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How to Structure Your Church To Grow Past 200 Attenders

How to Structure Your Church To Grow Past 200 Attenders
  • Name
    Carey Nieuwhof
It’s one thing to want to see your church grow. It’s entirely another to position your church structurally so you can accommodate growth. If you structure bigger, you can grow bigger. If you don’t, you won’t. Earlier this week I was connecting with a pastor who has seen his church grow from 200 in attendance over 450 in attendance in the last 2 years. That’s a lot of growth in a short window of time. He’s actually scaling what 90% of churches never scale: the 200 attendance mark. He’s also figuring out the changes he needs to make. Changes that most leaders miss:  how he spends his time and how he structures his team. That might seem surprising, but that’s exactly what he should be figuring out. It’s the key to growing your church past 200 on a sustainable basis. Preaching, prayer and trust in God are not what’s going to keep his church from growing. He’s always pursued those with passion. As, I imagine, have many of you. One of the chief challenges that will keep his church from growing centres on structure. As I wrote about in my recent book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, if you want your church to grow, you need to structure bigger to grow bigger. So how do you do that? This post is a little technical, but I hope it will help you and your team put your finger on all those things you haven’t been able to really put your finger on. These tips have helped us at Connexus Church grow from a start up eight years ago to almost 1100 attenders today. I hope they can help you.
If you want your church to grow, you need to structure bigger to grow bigger.

How To Restructure Your Time As a Leader

As your church grows, so will the demands on your time. When your church or organization is small, you can accommodate all the requests on your time. As it grows, that simply has to change. More people equals more requests, and that reality will completely overrun your life if you let it. You’ll burn out responding to people’s needs, which ironically means people’s needs go unmet. 
Too many leaders burn out responding to people’s needs, which means people’s needs go unmet.
So how do you spend your time? That’s what you need to decide. I make a strong argument you should NOT spend your time doing pastoral care in this post. Remember, no one will ever ask you to complete your top priorities (say, sermon preparation or strategic planning or even prayer);  they will only ask you to complete theirs. That’s why you need to decide ahead of time how you spend your time. These two posts contain some of my best tips on time management and that help answer my most frequently asked question—how do you get everything you do done? How to Stop Working 7 Days A Week The Top 10 Ways Leaders Waste Time (And 10 Time Hacks to Help) Another massive shift in time management you will need to make as your church grows is to cut down the number of meetings you’re involved in. This post can help tremendously with doing just that: 5 Persuasive Reasons You Spend Way Too Much of Your Time in Meetings Sure, there may be a season where you sprint through some productive planning meetings, but if you spend your life in meetings, you will never get your real work done or your true mission accomplished.
No one will ever ask you to complete your top priorities; they will only ask you to complete theirs.
The next changes are all focused on how to build and grow staff teams as your church grows.

How to Restructure Your Staff

Most churches start with a very small staff. That’s normal. But as your church grows, your staff will grow. And as it grows, you need to change how you interact with them. When our church started, there were just a handful of staff. We were in start-up phase, and more than once we made decisions in the car while we were driving somewhere. In regular staff meetings, we’d talk about everything we were facing because, well, the whole team was there. But you soon grow out of the phase. Over the last eight years we’ve added a leadership team and an executive team. As a result, our staff meetings needed to become something very different. These days, our staff (about 15 people) meets every other week to celebrate wins (how do we know we’re accomplishing our mission?) and to share general information about what’s happening and clarify anything that’s become unclear. That may sound trite, but it’s not. It’s the job of the leader to keep the team healthy, motivated and clear. If you don’t think thats important, trying serving in an unhealthy, unmotivated and unclear team for a while. You’ll quit. A few months ago we started short 15 minute huddles a few times a week to connect on our most urgent priorities and keep the team connected (thanks to Chris Lema for the tip). People dial in via video conferencing if they’re working remotely. It keeps a growing team on the same page. The biggest shift? We don’t make decisions at staff meeting anymore. We simply focus on keeping people on mission, on vision, on strategy, healthy and encouraged.
It’s the job of the leader to keep the team healthy, motivated and clear.

Tips on Adding a Leadership Team

Shortly after launch, as our staff grew, we added a leadership team that consisted of some of the more senior staff. At first, we used this team to make decisions, but eventually that broke down (when we were about 600 in attendance). Why? Because the Leadership Team became the bottleneck. If Leadership Team failed to meet, decisions didn’t get made. If our agenda was too long to cover everything in a meeting, leaders might have to wait a month for a decision. It was a recipe for intransigence. So a few years ago, we switched to push down decision making. Essentially, we have leaders permission to make decisions, and teams stopped making them. That’s been a much better process for us. If you’re interested in exactly how we did that and what criteria we use, I outlined that process here. We kept Leadership Team, but I refocused it to working on the mission rather than in the mission. When you work on the mission rather than in the mission, your mission tends to advance. We focused more on reading books together, talking honestly about how things were going and working on medium to long term objectives together.
When you work ON the mission rather than IN the mission, your mission tends to advance.

Maybe You Need An Executive Team

A few years back, I also created an Executive Team composed of two or three senior staff who began to serve more as a personal advisory team. Executive Team was created to help me process the most significant directional issues for the church, deal with sensitive HR issues and help us plot out the 30,000 foot issues for the church. It’s not a decision making body, but obviously, if you want buy-in on decisions and aligned team, it’s a good idea to hash out good ideas until they become great ideas and other leaders own them. Executive Team has served that function well for us, and it frees up Leadership Team to do what it needs to do and the Staff Team to do what they need to do.
Every leader needs a forum to hash out good ideas until they become great ideas.

Tips on Restructuring Elders

Of all the groups of leaders who meet, the elders are among the most critical and the most confusing. In a small church, the elders often govern by managing. Sometimes by micromanaging. That’s understandable (who is going to manage in the absence of staff?), but it’s a bad idea. If your elders try to micromanage a church beyond 200 people in attendance, they either need to change or you need new elders. Micromanaging elders will permanently stunt the growth of a church to below 400. It is impossible for a board to stay on top of a church larger than that, and if they insist on doing it, they will never govern a church larger than 400.  Structurally, it’s impossible.
Micromanaging elders will permanently stunt the growth of a church to below 400.
Several things need to change between an elder board and the senior leader as the church grows.

1. Trust needs to deepen with the senior pastor

Trust is the greatest currency a leader has or a church has. The deeper the trust, the more effective the ministry. The challenge in many churches is the board doesn’t trust the staff, or the senior pastor, or each other. This is horrible. As the senior leader, you need to either look in the mirror and see if there’s a good reason not to trust you, or move the distrusting elders off the board.

2. Elders need to stop micromanaging

The reason a board shouldn’t micromanage is simple: you can’t manage a complex organization in two hours a month. And if you try, you will keep shrinking the church down to the size of what you can manage in a narrow window of time. This is a tough transition for a lot of boards, but one they can make if they see the issue and are willing to adapt. The board will get full disclosure on budget and key items, as it should, but examining at a $2,000,000 budget is very different than examining a $20,000 budget. But, where trust is healthy and high and the staff is competent, instead of drilling down on how many paper clips are being used each year, the board can help the leader focus on healthy ratios of staffing costs to mission, growth challenges and the like. After all, a great staff team will make sure there are no more paper clips being used than necessary. And the board knows that.

3. The board refocuses on guiding the mission

The most important function of a board is to guard and guide the mission of the church that they’ve all agreed on. When the staff, elders and senior leaders are all aligned around a common mission, vision and strategy, the church becomes so much healthier (I wrote more about what an aligned team looks like and the benefits it offers in this post). Because trust is high, the elder’s main job is to ensure the senior leader stays true to the mission, and the senior leader’s job is to help the elders do the same. Over the years, I’ve also enjoyed a deep relationship with the elders and have used them as a sounding board for new ideas, new direction and new initiatives. When trust runs deep, those conversations are life-giving and energize not only them and me, but ultimately the entire church.
Trust is the greatest currency a leader has. The deeper the trust, the more effective the ministry.

What Are You Learning

What are you learning about changing your structure as the church grows?