Structure doesn’t cause growth; the structure of your church determines how fast you’ll grow and the size to which you’ll grow. There is no clear organizational structure in the New Testament, and I think God did that intentionally so the church can adapt to different stages, ages, and cultures. God gives us broad principles and not narrow rules. There is no perfect structure.
As we study Scripture, we learn two general principles about organizing and structuring for growth. First, God wants us to organize around the purposes for which he created the church. And, second, God wants us to organize around the gifts of our members. Purpose and giftedness determine how you should organize your church.
Here are some advantages to a simple, gift-based structure:
It focuses the church on ministry, not maintenance.
When organization is overemphasized, a church can lose its focus on ministry. I heard about a grease factory that, as it became more and more successful, had to build more machinery to produce the grease. But, they also had to use more of the grease on the machinery they were adding. Pretty soon, they closed the marketing department because all the grease was being used on their own machinery.
If you streamline your structure, then you can maximize ministry and minimize maintenance. If you cut out about half of your meetings, your church would be more effective. I noticed the other day that my peach tree is covered in peaches; in fact, there might be 50 small peaches blooming on one branch. This week, I’m going to have to go out and remove about half of them. If you want big fruit, you have to get rid of about half of what you already have. That’s true in ministry, too: You have to focus if you want big results.
It makes better use of talent.
I remember many years ago when we were looking for land for Saddleback Church, I asked people who had a background in real estate or development to show up at my office the next night. There were 14 guys who showed up, and I didn’t know half of them. They went around the room, introduced themselves, and said why they should be on the task force.
The first guy said, “My name’s Tom, and I buy all the sites for Kmart.” You’re in, Tom.
The next guy says, “Last year I did $91 million in land acquisition.” You’re in.
Next guy: “I’m vice president of First Interstate Bank.” You’re in.
All the guys were highly qualified – far more than I was. I said, “I believe God wants us to have 50 acres of land for our church; your task is to go find it. God bless you. Meeting dismissed.” That’s what you call liberating the members for ministry. I’ve had this philosophy for more than 30 years, and Saddleback has gone far beyond what I could do because I released people to do what they are good at doing.
The more successful a person becomes, the more impatient they will become with meaningless meetings. The last thing you want to do is put a go-getter on the flower committee. Committees discuss what they want other people to do; ministries just do it.
It builds morale.
Why? Because ministry is more fulfilling than maintenance.
It allows spontaneous growth.
If someone has a burden for ministry, then they can start it. We call this the “You’re It” principle. I can’t tell you how many people come to me and say, “Pastor, what the church needs is …” My job is to release and equip the saints for ministry. When people see something missing in your church, they’re often revealing their giftedness. Don’t treat it as a criticism; realize that they are revealing their passion.
In 1992, a young guy named Shane came to me and said, “This Internet thing is really going to take off, and the Church isn’t doing anything about it.” He wrote a three-page, critical letter about how we weren’t getting anything done. So, I hired him. As a result, Saddleback was the first church in the world on the Internet. Instead of getting defensive, I said, “Take it. Run with it.”
Don’t go around popping bubbles all the time. I’d rather someone try and then learn that it can’t be done than for me to tell them that it can’t be done. And, it may be that they are finally the right person for the ministry that has failed in the past.
Sometimes we start ministries from sermons. One time I did a message on how we need to care for one another. I thought, “We should start calling people just to see how they’re doing.” And I said, “I’m going to start a ministry right now called ‘Care Callers.’ If you like to talk on the phone and want to go through the directory and call people up and ask for prayer requests on my behalf, then please sign up on a card.” We didn’t do any long-range planning, but we started a valuable ministry.
It promotes growth.
Structure will be as creative as you allow it to be. If you allow people to expand and stretch, then you’re going to have a creative church. But if you have bureaucracy – “We’ve always done it this way” – then creative people are going to leave your church. They’ll go find a place where they’re allowed to blossom.
It allows more efficient decision-making.
Have you ever seen a church waste time on a trivial decision? Often, the more trivial the decision, the more time it takes to resolve the issue. In congregational meetings in small churches, decisions are often based on the popularity of the speaker. Also, the smaller the church, the more power the most negative person has. Many churches operate by management objection. The most negative person in the church is allowed to kill an idea.
A simple structure is more stable. The more complicated a structure is, the easier it is to break. How do you simplify your structure?
- Reduce the number of meetings you have in your church.
- Reduce the number of items you vote on.
- Release ministries to make their own decisions.
- Let your budget determine your priorities. The way you spend your time and your money determines what’s important in your church.