As I work with churches I have observed that one of the significant differences between big and small, healthy and unhealthy, growing and declining, effective and ineffective churches is the quality and sophistication of their structures. I believe structure is so vital I have named my organization, Sacred Structures, and committed this season of ministry to helping churches put into place healthy structures.
What is Structure?
Structure in the church can be defined as “an organizational framework to help accomplish the mission, vision and strategy of the church.” For example, your church has a staff structure, a governance structure and a financial structure. You have those structures because you know it is required to accomplish anything worthwhile.
God is a God of order and he placed structure, or an organizational framework, in literally everything he created. You want to change your health, put a structure to your diet and exercise. You want a healthy spiritual life, put structure to it. You want a healthy marriage, put structure to it. You want a healthy church, put structure to it. A good maxim to remember is “structure follows strategy.” If you want to accomplish a strategy you must put a structure to it.
Two Sub-Sets of Structure: Processes and Systems
The two primary forms of structure that we see in churches are processes and systems.
A System can be defined as “a group of related parts that work together synergistically.”
For example a “systematized” Guest or First Impressions Ministry has a lot of moving parts that work together to insure a guest has a positive experience. This includes such things as your web site, signage, guest parking, door greeters, welcome centers, guest card, and follow up strategies. A “systems thinker” sees how to take these disparate parts and put them together in such a way that they work synergistically.
Effective churches have excellent “systems thinkers” who can think of all the moving parts of a ministry and then put them together in such a way that the results exceed the sum of the parts. This is usually part natural giftedness and part hard work.
A Process can be defined as “a series of sequential actions that produces a desired outcome.” For example, churches have a hiring process and a budget planning process, each representing a series of orderly steps to produce a desired outcome……hiring a quality staff member and developing a realistic and mission aligned budget.
Effective churches also have excellent “process thinkers” who can think linearly and sequentially and design and communicate step by step processes. This too is usually a hard wiring attribute, but is a way of thinking that can be learned with practice.
Churches need both types of thinkers, people who can take creative and innovative ideas and put processes and systems to them so they can be effectively implemented. But, there is a caution. Churches can become overly process and systems oriented and bog the organization down and stifle creativity and innovation.
Two Truisms About Processes and Systems
There are at least two truths about processes and systems that have profound implications for the church.
Truism #1: Information and knowledge changes our minds, and processes and systems changes our behavior.
Simply reading the newest book or cutting edge website, attending the latest and greatest conference, or for that matter, listening to great sermons won’t alone change the way you act. That will take a process or a system. For example, a discipleship process is usually required to see transformed lives and ministry goals are much more likely to be achieved if they are accompanied by a process of regular review and reporting to a supervisor and church leaders.
Truism #2: Your church’s processes and systems are perfectly designed to yield the results you are seeing.
Many if not most of the problems and dysfunctions in a church can be traced to a processes and systems failure. For example, if there are personnel problems, it is reflective of an ineffective hiring process and/or performance management system. Similarly, if there are communication, leadership, or growth challenges, more than likely it is your processes and systems, or lack thereof, that are causing most of your problems. Just trying harder or talking about it more doesn’t usually change things substantially.
Two Types of Processes and Systems
In the local church, processes and systems fall into two broad categories, organic and organizational.
#1. Organic Processes and Systems – These are ministry and program processes and systems designed to transform and change on a personal level and team level; processes and systems that help people grow spiritually and create conditions for transformation. The image here is of a Gardener creating the conditions for his plants to grow.
To measure the effectiveness of your church’s organic and organizational processes and systems refer to the posts “Assessing the Health of Your Church Organizational Systems” and “Assessing the Health of Your Eight Organic Church Systems.”
For many of you this “process and systems” approach will feel corporate and unspiritual…….bringing the world into the church. But remember, structure is not the goal. The church’s mission and vision, transformed lives, unity with God and others are the goals.
Just as a trellis is not more important than the grapes, it nonetheless is essential for healthy grapes. Structures are designed to serve the church’s mission, vision, and goals, not the other way around.
Posted on September 20, 2016