I once did a consultation with a church that averaged about thirty people on Sunday morning. As I reviewed their organizational structure, I noted that they had 45 committee positions and they were all filled. Of course, several people were on more than one committee! Considering the challenges they were facing, they were expending a lot of energy on filling committee slots.
Many churches struggle with finding not only the right people to fill out the church’s organization chart but enough people who are willing to serve. I speak to this primarily from the perspective of churches that practice a congregational polity, but I am sure this is true with churches that practice other forms of governance.
Why is it so hard to find people to take on roles of leadership today? Here is my list of reasons, and I am sure that you can add others:
- People are involved in other things like children’s sports, leisure activities, and travel.
- Serving in a church leadership role is no longer seen as a place of honor or prestige.
- Both parents are employed, and they want to spend their free time with each other and family.
- We have too positions to fill and many have no real purpose.
- We ask people to do things that they are not passionate about or equipped to do.
A first step in dealing with this concern is to decide what standing committees we really need. There are certain administrative functions that need to be covered: facilities management, personnel administration, and financial accountability. The groups dealing with these functions should be made up of people who have the ability and commitment to make sure these activities are done not only legally but ethically.
The second step is to determine the key ministries which should be covered. Many churches now use teams rather than committees to address these specific functions. The teams are usually composed of people who have both the gifts and passion for a particular ministry. Often they are enlisted by staff ministers or team leaders rather than a nominating committee. Some teams are project oriented and people serve until the task is accomplished. Members of other teams may be asked to serve for a specific period of time or be given the opportunity to renew their commitment annually. A helpful feature of teams is that they usually are not listed in the governance documents of the congregation, so they can be created, altered, or ended as needed. It is hard to kill a committee!
A third step to consider is governance--coordination between ministerial staff, administrative committees, and ministry teams. Very often this is done through a council with representatives from staff, the administrative committees, and the facilitators of the ministry teams. This is the place where the vision of the church is championed and the interests of the congregation as a whole are addressed.
One example of a missional approach to organization is illustrated by the diagram. First United Church of Christ in Northfield, Minnesota, has addressed this concern and come up with a creative approach. It is clear, clean, and functional.
If you know of others, please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.