How Culture Impacts Church Structure

Written by Kris Vos
July 17, 2023

What kind of structure paves the way for church renewal? Here are five principles to generate momentum.

At the Center for Church Renewal, we often say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The general idea is this: You might have all the right strategies and plans, but if you don’t have the culture (dependence on the Spirit, trust, teamwork, healthy communication, gifted leaders, and so on), you won’t get very far.

  • Today, I’d like to apply that concept to the area of church structure, which includes your org chart and your decision-making process.
  • A good structure will not generate momentum for your church, but a poor structure can kill momentum quicker than a prairie fire with a tail wind.

What kind of structure paves the way for church renewal? Here are some key indicators.

Five Principles of Healthy Church Structure
 Structure 1: Empowerment of Leaders
  • I have seen churches where leaders need to ask permission for just about anything they want to do. That gets tiresome and discouraging. Healthy structures empower leaders with the freedom to be creative within the bounds of their mission mandate and budget.
  • In other words, if what you want to do is in line with what you are called to do and you have the budget to do it: anything goes! Keep us informed of what you are doing but go do it! A great resource to learn more about this is Boards that Make a Difference by John Carver.
 Structure 2: Preoccupation with the Ends
  • Leadership teams should be somewhat obsessed with setting “ends policies.” This is just a different term for goals. Leadership teams at all levels (council, worship teams, prayer teams, etc.) should take time each year to ask this question: “What do we want to accomplish?”
  • The practice of setting goals forces us to be proactive. If we are not proactive, we will be reactive by default. Being reactive to problems that arise is necessary. However, if we are only reactive, we will become obsessed with problems rather than goals.
  • Getting bogged down in the problems can be devastating to any organization unless they have a healthy preoccupation with the ends that pulls their vision towards a greater goal. The power of Christ’s resurrection must dominate our goal setting.
Structure 3: Group Size and Decision-Making
  • A sociologist named Robin Williams (no relation to the late comedian) did a study of how groups of different sizes make decisions. His findings were surprising and counterintuitive. We tend to think that we need more people representing us to have a true democracy.
  • The truth is that when a decision-making body is larger than seven people, fewer people are actually making the decisions. The vocal few sway the group, and those who might disagree keep quiet. If you have a large leadership team of 12-20 people, you probably really have a small number of people swaying that group toward most of its decisions.
  • Ideally, an executive council comprised of seven people or less would be responsible for most of the decision making. You’ll hear from everyone in the group, and you’ll make better decisions.
Structure 4: Voting vs. Consensus
  • Voting is not a biblical concept. We are so ingrained with the idea of voting in US culture that we think it came from the Bible. Sometimes voting is necessary in larger group meetings. However, voting tends to draw lines.
  • Consensus, contrary to popular opinion, does not mean that everybody agrees. First, consensus formation involves making sure that everybody’s perspective has been heard, including those of the quietest members of the team. Then, when the decision is made, it is made as a group. No dissenting votes recorded, and there are no minority reports. We sink or swim together, even if we disagree. It’s beautiful, really!
Structure 5: Vulnerability and Trust
  • Structure grows as the organization grows. The trick is to keep the structure from slowing down the organization’s ability to stay fast and lean. When an organization takes months to make even simple decisions, people get discouraged.
  • Staying fast and lean even as you grow means putting a lot of trust in your leaders and being willing to make mistakes. That’s risky!
  • Too often our structure is slow and cumbersome with very little risk built into the system. When risk is reduced, our impact is reduced too.

The real engine of structure is humble prayer. Prayer covers a multitude of structural sins. We cover this and more helpful topics on the journey of the Church Renewal Lab.

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