Those familiar with biology understand the distinction between exoskeletons and endoskeletons. The former is a rigid external skeleton (think lobster). The latter is a flexible internal skeleton (think yourself). Exoskeletons provide excellent protection but limited flexibility. In fact, exoskeletons must often be discarded as changes occur. Church structures are more like exoskeletons than endoskeletons. They provide good protection but lack nimbleness in changing times. The need for nimble structures is essential in a post-COVID world where adaptation and innovation are necessary for effective ministry.
Here are some 7 priorities of nimble structures in a post-COVID world:
Priority 1: Right-Sized
Most churches must right-size structures by moving to smaller councils, fewer committees, and less overlap between assigned tasks. Doing so will require trust as fewer are involved in decision-making. Clear, consistent and reciprocal communication will increase trust and empower ministry.
Priority 2: Staffed
Typically, staff led congregations decrease the time for deciding and increase the time for doing. To be staff led is to give responsibility for leadership to individuals and their teams. In most congregations, staffing is a combination of paid and unpaid leaders. Effective staffing requires clear vision with a future orientation. Effective congregations tend to staff for the church they desire to be rather than the church they already are.
Priority 3: Focused
With volunteers less likely to make indefinite commitments to long-term, undefined tasks, churches are well served by creating targeted teams committed to short-term, well-defined goals. This assumes the existence of a compelling vision that motivates volunteer sign-up. The vision must be clearly participatory such that people understand how their investment of time and energy can make a unique difference.
Priority 4: Efficient
Inefficiency defined many pre-COVID ministry structures. Committees spent months drafting plans that were run up multiple layers of organizational structure only to be black balled by the “no” of a leadership council. Post-COVID structures must be flatter (fewer layers of decision making) and more empowered (greater freedom to decide and do). Once again, trust must be increased for efficiency to be improved.
Priority 5: Flexible
Churches should identify two or three essential governance teams that provide stability in changing times. Beyond these, the smallest number of flexible ministry-focused groups necessary for this ministry moment should be identified. This will demand a clear process for winding down and/or re-purposing existing teams. No team should exist without a defined responsibility. If teams are re-purposed, they must understand their new role within the broader vision.
Priority 6: Spirit-Aware
Most important for this ministry moment is that every staff member and team is Spirit-sensitive. In other words, they must be focused on the Spirit’s direction for today. Ministry planning should be focused on nurturing holy imagination that is committed to listening well, praying fervently and living courageously.
Priority 7: Joy-Filled
In a Post-COVID world people are less motivated by guilt. In other words, they tend to do what they want to do. This means ministry teams must nurture the joy of serving, insist on healthy relationships, and celebrate ministry “wins.” Above all, they must refuse to burn-out volunteers.