When your church grows, you have to lead differently.
Every time your church grows by addition, the complexity of the organization increases exponentially.
Years ago, I sat down and read Larry Osborne’s Sticky Teams. This book changed the way I understood staff teams and how they operate. When I read this, I had just transitioned onto a church planting team with only two staff. I got to see first-hand the reality of this complexity equation in action, and why it matters.
Check out this handy example from Sticky Teams of how organizational complexity increases exponentially every time you add a new staff or leader to your team:
The transition from two leaders to three feels manageable; it’s not too great a burden to go from two lines of communication to six. But the more staff that come on board, the more difficult it becomes for everyone to be “on the same page.” At just six staff, there are thirty lines of communication. Osborne later points out that by the time you get to twenty staff, there are 380 lines of communication!
In the cool, calm space of a blog post, it feels simple to say that the more staff you add (or the more programs you add) the more structure you’ll need. Duh. But many times the reality of building more structure within the team is far more difficult and way more emotional than we want to admit.
When there were two of us on staff at our church plant, we both had input on every decision–almost to the point of exhaustion. There were times when neither of us wanted to have to make a decision because there was so much work to be done and the volume of work was overwhelming. As we added team members and the church grew, more and more decisions were delegated to different staff. Inexorably, though, this meant that each individual had a receding amount of input in the decision-making process. Depending on the emotional attachment different staff have to how much input they feel they’re owed, the process of creating more structure and delegation can be emotional.
Here’s the truth: you can minimize how much emotional pain is associated with growth by how you lead through it. The more intentional and relational you are in the transition, the better the results will be.
Here are four issues to bear in mind when the organizational complexity of your church increases due to growth. By being aware of the growing pains in the church, you can dramatically decrease the negative emotions common in a leadership restructuring:
1) Re-think meetings.
Refer back to the chart up top. If you have six people in a meeting, there are thirty lines of communication. If you have twenty people in a staff meeting, you have 380 lines of communication. There will be so much latent inertia and potential chaos that you shouldn’t expect to accomplish much. Katzenbach and Smith in The Wisdom of Teams state that fundamental to the success of teams is that they remain small. A meeting with more than twelve people is a waste-of-time. So you may need to re-think who is included in different meetings. You may need to evaluate the structure of your meetings. You may need to decide if you need to add or subtract meetings. The “meeting” is the greatest productivity tool in your team’s arsenal when functioning well. They also have the potential to demoralize your team. Don’t assume that how you’ve always done it, even if it’s been successful in the past, will continue to work when the team’s complexity increases.
2) Re-think communication.
If you’re having to re-structure meetings (either who’s included or how they’re run), you’ll most certainly need to shift how communication happens. One of the quickest ways to upset staff is for them to feel uninformed. If you’re having to add additional meetings with different teams in order to accomplish the breadth of ministry that’s happening, be sure that the relevant results of those meetings gets dispersed among all relevant staff. For example, when your church grows, you may need to add new teams to help alleviate pressure from the staff to make decisions on things like who’s cutting the grass or how the building should get cleaned. However, it’s critical that the results of this team’s meetings to be dispersed to staff since it could directly impact ministry areas due to budgets or scheduling. Additionally, clearly communicate the relationship of different staff or teams. What authority does a particular staff or team have? Who needs to be consulted in particular decisions? Who can override plans? Consider how this information gets communicated. Perhaps a weekly staff email is necessary or perhaps this communication process is included in how you’re restructuring your meetings.
3) Re-think the decision making process.
The bigger your church gets, the less input each person will have on an individual decision–including the lead pastor. This is important and necessary. In Sticky Teams, Osborne states that churches that don’t restructure their processes when they grow “will flounder, and it won’t be long until [the] ministry shrinks back to a size appropriate to the structures.” I think most people understand this in principle, and do their best to try and come up with new ways to let decisions get made. The mistake is in how these processes are re-formed and how the new processes get communicated. If people are unclear about who does or does not have input on decisions, they become frustrated–and not just staff. Every leader should be able to direct a church member to the appropriate decision-maker when they have a question. It becomes disorienting and frustrating when staff toss a church member from leader to leader because they’re unsure who has the authority to help them. Be clear about who can make decisions, and what the limitations are. Then, be sure everyone knows.
4) Be patient and kind.
Restructuring your leadership team is bound to hurt some feelings, even in an ideal scenario. The important thing is to be patient with people as you seek to implement the new structure. Hearing concerns and being kind is not the same as pandering or bending. At the end of the day, the long-term success of your church depends on your ability to create a new structure that works for the size of your church. Yet change can be hard for some, and nothing is gained by lacking empathy in the transition. How you implement the structural changes matters just as much as the structure itself, because people matter. Great church leadership is not just great strategy, it’s radiating the love and grace of Jesus while pursuing the right strategy. Put another way, it’s not just doing the right things, it’s doing them the right way.
I believe that the gospel is viral. When you faithfully preach the message of the gospel and live it out, your church will begin to grow. Some churches grow quickly, other times growth occurs over a long period of time.
When the growth occurs, be prepared to adjust your structures.