Tag Archive - structure

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Top Posts of 2018 #5 “4 Indicators your Church is Moving in the Wrong Direction”

The “why” behind church growth and decline are always topics that generate a lot of interest here and this year was no different. This post was the 5th most popular post of the year!

You may have heard me tell the story of a church that started years ago in the Phoenix east valley. This church plant grew rapidly. Helping new people meet Jesus, they became one of the first mega churches in the east valley. Eventually the pastor, under whose leadership this growth took place, left and the succession didn’t go very well. Neither did the next succession. Or the next. In fact, that church went through 18 straight years of decline until at the end of that decline they ended up merging with another church.

Today the new campus averages more than 1,000 people in weekend attendance and is helping new people meet, know and follow Jesus.

Unfortunately for most churches in decline there’s no great comeback story. Churches decline for all kinds of reasons and it’s usually more complicated than one simple decision that was made somewhere along the way.

There are a lot of reasons why churches begin to decline and eventually die. Most don’t ever recognize it until they’re really stuck or worse it’s too late to even turn around. But there are some lead indicators that can be early warning signs that things are moving in the wrong direction.

1. A Lot of Money in the Bank

The Unstuck Group recommends that churches have six to eight weeks of cash reserves in the bank. We recently found in our Q1 2018 Unstuck Church Report, that benchmarks trends in U.S. Churches, that a majority of churches have the equivalent of 17 weeks in cash reserves. This suggests that many churches are in a financially healthy position. They’re in a position advance the Kingdom through investing in new initiatives but aren’t. They’re sitting on money in the bank that could be invested to reach more people for Jesus. Too much money in the bank can turn a church from an advancement mentality to a protection mentality.

2. Comfort is the Opposite of Growth

If you don’t have a list of new ideas that you can go to and possibly implement at any given time, then you’re probably spending a lot of energy propping up old methods and programs. And those old methods and programs bring a certain comfort with them, because they keep people who are already in the church happy. Every idea has a shelf life. If your church isn’t constantly evaluating and strategically stopping old things and starting new things, then you’re probably moving towards becoming insider focused. And while that’s comfortable it’s a lead indicator that you’re moving in the wrong direction.

3. Over Structure

One of the most common misunderstandings of strategic planning is that the goal is not order or structure. The goal of strategic planning is to actually accomplish the vision. In a growing church you want planning and management to lag slightly behind the chaos of change and movement. It’s possible to manage and plan your way into losing momentum. Policies and structure can shrink the box of creativity. They set the standard for how we do what we do, every time we do it. It’s possible to policy and structure yourself right into decline. When planning and order become higher priorities than chaos and movement your church will start moving in the wrong direction.

4. Protective of the Past

One of the most difficult things to navigate in a church is change. If you lead in a church long enough, eventually you’ll hear someone say something like, “But we’ve always done it that way.” That way was someone’s good idea and it may have been the best way at one point. But often times that past way becomes a barrier to a future and better way. When a church is busy defending the past instead of building the future it is moving in the wrong direction. When a church becomes risk averse and starts making choices based on who they are going to keep as opposed to who they are going to reach, the church is in trouble. The real danger in playing defense is that it becomes a cultural mindset that actually stands in opposition to the Gospel. You see the Gospel was never meant to be or does it need to be defended its intended to be unleashed.

Church decline can be avoided and even turned around. If your church is stuck or in decline I’d encourage you to start a conversation with the Unstuck Group. They have proven track record of helping churches get unstuck.


Posted in Leadership

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How to know when the Systems at your Church are Broken

The systems you build at your church can help move you towards your mission or keep you from it.

Building great systems in your church is the art of connecting the values, structures, strategies, goals, and vision to work in alignment that builds a culture that leans towards accomplishing the mission.

Systems are made up of complex independent parts that work together to perform a specific function. Think, for example, about the solar system, muscular system, or skeletal system.

In a church an example of a system is the weekend worship (all of the independent parts that work together to create a great weekend worship service), communications (all of the independent parts that work together to create a strong brand), or assimilation (all of the independent parts that work together to help people move from a guest to connected).

But sometimes systems don’t work, or you begin to outgrow them. Here’s a couple of indicators that may be happening at your church.

Work Arounds

When you staff team starts building their own work-arounds or implement their own supplemental solutions to your system the tendency is to believe that the staff is being obstinate. That may be the case. However, they may need more training, or the system you’re using may no longer work in your context.

Neat Freaks

The objective of a good system is not having a good system, it’s the mission. It’s possible to become hyper focused on a system instead of what the system is designed to do. If your system can’t tolerate a certain amount of chaos, then you’ve outgrown your system. A growing church has a certain level of chaos and mess to it and that’s okay.

Poor Returns

If things begin to slow down at your church one of the things you may want to look at are your systems. It’s possible for your systems to become a lid to growth.


Posted in Leadership

2

4 Indicators your Church is Moving in the Wrong Direction

You may have heard me tell the story of a church that started years ago in the Phoenix east valley. This church plant grew rapidly. Helping new people meet Jesus, they became one of the first mega churches in the east valley. Eventually the pastor, under whose leadership this growth took place, left and the succession didn’t go very well. Neither did the next succession. Or the next. In fact, that church went through 18 straight years of decline until at the end of that decline they ended up merging with another church.

Today the new campus averages more than 1,000 people in weekend attendance and is helping new people meet, know and follow Jesus.

Unfortunately for most churches in decline there’s no great comeback story. Churches decline for all kinds of reasons and it’s usually more complicated than one simple decision that was made somewhere along the way.

There are a lot of reasons why churches begin to decline and eventually die. Most don’t ever recognize it until they’re really stuck or worse it’s too late to even turn around. But there are some lead indicators that can be early warning signs that things are moving in the wrong direction.

1. A Lot of Money in the Bank

The Unstuck Group recommends that churches have six to eight weeks of cash reserves in the bank. We recently found in our Q1 2018 Unstuck Church Report, that benchmarks trends in U.S. Churches, that a majority of churches have the equivalent of 17 weeks in cash reserves. This suggests that many churches are in a financially healthy position. They’re in a position advance the Kingdom through investing in new initiatives but aren’t. They’re sitting on money in the bank that could be invested to reach more people for Jesus. Too much money in the bank can turn a church from an advancement mentality to a protection mentality.

2. Comfort is the Opposite of Growth

If you don’t have a list of new ideas that you can go to and possibly implement at any given time, then you’re probably spending a lot of energy propping up old methods and programs. And those old methods and programs bring a certain comfort with them, because they keep people who are already in the church happy. Every idea has a shelf life. If your church isn’t constantly evaluating and strategically stopping old things and starting new things, then you’re probably moving towards becoming insider focused. And while that’s comfortable it’s a lead indicator that you’re moving in the wrong direction.

3. Over Structure

One of the most common misunderstandings of strategic planning is that the goal is not order or structure. The goal of strategic planning is to actually accomplish the vision. In a growing church you want planning and management to lag slightly behind the chaos of change and movement. It’s possible to manage and plan your way into losing momentum. Policies and structure can shrink the box of creativity. They set the standard for how we do what we do, every time we do it. It’s possible to policy and structure yourself right into decline. When planning and order become higher priorities than chaos and movement your church will start moving in the wrong direction.

4. Protective of the Past

One of the most difficult things to navigate in a church is change. If you lead in a church long enough, eventually you’ll hear someone say something like, “But we’ve always done it that way.” That way was someone’s good idea and it may have been the best way at one point. But often times that past way becomes a barrier to a future and better way. When a church is busy defending the past instead of building the future it is moving in the wrong direction. When a church becomes risk averse and starts making choices based on who they are going to keep as opposed to who they are going to reach, the church is in trouble. The real danger in playing defense is that it becomes a cultural mindset that actually stands in opposition to the Gospel. You see the Gospel was never meant to be or does it need to be defended its intended to be unleashed.

Church decline can be avoided and even turned around. If your church is stuck or in decline I’d encourage you to start a conversation with the Unstuck Group. They have proven track record of helping churches get unstuck.


Posted in Leadership

2

Is your Church Designed to get Stuck?

Your church is perfectly designed to get the results you’re currently getting. You’ve probably heard that said before. That means if your church is stuck it’s probably because it’s been designed to be stuck. Now I know you didn’t do that on purpose, I know you want to reach as many people with the Gospel as you possibly can. But churches get stuck because they’re designed, by intention or neglect, to be stuck.

All kinds of churches are designed to be stuck. It happens when they execute a plan that leads them to become stuck. You could say that they purposely do it on accident. They’ve planned their work and successfully worked their plan, it just hasn’t resulted in success that they thought it would, instead it results in being stuck. There are a lot of ways churches are successfully designed to get stuck…here are a few:

#1 Over-Controlling

Okay, so that’s not really a word. I just couldn’t think of another way to say it. But it doesn’t matter, it’s true. Sometimes the reason a church is stuck is because they are led by a controlling leader. Every decision must go through them, they always have the best ideas, and it always has to be their way. That always leads to things slowing down and getting stuck.

#2 Over-Structuring

When structure begins to out pace growth, churches end up getting stuck. You may end up with a great, efficient, and stable structure but your church will only grow to the capacity of the structure you’ve created. Great structure is designed to chase growth not the other way around.

#3 Over-Staffing

When churches hire staff to do ministry instead of develop people and lead teams (you know the whole equip the saints to do the work of the ministry thing that the Apostle Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians) it leads to churches getting stuck.

#4 Over-Extending

Some churches are very eager to take ground, so much so that they actually over-extend themselves. It’s ironic that in their intention to take new Kingdom ground that they actually can lead themselves to becoming stuck. You see sometimes they stretch themselves too thin through taking on too much debt, running too many ministry programs, or hiring too many people that they actually prevent themselves from moving forward.

#5 Over-Educating

When churches confuse discipleship with education they get stuck. They may successfully educate people about the bible but that just leads to greater biblical knowledge, not action. If information changed people’s lives, then no one would ever smoke and the cigarette industry would go bankrupt.

Have you inadvertently designed your church to get stuck? Need a little help changing things up and getting unstuck? Contact the Unstuck Group. We’ve been helping hundreds of churches get unstuck for the last couple of years. We could help your church too.


Posted in Leadership

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Can a Congregationally-Led Church be Healthy?

Why are the majority of small churches in America congregationally-led instead of being led by pastors and ministry staff?

Here’s a short history lesson:

The congregational style of church government finds its sustained growth in the birth of our nation. The driving force behind people risking everything to sail to the new land was to throw off the tyranny of government and religious persecution. Unfair policies and spiritual hierarchy, along with unbearable taxation, served as the motivators for families to uproot and risk everything.

Oppression lingered in the minds of these pilgrims, and their response was to establish congregations that mirrored the newly embraced form of democratic government. Once and for all, we would be free from persecution and tyrannical rule in our houses of worship.

Another major contributing factor to the congregational structure was the effects of the Protestant Reformation which was now firmly established in religious thinking. The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer declared that every believer has direct access to God without requiring a human mediator. It is easy to see the direct correlation between an individual’s personal connection with God and the rejection of spiritual leadership after so many centuries of spiritual aristocracy and hierarchy within Christianity.

If It’s Good Enough for the USA

The majority of the rural churches did not have a bishop or pastor to lead them. So circuit-riding preachers would travel from church to church on Sundays teaching from the Scriptures. The prevailing attitude became that the preacher tells us what the Bible says without actually meddling in our day to day lives.

Today, the average small church in America is still democratic, choosing deacons, trustees or elders through a popular vote, and voting on the installation of a new preacher whenever called for.

This attitude is so ingrained in church DNA that the thought of a pastor or staff-led church sounds like heresy. It prevails from one generation to the next.

If It’s Not Biblical, What Is It?

Ephesians 4:1-16 gives us uncompromised clarity about how Jesus intended for His church to be structured.

A church led by those God has called to lead will equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. The results will be a church that models maturity, stability, integrity and community.

This passage also states very clearly that His church will grow. At its core, a healthy church grows both deep and wide, in character and numerically.

So, can a congregationally-led church be healthy?

In most cases, the answer is no. And even if they experience health for a season, it’s not likely to be sustained.

A small church mentality is what keeps a church small. A proper understanding of how Jesus intended for His church to work should eventually motivate us to adopt His design for His church.

Leading a shift from congregational leadership to staff-led leadership is no small feat. But as our team at The Unstuck Group continues to serve stuck churches, this is one of the major reasons vision has stalled out and churches are starting to die.


Tony Morgan and Amy Anderson dive deeper into this topic in a recent episode of The Leadership Unstuck Podcast. Check it out here:

Episode 10 – Staff vs. Congregational Leadership

Does choosing a new shade of paint for the lobby require approvals from three different committees at your church? Maybe it’s time to start asking if your current structure is the best way to make decisions.

This episode addresses challenges that both staff-led and congregation-led churches face and provides clear roles for effective lay leadership boards.


About the Author: 

Dale Sellers has been in ministry for 35 years. He and his wife, Gina, have been married for 34 years. They have three daughters and two sons-in-law. Their first grandchild is due in July! He launched Dale Sellers Leadership, Inc. in March 2014 to assist organizations in the areas of leadership, inspiration, and evangelism. He has recently become an Associate Consultant for The Unstuck Group with a focus on helping the small church. You can contact him at .


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