Saturday, November 15, 2008

What keeps churches from growing?

Yesterday, while coming home from a funeral in Eagle Pass, I was asked a question concerning small Spanish-speaking congregations as to what was keeping them from being able to grow past a certain size. I mentioned that I recently taught a class on transformational leadership for Vision International University which I later shared with the staff of Colegio Biblico this summer. During that class I mentioned several things that tend to limit the size of churches, keeping them from growing beyond the range of 50 to 100 in size. The size limiters include the following:
  1. Single cell unit: These are church congregations that insist on doing everything together as a single unit. Therefore, they will have only one adult Sunday school class (usually taught by the pastor), only one worship service, even if it is past 80% full, only one Bible study mid week, usually at the church building, again led by the pastor, only one fellowship meal involving the whole church body, etc. There is an aversion to allowing anything to happen that might only involve a portion of the church population or to allow any second group to start up that would sub-divide the church family in any way. The underlying assumption is that starting anything that sub-divides the congregation is dangerous or at least risky to the safety and health of the congregation. The assumption is that things might get out of hand if anything is allowed that involves only a part of the church family. The problem with this assumption is that it prohibits the very thing that would allow the church to grow larger than the current size. Growing churches must permit the congregation to become a multi cell unit with more than one leader involved in the life of the congregation.
  2. Fellowship and leadership barriers that are difficult to cross: The second dynamic that keeps churches small is the barrier to fellowship and leadership imposed by the current leadership circle within the congregation. Picture three concentric circles in every church congregation. The outermost circle includes everyone who makes any connection of any kind to the congregation by visiting a church service or or attending a related affinity group such as a Bible study, Sunday school class, choir, praise band rehearsal, coffee fellowship, mother's group, etc. Anyone may visit such a group, but the ease or difficulty with which a person crosses through the fellowship barrier to become a part of the regular fellowship of the group determines whether or not they keep coming to the group or not. Ease of assimilation may keep them coming, but difficulty of assimilation, that is, being kept on the outer fringe of fellowship where you never feel that you have become a real part of the group or that you ever can become a part of the group, makes assimilation hard or perhaps even impossible. People know instinctively whether they can or can't cross the barrier to become a vital part of the fellowship of the church. Likewise, they also know whether or not they can ever become part of the leadership team of the church. Those kept out of the leadership circle of the congregation know instinctively that they will always be outsiders. Churches that make the fellowship and leadership boundaries rigid and difficult to cross will find growing hard or impossible to achieve. The longer that people stay on the outer fringes of the fellowship or leadership circles, the harder it is for the church to go beyond their current size.
  3. Leadership dynamics: The kind of leader the pastor chooses to be will determine the size the congregation will grow or stay. I first heard about this on a secular radio show about the size of a business which is determined by the kind of leader a business owner chooses to be. A comparison was made between technicians, managers, and entrepreneurs and their comparative leadership styles. (A.) The smallest business is the mom and pop business run by a technician who knows all the technical aspects of the business, does all the work himself, and basically manages his own time. He knows it all, does it all himself, and has no one but himself to blame if anything goes wrong, and no one but himself to praise if it all goes right. He is the be all and end all of his own little world. As long as he continues to operate as a technician his business will never grow any bigger than it is now. (B.) The technician can only grow his company larger if he learns how to become a manager who then hires other technicians and learns how to manage them and send them out to do the work while he stays at the shop and manages what the other technicians do. He still knows everything about the business, but instead of doing everything himself, he now focuses his time on managing the other technicians and getting them to do all the work while he spends his time overseeing what the others do. He may still be the expert, but he no longer has time to do it all himself because he has to manage what the other technicians do and keep them busy. He has multiplied his work load by involving other skilled technicians and stepping back from technical endeavors into the managerial role. The limit of his management depends on how many technicians he himself can manage at a time. If he can effectively manage 6 technicians he has now multiplied his work by 6 times. If he can manage 10 technicians, he has multiplied his work by ten times. His company can grow by the number of technicians he can successfully manage at once. (C.) To grow any larger, he must shift from a manager to an entrepreneur who then creates systems of managers who manage technicians successfully. He can now grow a much larger company into a corporation of systems of managers and technicians and can diversify his work by the number of systems he can put into place to get work done. Large corporations are built by entrepreneurs who put systems into place in this way. So what does all this have to do with churches? Let's apply the principles of technicians, managers, and entrepreneurs into the church world to see how it would work there:
  • Technicians: In the church related application Technicians would be those preachers (pastors) who think they know how to lead a church congregation and who, like the technicians running a business, insist on doing everything themselves. These are the church leaders who preach all the sermons, teach all the classes, do all the marrying, burying, baptizing, evangelizing, youth ministering, secretarial work, lawn mowing, janitorial work, ... I think you get the idea. When others volunteer to help out, they are turned down because, after all, the preacher knows what he is doing and if any one else tried to help they would probably end up doing it wrong anyway, so why let someone else foul things up. The technician/preacher is the be all and end all of everything. Certainly he is the only one who knows all that is going on in his congregation, and after all, he likes it that way. He wants to keep everything under his thumb, pull all the rabbits out of his own hat, dance all the dances, put all the duckies in a row, etc. Sadly, his church will never grow bigger than what he himself can manage by himself. The largest a church with a technician/ preacher will ever grow is 50 possibly touching up to 100 occasionally. Since that is the largest size he can handle by himself -the largest group of people he himself can come to know well and can pastor effectively, that is the size his church will stay. In order for his church to grow beyond this size, he must be willing to shift from a technician to a manager.
  • Managers: To grow from a small one-man operation to a mid-sized church requires a shift in leadership style of the preacher (pastor) from technician (one man show) to manager (one who is able to share ministry with others). Naturally, the first consideration here is whether or not the preacher is able to move over enough to share ministry with others. Sadly, not all leaders are able to make such a leap. In fact, I am convinced, that many technician/preachers are in that position because they cannot share ministry with others. Either, they are insecure and therefore view others as threats to themselves, or they are glory hogs wanting all the kudos for themselves. I wish I could say that the average minister is too spiritually mature to be so selfish or self absorbed, but I've met many in my years of ministry who just weren't wired in such a way as to move over and share ministry with others. The minister who desires his church to grow past where it is now must add to his other skills, the managerial skill along with teaching his own ego to hold its breath. In shifting from technician to manager, he will open up his congregation to several paradigm shifts. Shared ministry allows for multiplication of effort and work load, the possibility of transcending to a multi-cell congregation, the thawing of formerly frozen fellowship and leadership boundaries, improvement of discipleship, and greater joy in sharing ministry. The minister must be willing to work himself out of jobs, allow others to be up front besides himself, and become an encourager and coach. He must be willing to teach his skills to others and be genuinely glad when they succeed. This kind of shift of leadership style will allow a church congregation to grow from the 50-100 range up to the 250-350 member range. But what does it take to go beyond the size of a mid-sized church?
  • Entrepreneurs: Just as a business size is limited by the number of technicians a manager can effectively manage, a church is also limited by the number of volunteers and paid staff one minister can manage. To go beyond mid-size the preacher (pastor) must shift from manager to entrepreneur. This means transitioning from management of technicians, to developing systems that allow multiple managers and technicians to get work done effectively. The entrepreneur becomes the vision shaper and vision caster of the increasingly complex organization the congregation must grow into. Sadly, the leader must allow himself to step back from not only technical work, but also from the day to day managerial work he had been doing formerly. He will find himself not knowing everyone in the congregation any longer, which is a real trial for people oriented leaders. The shift from mid-size congregation to mega-church is the hardest shift for a congregation to accomplish because it requires major alterations in daily operations, long held values, organizational structure, complexity, and expectations of both members and leaders. Some churches decide the shift is not worth the effort and stay where they are now. Sadly, they run the risk of bypassing what may be the Lord's will for their future and the Lord's provision for the task if they will just trust Him more and reach out with greater faith.

Does size matter? Only if we believe that the Great Commission is indeed our mission. If we believe that we are to teach the nations and make disciples everywhere and that the Lord will be with us always we might see things differently than we would if we only saw our task as that of letting a respectable little congregation survive for a few more years. Perhaps if we could see the church as the Lord's church rather than "my church" we might see our tasks in a different light and do things in a different way for a different reason.

1 comment:

Scott A. Schmidt said...

Hi Ed,
It's been awhile. But I noticed a post somewhere by Susan about your blog. And viola, I'm making a comment about a really OLD post. And I was curious if you had made any further study about these three leadership types. Your three types reminds me of Gary L. McIntosh's "typology of churches" circa 1999.

Scott 8-)