June 23, 2014

Restructuring Structures

The announcement was deceptively simple: Sign up to host "Cookies under the Tree."

But the path to the announcement was long and winding.

Church growth doesn’t just affect Sunday attendance and the bottom line. It also requires a systematic review of structure and administration. A pastoral-size church, for instance, doesn’t need a bunch of different committees. It makes sense to have two or three primary working groups. But as the church grows, it needs a different structure to support the weight, otherwise those few groups will buckle. (And by the way, this scenario also works in the reverse. A declining church may no longer need a dozen working committees. Don't wear out the faithful remnant!)

For many years, the Episcopal Church Women group was the catch-all. If it didn’t have to do with stewardship or vestry decisions, the event/fund-raiser/formation/fellowship program came under the auspices of the ECW. In the past couple of years, the ECW has floundered. Everything from the annual Thanksgiving dinner to a large annual fund-raiser to book club to cookies under the tree fell under the auspices of ECW. With so many different activities and responsibilities, it became hard for the ECW to answer some simple questions: Who are we? What is our mission? What is God calling us to do? 

The ECW was just one victim of an overall problem. The old structures weren’t able to properly support the new realities of a growing church. For the past eighteen months, the rector and vestry have been working to develop commissions. The idea then is that these commissions would guide their various ministries, and develop subcommittees for special projects. 

Of course, changing habits is hard, and the fallback is easy: Oh, that’s an ECW project, without any real discernment or discussion. 

So the announcement of Cookies under the Tree signaled a turning point. Not because the coffee hour was moving to the patio for the summer. But rather, the speaker was making the announcement on behalf of the hospitality and evangelism commission. That group looked at the many different activities in the church and has started to identify ones that should fall under their purview. Coffee hour makes perfect sense for this group to manage. It doesn’t, after all, make a lot of sense for coffee hour to be an ECW function. 

This type of change comes slowly. It’s easy to slip into the default, that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it mode. Celebrate those first baby steps. Identify them as successes for the new structure, and continue to forge ahead. Eventually what seems novel now will become good habit, and the focus will move from structure and administration to mission and ministry.