhelmed by choosing from a list of 250 serving opportunities need look no further than their everyday life to find meaningful ways to serve. Variety made simple.

Now, if only the computer companies could grasp that concept…

Persuading or Convincing?

Seth Godin’s blogs continually inspire me to examine, re-examine, and think outside the box–precisely his intent. A recent post, Persuade vs. Convince, caught my attention.

“Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device.”

Convincing tactics:
  • the “help needed” broadcast in the church newsletter
  • pleading for volunteers
  • guilt-inducing tactics
  • a stated vision. done.
Persuading tactics:
  • personal conversations about the joy of living ministry
  • the use of a discovery tool
  • “no rings, no strings” opportunities (when a potential volunteer shadows an experienced volunteer)
  • a personal invitation to participate in a serving opportunity
  • removing obstacles to serving
  • continually dripping the vision (read more here)
I hope that by now you are asking yourself, “Am I convincing or persuading?” If you are convincing, what kind of results are you getting? Is your volunteer ministry a revolving door? Do volunteers begrudge the time spent serving? Are your ministry teams imaginative and innovative? Are vibrant new ministries popping up regularly?
No? Maybe it’s time to try a new tactic. Try appealing to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Ask your people:
  • Is a life of fruitful, fulfilling ministry appealing to you?
  • What ministry is missing in the body of Christ that you are uniquely designed to provide?
  • If you could do anything and knew you wouldn’t fail, what would it be?

How far will you go?

How far are you willing to go to get the attention of your congregation?

A pastor attending one of my workshops recently shared just how far he was willing to go–or perhaps, just how far he was driven! After the nursery attendant quit, the parents were encouraged to volunteer to staff the nursery on Sunday mornings. Most of the parents didn’t want to do it, so they complained and regularly coerced the pastor’s wife into nursery duty. The pastor encouraged folks to listen to see if God was perhaps calling them to serve in the nursery. Having no response, the pastor stepped up to the pulpit on a Sunday morning and said, “You folks can sing songs and worship God this morning. If one of you wants to get up here and preach, you are welcome to do so. I am going to the nursery and care for the youngest members of our congregation.” And that’s exactly where he remained for the entire worship service! What a message he sent to his congregation that day. When one part of the body doesn’t work according to how it was designed, the entire body is affected.

Another pastor I know believed that his volunteer ministers needed to be trained. He worked with his staff to design a fun and effective all-church training event. Four weeks prior to the scheduled training, he took a deep breath and announced it to the congregation, saying, “If you want to continue serving in your ministry role, you must attend this training. If you can’t come, it is your responsibility to meet with your team leader and be trained. Please understand: if you do not attend the training and neglect to follow up with your team leader, you will not be included in the next volunteer ministry schedule.” He repeated the announcement every Sunday leading up to the event. What a message he sent to his congregation that day. We value your time and willingness to serve so much that we are going to be certain that you have the information and training you need for the ministry we are asking you to do.

A staff member from a church shared with me that her pastor has been encouraging each member of his congregation to serve. He recently exhorted them to “exchange your bib for an apron.” What a message he sent to his congregation that day. You have been equipped; now it’s time for you to go out and serve.

Brave men, these pastors. In each case, they risked confrontation, and I’m sure there was some grumbling and grousing as a result of their actions. But the churches didn’t collapse and the pastors weren’t evicted from their pulpits! Each pastor stood firm in the strength of his conviction and challenged the congregation to actually be the body of Christ, according to God’s design.

So… how far will you go?

A word of encouragement…

I am blessed to be traveling around Indiana this week, presenting workshops to help ministry leaders develop equipping values and practices within their congregations. I’ve spoken with pastors, paid staff, and volunteer staff who are working together to encourage their congregations to discover how fulfilling ministry can be, to live into their God-given call to serve. I am truly humbled by their commitment to learn and grow, to try different methods and practices in hopes that they can better encourage growth and maturation of the body of Christ.

One young man today said that he would like to just push the pause button on current ministry, put in place some of the practices he learned today, then turn the ministry back on again to run in alignment with those new practices. Of course, that can’t happen. And so I encouraged him to remember that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time! Do what he can today…take that first step…make one little change…then watch for the next opportunity to take another step into an equipping culture.

Another woman shared that she had to cap one of her children’s ministry programs due to a lack of volunteers. She said that it was unsafe  to allow more children to participate than the volunteers could handle. She also said that it was really unfair to the people who had volunteered in good faith to serve to overwhelm them with more children than they could care for. So, she faced the frustration of members whose kids had to be placed on a waiting list–not to mention the pastor’s skepticism about the wisdom of such a move. This leader did the right thing: she courageously protected the children as well as her volunteers. The result? More volunteers than she needed, which birthed a new ministry initiative!

Another older couple came with their much younger ministry leader. After the workshop, the leader told me that they were helping her re-structure all her ministry teams and had come to the workshop to learn all they could about helping equip people for ministry. She was blessed by their willingness to learn a new way of doing ministry and their excitement about helping church members grow.

Changes are occurring in churches as ministry leaders are working faithfully to equip their people to live into their life vocation. How exciting! As we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” it’s actually happening! The body of Christ is maturing. For all of you ministry leaders, I echo Paul’s prayer from Ephesians:

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! (Eph. 1:15-19, The Message)

Thou shalt not compete…

We live in a culture that prizes competition. Heaven knows, we’ve been exposed to some pretty heavy–and ugly–competition over the past several months leading up to yesterday’s election. More than once I’ve listened to an ad or a debate and wondered exactly what would happen if the candidates worked together, pooling their resources and cooperating with each other rather than competing.

Competition is as old as mankind. We see it in the story of Cain and Abel, in Lucifer’s desire to have equal status with God, between the disciples as they jockeyed for a favored position in the Kingdom of God. Yes, competition is as old as sin itself.

When applied in moderation, competition can hone, sharpen us. But competition unleashed is the antithesis of cooperation, and a strong deterrent to interdependence. One doesn’t have to look any farther than 1 Corinthians 12 to understand that the body of Christ must be interdependent in order to function the way God intended.

Where do we see competition in the church today? I’m not talking about competition between denominations (though there is certainly that!), but about competition that goes on within individual churches…places that are supposed to be known for loving fellowship.

Competition among volunteers.

It’s not at all unusual for me to encounter someone who covets the spiritual gift or ministry that someone else has. Sometimes it’s a matter of helping them discern their own unique design and finding a good ministry match. Sometimes it just boils down to a desire for attention and recognition, so making a point of celebrating all ministry equally can help avoid that particular symptom of competition.

Competition between staff and volunteers.

Any equipping leader knows that a hallmark of good practice comes when they find they’ve equipped themselves out of a job! But in all honesty, that’s a scary scenario in the middle of a recession, with so many churches taking the brunt and laying off staff in order to survive. It may be tempting for a staff person to protect their job by limiting the ministry they are willing to give away. If you find yourself dealing with this temptation, I encourage you to face down your fear and continue to give the ministry away as God brings qualified volunteer ministers. You can trust that he has more than enough ministry to go around–even for you! (I speak from experience.)

Competition between leaders.

Leaders who fight to keep their favored ministry continually in the limelight in order to garner resources–people, time, and funding–at the expense of other ministries do so much damage to the church body. Not only does ministry become very lopsided, but the perception is given that one ministry is more important, more valuable, more desirable in God’s eyes than any other. In reality, all are equally necessary–everything from cleaning the church’s bathrooms and washing windows, to serving a hot meal to the poorest in the community.

No matter how you look at it, competition within the church is divisive. It robs the body of Christ of the interdependence it needs to be the body of Christ, leaving the church crippled and ineffective in its ministry. But when we work cooperatively, serving together inside and outside the walls of the church, our ministry becomes fruitful and attractive–to God as well as to those who are watching us!