HEALTHY CHURCH ORGANIZATION

Local churches differ from each other in many ways: number and duties of the paid staff, variety of ministries and programs offered, and extent of lay participation in church functioning.

Healthy church organization is not so much a matter of the particular formal structure chosen as it is a right process--the way in which the congregation carries on its activities.

A church is organized in a healthy way when it is able to achieve its congregational goals in an effective manner. Unhealthy organization exists when a church is unable to perform according to the vision God has given to its leaders.

THE UNDER-ORGANIZED CHURCH

Churches face a constant struggle to avoid the extremes of under-organizing and over-organizing. All churches have a built-in tendency to get out of balance organizationally on one side or the other.

In the under-organized church, congregational leaders struggle largely with efficiency: how to get things done. Due to inadequate organizing, church leaders find it difficult to pull the right "levers" and push the right "buttons" to make the church work.

Telltale signs of under-organization in the local church include the following:

  1. The pastor and paid staff are unsure which activities they can delegate and to whom they can delegate.
  2. Members are not sure how they can best serve the church and where they can "plug in."
  3. A major expenditure of time and effort is required to get programs adopted and/or implemented.
  4. The work load at the church is unevenly distributed--some church members and leaders are overworked while others are left out entirely.
  5. Church leaders are slow to discern and respond to the needs of members.
  6. Members are only dimly aware of congregational goals and not well informed about events in the daily life of the church.
  7. The church experiences significant overlapping of programs and consequent duplication of effort.

THE OVER-ORGANIZED CHURCH

Churches unbalanced by too much organization are challenged by effectiveness: what things should be done. Unlike the under-organized church, the over-organized church can move efficiently in getting things done. Work is smoothly delegated, job descriptions are followed, and committees deliberate; however, leaders soon find themselves in a quandary over what the church ought to do.

The problem comes from the key shortcoming of over-organization: inadequate congregational feedback. The very same mechanisms that organize church activities (committees, formal programs, job descriptions, employment of specialized staff, etc.) can also damage two-way communication between church leaders and congregation.

In under-organized churches, leaders often are overwhelmed with miscellaneous administrative duties the church is not structured to efficiently provide for. In over-organized churches, leaders can become isolated from much of the congregation because of elaborate structure, specialized duties, and numerous committee responsibilities.

Isolation of leaders can all too easily produce a "we-know-what’s-best-for-you" mentality, as well-organized committees and task groups develop church policy with little input from the grass-roots membership level. S strong expectation develops that leaders are paid to "run the church" for its members.

Additional characteristics of the over-organized church are:

  1. Reliance on written, rather than face-to-face, communication.
  2. Communication gaps between ministries and lack of interaction between ministry leaders ("specialization barriers").
  3. Worship is carefully orchestrated with minimal lay participation (so worship becomes something done to members rather than something members do).
  4. Planned programming dominates the life of the church, with limited room for spontaneity.
  5. Church leaders are valued primarily for how well they perform their specialized functions rather than for who they are.

THE FACILITATING CHURCH

In the church that has a balanced organization, leaders equip members for spiritual responsibilities—--he church’s organization helps build spiritual maturity beyond the staff.

In the facilitating church, staff and lay members both have ministering responsibilities. Leaders determine the church’s unique vision. A high priority is given to personalized disciplining, where leaders enable members to spiritually reproduce themselves (evangelism) and help other Christians to grow spiritually. Ultimately, facilitating churches attract members who expect to minister rather than be ministered to.

Facilitating churches also place a high priority on enabling members to discover and practice their diverse spiritual gifts. The local church is viewed not so much as an institution (a collection of people, assets, and resources) but as God’s community knit together by common purposes and shared spiritual gifts and perspectives.

Facilitating churches rely more on spiritual growth than formal programs in generating numerical growth; on disciplining as the foundation of evangelism; on the Holy Spirit for member motivation.

BASIC PRINCIPLES OF HEALTHY ORGANIZATION

Harmony.  Organization activities in the local church must promote and enhance congregational unity and harmony (Eph.4:3-4). The following guidelines can serve to promote organization harmony:

  1. A balance must be maintained between organization effectiveness (what to do) and efficiency (how to do it). Church leaders should be concerned about the needs of church members and with enabling other church members to meet these needs.
  2. The church’s formal programs must be organized and managed in a personalized way by church member involvement, face-to-face communication, and church staff members who are available and approachable.
  3. As a congregation’s membership increases, its leaders must not allow the growing number of programs and ministries to become isolated from mainstream congregational life. The church staff must fight the tendency to "run the church" for its members and instead equip members to run their own church under the staff’s leadership.

Diversity. The church must be organized in a way that makes room for diverse personalities, gifts, ministries, and goals (1 Cor. 12:12). Diversity can be promoted in several ways:

  • Over-organization must be avoided with its dangers of impersonal programming, streamlined inefficiency.
  • Great emphasis must be placed on communication and interaction as ways to encourage diversity, yet preserve unit of purpose.
  • The spiritual leaders of the church must carefully define the body’s mission, priorities, and goals to ensure that congregational diversity does not confuse how the church is led to serve Christ.

Enabling. Church organization must lead members to use their diverse spiritual gifts fruitfully (1 Thess. 5:11). Guidelines to follow are:

  • The church must stress discipling of members to equip them for service. Church leaders must fruitfully build themselves into lay members and provide opportunities to minister to others in the church.
  • The church must be diligently devoted to prayer so that God’s divine enabling becomes the foundation of all congregational efforts. The church must be run by God’s power first, not by human power.
  • The church’s lay leadership base must grow as the membership grows.

Accountability. The church’s organization should hold members accountable to Christ and to one another for their behavior (Rom. 14:12). The following recommendations can enhance healthy accountability.

          • Church leaders should be held accountable both for what they do or attempt to do (effectiveness) and for how they do things (efficiency).
          • Leaders must lead in a people-oriented manner and not become isolated and impersonal.
          • Leaders must be held accountable for the spiritual growth and maturity of congregation members.
          • Headship.: The local church must be organized around Christ, both in structure and in practice (Eph.1:22). The following recommendations apply:
          • Church leaders should be chosen first on the basis of their relationship to Christ, not primarily for their business ability.
          • Churches cannot be organizationally healthy unless they are first spiritually healthy.
          • The best church leaders are those who follow Christ the most.

Few elements of church management are as practical as organization. Healthy organization makes it easier for the church to excel--more results with less energy expended. Ultimately church organization, founded on Christ Himself, is the foundation of church success.