Church Refugees: Bureaucracy, Part 2

Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, addresses the needs of a class of Christians sometimes called the “Dones” — as in “done with church but not Jesus” — or the “dechurched.”

So, some suggestions (from me, not the authors) —

  1. Decentralize decision making to the extent you can — to the very edge of chaos. The elders and ministers should turn over to committees small groups, adult education, involvement (helping members find a place in church to use their gifts), benevolence, missions, and just about everything that can be competently managed without being a full-time employee of the church.
  2. No one goes on a committee just to fill a spot. The committee members need to be gifted to do the work. If the chair winds up doing all the work, you’ve appointed a bad committee.
  3. Keep committees small — four or fewer for most tasks. There will be exceptions, but you’re better off with lots of small committees handling many tasks rather than a few large committees handling a few tasks — because big committees spend too much time talking and not enough time doing. Committees should be filled with doers, not people who enjoy telling others what to do.
  4. Ministers and elders should be involved in the committee work as equippers and permission givers. They should train the committees, provide them with resources, be available to help when needed, and get out of the way.
  5.  Don’t let the budget process quench the Spirit. Budgets should be easily modified when needed. But no one should be at risk of losing budget money without being first consulted. Therefore, the budget cannot be handled by a 50-person committee. Rather, keep the process simple and involve only the heads of key programs so money can be re-allocated with an email or quick conference call if need be.
  6. COMMUNICATE. Make sure the members know how to get approval, get budget, get their plans announced. They need to know who is in charge of what. Put it on the website: this is how you start a new ministry. This is how you join a ministry. These are the email addresses to contact leaders for more information. This is who you call to make an appointment. Make it easy to volunteer and easy to ask permission for a new ministry.
  7. Don’t let the church get confused between “I want to start a ministry that I’ll help with” versus “You should start a ministry that I’ll watch others do.” Occasionally, someone will see a real need that they cannot help with and will suggest that the church meet this need for very good reason. But most of the time, the requests for new ministries should be for a ministry the requestor will volunteer in. It’s just too easy to tell the elders they should do X because Aunt Sophie’s church in Wyoming is having great results with X. You’ll never lack for ideas. What you need are people passionate, not about someone else’s ministry, but doing ministry.
  8. Kill ministries that no longer serve their purposes. Times change. People change. And beloved ministries often need to die. Kill them — but do take the time to tell the church what you’re doing and why. And be sure to talk to key leaders and volunteers before you make a decision.
  9. There are some ministries that really require full-time oversight — teen ministry being a classic example. In such ministries, the teen minister should see himself as empowering and equipping parents and other adult volunteers. He should be a mentor and coach not just for ministry but for parenting. He should not replace the parents. That mean he has to resist the temptation to plan youth trips that interfere with family vacations. He is not a surrogate parent. He is a parent coach who supports the parents as parents.
  10. Coordinating so many activities so that they aren’t scheduled on top of each other and don’t overwhelm the volunteer pool will require oversight. A ministries team (committee of program heads) or some similar structure has to be set up so the youth minister doesn’t plan a trip out of town in the middle of work day scheduled for members to help with building maintenance. The ministers will be forced to talk with each other and other program heads — and this would be a very good thing.

Organize with this philosophy and some very good things happen:

  1. You have better ministries because more people are involving in planning and executing them.
  2. When a staff member leaves, the ministries run just fine without him or her for long enough to hire a replacement.
  3. Members feel a sense of ownership in their church. They aren’t consumers of religious goods and services. They become ministers who serve others.
  4. The elders are free from voting on curriculum and administrative in order to spend more time in pastoral functions.
  5. The next generation of leaders learns the skills of leadership.
  6. The number of volunteers skyrockets.
  7. People will think of the church as not merely a weekly worship assembly. They are so involved in ministry that they see church as an opportunity to serve rather than a place to be served.
  8. The church can do very well with a smaller staff. You might be able to avoid replacing a minister or two when they retire or leave. I mean, there’s a church only a few hundred yards from my house with several thousand members and less than one full-time minister per 1,000 members. How does this happen? They trouble themselves to find out what their members are gifted to do and they train their members.
  9. I recently visited a church of 250 to 300 members, and they’ve been able to hire most of their staff from within. How do you get such talents from your own members? You train them. You empower them. You get out of the way.

Empower. Equip. Get out of the way. But don’t abdicate. Watch Spirit work like crazy among your members.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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