There are a number of factors that contribute to a church’s inability to grow beyond the 100, 200, 400 and 600 barriers. The last place anyone looks when diagnosing the problem is the first place I go: the church’s by-laws.
I want to know whether or not the church is organizationally structured to facilitate growth. Usually they’re not.
Leaders in these churches try lots of things to bring about growth, but find that nothing really works, blind to the fact that the reason they’re not growing has nothing to do with what they’re doing. It has everything to do with the way they’re organized.
In this article I will share why this is the case, and what you can do to fix this. For the sake of brevity I will use “200” to refer to churches also trying to break the 100, 400 and 600 barriers. “Governing board” refers to your church’s eldership, council, etc.
Churches Under 200
Here is what the organizational structure of a church under 200 looks like as reflected in their by-laws:
[In this picture a governing board of six people run the operations of the church while their Senior Pastor functions as sort of a chaplain, focusing on preaching and caring for people.]
Why did churches under 200 write their by-laws this way?
They wanted to help the Senior Pastor avoid burnout.
One reason a church’s by-laws were written this way is out of a desire to not overburden the Senior Pastor: “Pastor Jim, this is too much for you to handle, so we’ll organize our board to help you. Bill you take children, Jeff you take worship, Larry you’re in charge of youth, etc. This will free you up to just be a pastor.”
They were compensating for a string of Senior Pastors who were weak or unethical leaders.
Another reason a church’s by-laws were written this way is the Senior Pastors the church has had in the past have all been weak leaders, and the governing board members realized that if they didn’t step in and do something, the ship would sink or nothing would get done. On the flip side, if a church had a competent, but unethical Senior Pastor, the inevitable reaction was to tighten the reins.
They were compensating for a revolving Senior Pastor door.
Another reason why a church’s by-laws were written this way is the short-term tenure of Senior Pastors. If the lead person changes every two years, churches will instinctively move into the void to bring stability. This is why I believe Pastors must make at least a five-year commitment to a church to lead it through the 200 barrier.
They were misinterpreting scripture to justify control issues.
The final reason a church’s by-laws were written this way was to mask control issues with the Bible. The New Testament clearly teaches that each local church should be led by a plurality of “Elders” who oversee the church. But it also recognizes that those gifted at leadership, teaching, and administrating the church should be encouraged to take a lead role, alongside and under the oversight of the others. Oftentimes a current governing board will misuse scripture to block changes in by-laws, not because there isn’t biblical support for Senior Pastors taking a more dominant servant-leadership role, but because the current members don’t want to lose control.
Churches Over 200
Here is what the organizational structure of a church over 200 looks like as reflected in their by-laws:
[The Senior Pastor and his staff oversee the operational matters of the church under the oversight of the governing board.]
Three Necessary Changes To Break 200
Here are three by-law changes you must make to ensure your church’s organizational structure doesn’t inhibit future growth.
1. The governing board must transition from operations to oversight.
Every church I’ve seen who can’t find it’s way past the 200 barrier has an unpaid, volunteer leadership team that is set up to run the church. The only way you’re going to grow past this barrier is for the leadership team to transition from collectively running the entire operation of the church to overseeing one person, the Senior Pastor, who oversees staff and volunteers that collectively run the operations of the church. The governing board in turn provides oversight through its regular meetings and by the policies it creates to clearly define what a Senior Pastor can and cannot do so as not to shipwreck the church. These limitations for the Senior Pastor are called Executive Limitations.
In its oversight capacity, the governing board must focus on its five essential duties as it relates to the Senior Pastor:
• Serve as the primary care group for the Senior Pastor.
• Provide a sounding board for the Senior Pastor as he senses the next steps for the church.
• Hold the Senior Pastor accountable for the performance of the church.
• Serve a fiduciary responsibility to the church by determining salary increases for the Senior Pastor, approving the annual budget, and holding the Senior Pastor accountable for the financial health of the church.
• Hire/fire the Senior Pastor.
These are the only tasks the governing board focuses on. Everything else concerning the operational details of the church is given over to the Senior Pastor to manage through the staff.
2. The governing board must focus on the “ends” of the church and hold the Senior Pastor accountable to focus on the “means” of the church.
This language comes from a type of organizational structure used by all churches over 400+ called Carver Policy Governance. What this means is that the governing board becomes a body that defines what the church stands for. It says, “We’re going to be a church that is all about __________ and __________ and __________ and __________.”
One of those things will be, for instance, evangelism. That’s an “end” result for the church. “Are we evangelizing?” is a question the board should ask the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor will then answer, “Yes, here’s how, and here are our results so far this month, quarter and year.”
The governing board has defined the “ends” (ex. evangelism) and is holding the Senior Pastor accountable for the way in which evangelism is carried out in the church, or, the “means” (ex. A class which trains people to share their faith). The board says, “This is important,” and the Senior Pastor says, “Got it. Let me go develop a plan to make that happen and I’ll let you weigh in on it next meeting.”
3. The Senior Pastor must transition from chaplain to leader.
I’m not saying that every church must grow beyond 200, but what I am saying is that if that’s its desire, it won’t happen with a Senior Pastor who wants to be a church chaplain. A church chaplain is content simply teaching and loving people while someone else carries the stress of leading the church. Sometimes this happens because this type of pastor is really good at caring for people and hates leadership. Sometimes this happens because the pastor has bad theology and doesn’t believe people without Christ are lost, thus dampening any evangelistic passion.
The main reason I think this happens is because the Senior Pastor hasn’t been given the authority to lead from the church’s by-laws. The by-laws are all about responsibility and authority. In a church under 200 the Senior Pastor has not been given the responsibility and authority, from the by-laws themselves, to lead the operational matters of the church.
Let me give you an example: If something needs to be changed, like, say, canceling the Wednesday night Bible study, in a church under 200 the Senior Pastor can’t do that. If he stands up on a Sunday morning and announces that he’s going to end it because it’s ineffective, he’ll surely be met by members of the governing board after church asking, “Who gave you the authority to make such a decision?”
Well, if your church is organized the way most churches are under 200, the answer the Senior Pastor would give is “Nobody.”
In the by-law model I’m encouraging you to transition to, the question of authority would be clear. And more importantly, decisions like that would have never been made that way. Leaders on the governing board would have heard about the decision to end the Wednesday night Bible study many months prior, would have weighed in on the decision, and would have helped craft the communication of the decision made.
Here’s the decepetive thing: many Senior Pastors think that just because they have a multiple staff that they’ve changed their organizational structure. Adding staff or going to multiple services hasn’t changed anything. Until you change how the Senior Pastor relates to the governing board you have not addressed the fundamental issue. You may not be experiencing problems now, but you will. Trust me. Like wearing a shirt two sizes too small, you won’t realize how pervasively constricted your structure is until you try to move outside your governing board’s comfort zone. For all intents and purposes you are a church of, say, 475, structured like a church of 75.
Details, Details, Details
So what exactly does a Carver Policy Goverance Model look like when it’s implemented in a church? Let’s summarize by going point by point:
• The governing board serves five functions: (1) Be the Senior Pastor’s main support system (2) Be the Senior Pastor’s sounding board (3) Hold the Senior Pastor accountable for the results of the organization (4) Approve the budget and (5) Hire/fire the Senior Pastor.
• The governing board oversees the Senior Pastor, and the Senior Pastor oversees the paid staff team members who oversee the volunteers and ministries of the church.
• The Senior Pastor has clearly defined Executive Limitations and functions as a servant-leader, not a CEO.
• All staff members report directly to the Senior Pastor who has the authority to hire and fire. No staff members attend the meetings of the governing board. In the absence of any paid staff the Senior Pastor oversees volunteers who lead the ministries of the church who eventually are brought onto the church’s payroll over time.
• The Senior Pastor is a permanent, voting member of the governing board.
• Future board members are selected by the decision of the current board and the Senior Pastor, not by congregational vote.
• Your board meets monthly, or better yet, quarterly, to hear a report from you on the ministries and activities of the church and to offer their guidance. The potential for board micromanagement increases as meetings increase.
• The Senior Pastor is the only one who leaves these meetings with an assigned task. All other board members are advisors and decision makers on high-level matters. If board members have concerns with something the Senior Pastor will say, “I’ll check on that and bring a report back next month.”
• The governing board members continue actively serving and listening to church members so they have a clear understanding of the current state of the church. That way in governing board meetings they can contribute clear, substantial, and objective ideas.
Suggestions For Leading By-Law Changes
If I woke up in your shoes tomorrow, here’s how I’d go about changing the by-laws in your church:
1. Rewrite the by-laws yourself.
If you could wave a magic wand and have the perfect set of by-laws appear, what would they look like? One exercise I give Senior Pastors I coach is to rewrite their own by-laws using CCV’s by-laws as a guide. I would encourage you to do the same. Take our by-laws and rewrite them for your context. Email me if you’d like a Microsoft Word file. That way you can just delete our church’s name and insert your own. It’s one thing to think about these matters in abstract. It’s quite another to actually put pen to paper.
2. Befriend the top 3 decision makers.
If you haven’t heard John Maxwell’s tales about serving in a tiny church in Hillham, Indiana, where the main leaders were a couple named Maude and Claude, you owe it to yourself to look that up. Anytime something needed to happen, John would talk with Claude first, and then Claude would bring that matter up at church meetings. Because of his tenure Claude had more credibility than John did in the congregation, so John made that work for him instead of against him. Are you investing in the Claude’s of your church? Truly work at being their partners. Ask for their guidance. Give them a seat at the table. Work with them, not against them, especially when it comes to changing the by-laws. Give them your reworked by-laws and ask them to edit them.
3. Get a few “wins” under your belt before pushing.
Here’s a caution for Senior Pastors: don’t try to change the by-laws immediately. My suggestion is to start doing things that will cause growth in giving and attendance. Then once you have momentum on your side and excitement is building, introduce the need to change the by-laws. You want to introduce by-law change while momentum is on your side. Otherwise people will misinterpret by-law change as another one of your “hair-brained ideas” that didn’t work.
4. Stress the congregational benefits with your leaders.
Don’t focus on your potential newfound authority in the operational matters of the church, focus on the benefits to the congregation: clearer vision, more effective ministries to meet everyone’s needs, evangelistic impact, increased giving, especially to missions, etc.
5. Stress the accountability you will have.
One of the fears your leaders will have of changing the by-laws is that you will mess things up. That’s a legitimate fear because, when we are left to our own devices, we WILL mess things up. The good news is that a corollary document will serve alongside the church’s by-laws as a way to clearly define your church’s Executive Limitations of the Senior Pastor. This is a document listing all the things you can, and can’t do. The value of this document is that nothing is left to chance. My encouragement is that in the same way you’re going to rewrite CCV’s by-laws for your own context, do that with our church’s Executive Limitations document as well. Email me if you’d like a Microsoft Word version.
6. Stress the way you will need your current board members to lead in this new structure.
Undoubtedly many of the members of your current governing board will have reservations to change the by-laws because they are used to using the governing board meetings to exercise their leadership gifts. Show them how you need them to step up and lead in the new structure. Give them a new seat at the table as either a member of the reconstituted governing board or as a key volunteer in a ministry area. Help them understand that you’re not taking away their opportunity to lead; you’re giving them a better way to leverage their leadership gifts for maximum kingdom impact.
7. Stress that this is a one-time by-law change.
Board members quickly grow tired of constant change. Let them know that the organizational structure needed to break 200, will be the same one needed to break 20,000.
Over time this process of re-writing by-laws and gaining ownership will lead to a vote to adopt this new leadership structure.
When that happens the real work begins.
Here is a copy of CCV By-Laws for reference.
If you are interested in learning more about the types of coaching I offer, you can do that here.