This is an easy one to answer.
Let me briefly sketch the challenges that must be addressed at every stage of growth up to 1,000 so you can see the natural place this hire should occur.
200 Barrier – Senior Pastor and Congregation
Breaking the 200 attendance barrier is all about changing the relationship between the Senior Pastor and the congregation at large. Up to that point the congregation has essentially been one big group with the Senior Pastor in the center of it.
To break that barrier the Senior Pastor has to forcibly change the congregational culture by (1) creating multiple gatherings where people don’t see each other on Sunday morning, (2) drive hands-on pastoral care to other leaders in the church (by decreasing their personal accessibility and increasing systems for care), and (3) fanatically finding and raising up new volunteer and paid leaders to lead segments of the congregation.
400 Barrier – Senior Pastor and Governing Board
Breaking the 400 barrier is all about changing the nature of the governing board of the church, and the way it relates to the Senior Pastor. Up to that point the average congregational governing board (elders, council, etc.) have run the church with the cooperation of the Senior Pastor and staff.
I tell Senior Pastors that I coach that in order to break the 400 barrier the governing board must be reorganized to allow the staff, under the Senior Pastor’s leadership, to run the church under their oversight. That means they must delegate day-to-day operations and decision-making to the staff, and concern themselves with higher-level matters. Here are our church’s By-Laws that reflect this arrangement, and the corollary Senior Pastor Executive Limitations document which serves to bind my hands leadership-wise in a whole host of matters. The combination of accountability and freedom allows the Senior Pastor to lead without dominating.
600 Barrier – Senior Pastor and Staff
Breaking the 600 barrier is all about changing the relationship between the Senior Pastor and staff. Up to that point the Senior Pastor has been recruiting and deploying individual staff members who in turn oversee various aspects of children, students, adults, arts, and finance/operations.
To break the 600 barrier the Senior Pastor must shift the staff culture from making decisions as an entire staff team (1 staff, 1 meeting), to forcing decisions to be made by individual departments, led by a gifted leader meeting with a team (1 staff, 1 all staff meeting, 5 departments, 5 departmental staff meetings). Starting at 600 and going until 2,000, the staff structure remains exactly the same.
A fundamental shift occurs at 600 – the Senior Pastor shifts from hiring wide (individual staff members spread out to cover different tasks), to hiring deep (consolidating staff to focus on 5-6 departments and becoming intentional about getting each department to have 3-4 staff in each).
When this shift happens the Senior Pastor goes from leading the staff through one staff meeting, to transforming the existing staff meeting into a vision-casting, non-decision-making gathering, and then forcing department leaders to have their own staff meetings. In addition to those meetings, the Senior Pastor will begin meeting one-on-one with each of those department leaders on a regular basis.
800 Barrier – Senior Pastor and Executive Staff
Pretty soon (sometime in the 700-800 range) the sheer weight of meetings, HR functions, and building expansions becomes too much for the Senior Pastor.
I remember when I was at this stage and about to lose my mind.
We were at 600ish and growing by 200 people and 2 staff members each year, so I brought in a well known pastor of a megachurch to teach me how to move forward.
My first question was, “I’m losing my mind. I can’t keep this pace up. What do I do?”
His response was simple, “You need to hire an Executive Pastor to run the staff, finances, HR functions, and building expansions, so you can focus on leadership, preaching, evangelism and generosity.”
For the next two days we sat at a table and mapped out how that shift would take place, and the kind of person I should hire.
When To Hire An Executive Pastor
Simply put, you hire an Executive Pastor when you are trying to break the 800 barrier.
This person is often a rare leader with corporate experience and a heart for God.
No two Executive Pastors are alike, but all have three things in common: (1) the Senior Pastor trusts this person with their life, (2) they are gifted enough leaders to be a peer with the Senior Pastor (hence “Executive staff”), and (3) they know how to build infrastructure.
These are all things needed by the person charged with leading the troops.
It is a rare thing to find a church that has grown past 1,000 without the addition of someone in this role.
It can be done, but usually when we see that happening it is a personality-driven church environment with no infrastructure.
Here’s the website of the Executive Pastor that I trust with my life.
I’m praying that when you reach the 800 range, you’ll find God’s person to which you’ll entrust yours.