POINT OF THE POST...
Is your church an organism or organization? In a way, both. Unfortunately, nothing good comes from a disorganized organism.
I constantly hear church leaders say, “Our church is an organism, not an organization!” I love that sentiment, but few things can or will stagnate your growth more than this sentiment.
I caught plenty of flack when I led a church for some 13+ years. A pastor’s job comes with more expectations than any other role I’ve seen. My critiquers most frequently suggested, among other things, that I was too strategic and business-like. Perhaps they were expecting a “shepherd” — not the kind that fights against wolves or uses a staff, but one who sits calmly by picking flowers and petting them?
All my congregants were right to a point, though. I came from the marketplace, and while I understood our church was a beautiful organism, I also believed the organism demanded organization.
The Bodily Organism of Christ
The Body of Christ is an organism for sure. But the functions of any organism must be organized to grow and work well.
I love how Paul described the Body of Christ in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians and churches:
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
–1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (NV)
The Body of Christ is like any body, composed of pieces that come together, forming something greater than their individual parts. But here’s the catch, while each believer plays a unique part in the body, the body works best when it functions most effectively.
In Paul’s letter, he talks about specific body parts, what they do, and why they are all integral to the body’s health. In a way, Paul is amplifying the organization of the body. The body, as a metaphor, gives us necessary implications.
Imagine your body as the Body of Christ, composed of multiple parts. Healthy people have healthy digestive, neurological, cardiovascular, and nervous systems (to name a few) working together in systematic harmony. Introduce a toxin or a virus, and the system enters some chaos.
Healthy church bodies are much the same. They are collections of unique parts that make up a body. Much like a person’s body, the better organized the components, the better the body functions.
If you see the church as an organism, I applaud you. If you refuse to embrace that all organisms require organization to remain healthy and grow, I would respectfully tell you that your perspective is the lid capping your church’s mission.
With that in mind, how should we organize the organism to maximize the church body’s success?
Let’s look at 6 organizational requirements growing, healthy churches embrace:
1. Intentional Strategy
Healthy bodies don’t remain healthy by accident. The opposite, in fact. The less intentional we are, the more unhealthy we become. A healthy body pays attention to nutrition, exercise, sleep, and relationship. The more internally, the better.
The church is the same way. The better you understand and adjust your strategy to meet the demands of the current community reality, the better the church body will function. A clear discipleship pathway and ministry model organizes all the parts of the body to be most effective.
NEXT STEP: How clear is your current ministry model? I suspect it was made for a previous moment. Answer these questions: What are you trying to accomplish? What do you value? What’s working? What’s not working? What’s confusing? What’s missing?
This post talks more about where people see the church today and how we need to respond: How You Can Help Your Community Trust Your Church Again
2. Organizational Charts
Organizations are organized to orchestrate. If your church’s mission is to make disciples, then it’s imperative to arrange the parts of the body in the best way to accomplish this mission. Again, we organize to what we hope to orchestrate.
Your intentional strategy determines how you’re going to execute. Your organizational chart defines who will contribute in specific ways to accomplish the plan.
In today’s world, your org chart must have some boxes dedicated to communications, digital channels, and production. Like it or not, every organization, including the church, is a media company. Similarly, your org cart may need fewer “Education Pastors” and more Adult Group Leaders.
NEXT STEP: We must align to our design. After defining your local church strategy, find a clean whiteboard and draw the org chart that best supports and accomplishes your ministry model. Don’t worry about how many boxes appear compared to names on the team. This exercise compares what you eventually need against what you have.
3. Staff and Volunteer Skills and Roles
I love how uniquely different God made us all. With your future organizational chart drawn, it should be easy to identify the skills necessary for each box. Now, begin placing people in boxes based on their unique talents, passion, and abilities.
This is not our prerequisite for firing people. This is about empowering people by placing them in positions where they can be most effective. Sure, that helps the church, but it equally helps the individual. The better we can place people in a position befitting their gifting, the better experience they will have on our team. And the more productive they will be.
NEXT STEP: Use a skill and profiling system to determine your staff’s and key volunteers’ skills, abilities, Spiritual gifts, and personalities. Use this information to initiate discussions about potential roles and responsibilities. Remember, profile systems are only data inputs, not complete decision criteria.
This is an older post, but you may find it helpful: Filling Seats on Your Bus
4. Evaluations and Feedback Loops
Organizations improve by evaluating experiences. The best way to create healthy feedback loops is by instituting evaluation systems.
Evaluation is tricky. In an unhealthy environment or with insecure people, feedback equates to acceptance. It’s critical as a leader to poise feedback as an opportunity to improve, not to remain. When people feel secure in their role, they should crave feedback to improve.
As a leader, it’s essential to build some feedback structures. For example, you can critique the Sunday service every Monday. You should build in HR evaluations like annual reviews. And regularly schedule one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. These systems are critical for evaluation to become systematic, not accidental.
NEXT STEP: How are you systematically evaluating? Consider creating a meeting schedule that allows space for specific feedback and evaluative conversations.
I realize you can’t measure everything that matters, but you can measure most things. Dashboards and metrics help us decipher our actual reality from our assumed reality. Churches are naturally “good news” organizations. We like to celebrate wins and excuse losses. Data, however, tells the real story.
If you want to get this right, don’t just measure nickels and noses. Those are lag metrics. Add to attendance and giving metrics trending percentages and discipleship pathway steps.
NEXT STEP: Evaluate what you measure and improve your dashboards by adding movement-oriented metrics.
6. Sunday Services and Ministry Experiences
The Holy Spirit is equally adept at leading our service planning process on Tuesday as on Saturday night. Too many pastors excuse a lack of planning on spirituality. It’s not spiritual to be lazy or procrastinate.
Consider this: Practically, you don’t pull off your Sunday experience alone. If you have any staff or volunteers supporting the service, your lack of planning creates emergencies for them. If for nothing else, this is why you organize your Sunday service planning.
NEXT STEP: Build a series planning calendar, complete with timelines, deadlines, and responsibilities.
“Organization” isn’t a dirty word in the church. We best move the Kingdom forward by organizing our ministry model to best orchestrate our mission.
Final Note: Not every church leader is a great systems or organizational leader. That’s okay. What’s important is that you place someone beside you who is. If you live in vision and ideas, bring a staff member into your executive circle to add strategy and intentionality to your vision.