June 26, 2014

Steps to Restructuring

Right-sizing the structure of your church is a critical element to its health (and maybe to your sanity as well).   

In an earlier blog, I talked about how structure needs to change to support the realities of the congregation. A growing church can’t rely solely on old systems, and a declining church likely will need different structures to be effective. Someone on Facebook commented that it was great to hear about the need for changing systems but what would really help are some practical steps to implement such change. Good point.   

I’m not a change management expert or a congregational development guru. But I can share some of the ways our church has deliberately shifted its structures to accommodate current - and prepare for future - growth.   

Often in a family- or pastoral-size church (with attendance of 150 or less), a handful of key committees can lead the ministry and mission work. As the church grows larger, these committees need to be better defined and more intentionally focused.   

Our congregation knew some things needed to change. But what? And how?   

Members began with some congregational-wide meetings to reflect upon the history of the church, its values, and mission to evaluate what was going well and not so well today and to dream about what we might want to become in the future. These meetings were led by an outside person, and the small groups were facilitated by members of other area Episcopal churches. This allowed our members to focus on the content of the meetings rather than logistics. At the end of each meeting, the small groups shared highlights, and a recorder collected those notes and prepared a report reflecting common themes and thoughts. 

This report was delivered to the vestry. They spent several meetings digging into it, asking questions, and trying to discern the implications of certain values. For instance, does valuing hospitality mean evangelism or a really good coffee hour? Does a desire for formation mean investing in a resource library or developing an amazing youth group? 

Ultimately the vestry developed six to eight commissions to reflect the core values of the congregation. These include mission, worship, hospitality, buildings & grounds, and finance, among others. Then the priest and some vestry members worked together to appoint commission members. They spent considerable time identifying gifts of people in the congregation and making sure to look beyond the usual suspects. Members were invited to express preferences for commissions. There was also a decision that people could only serve on one commission—this was to both spread the ministry throughout the members and to keep from overburdening a handful of people. 

Once the list was developed and chair people identified, it was published with a note again inviting people to join or request a change. After a few weeks, the commissions were formally named.

The priest joined the first meeting of each commission—primarily to give some background about the process. Then he left so that commission members could develop priorities and assume their own authority. 

Some commissions are thriving, and others are still working to find their groove. That’s not surprising. Change is hard, as we all know. Ultimately though this system helps right-size the structures of the congregation and offers a firm foundation for God to work through them.