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Structuring to Grow, Not Plateau

  • Rick Warren Baptist Press
  • Published Apr 20, 2004
Structuring to Grow, Not Plateau

How do you structure a church so it just keeps on growing and doesn’t plateau? I believe there are 10 essentials you must focus on as you structure your church.

1. You must develop an unshakable conviction about growth.

First and foremost, you need to settle on the idea that God wants His church to grow. And He doesn’t want it to stop growing!

You don’t ever need to apologize for wanting your church to grow. God wants His church to grow; it’s His will and His command. The reason churches must grow is because people are going to hell without Jesus Christ. As long as there is one person within driving distance of your church who does not know Jesus Christ, you must keep growing.

2. You must change the primary role of the pastor from minister to leader.

You can grow a church to 300 with pastoral skills or ministry skills, but growing beyond 300 will require leadership skills. As a leader, you must learn to communicate your vision in very personal and practical ways. You also must learn to motivate your church through your messages, and understand that it’s easier to motivate a group than it is to motivate individuals.

A leader also equips others for ministry. Otherwise, you’ll burn out and the church won’t grow. An expanding ministry also demands you learn how to raise money. Those who write the agenda must underwrite the agenda, and you must learn to manage your time. Effective leaders know where their time goes.

3. You must organize around the gifts of your people.

The team God gives you will show you how to structure. Organizing around the gifts of your people will allow the church to focus on ministry, not maintenance. A gifts-based ministry encourages teamwork. It also makes better use of the talent around you (and why do you think God brought this talent into your church?).

Building your structure on the gifts and talents within the church promotes creativity and allows for spontaneous growth. Ministries bubble up, rather than waiting on a board meeting to dissect every possibility. And decision-making becomes more efficient while the structure grows more stable.

4. You must budget according to your purposes and priorities.

Obviously the budget of the church shows the priorities and the direction of the church. I’d suggest you take the budget items and ask of each item, “Which purpose does this fit under?” This will help your people visualize what you’re trying to do, and what you’re doing with God’s money.

5. You must add staff on purpose.

Build your staff by first adding generalists and then specialists. First, you want to add people who can do lots of things because you’re only going to have one. Then as you go down the road, you can add more and more specialists.

When do you want to add staff? As soon as you can ... immediately, if at all possible. You want to build as many volunteers as quickly as you can and also add staff as quickly as you can. Anytime you add a staff member, that’s a faith step and allows the church to grow to the next level.

6. You must offer multiple services.

Obviously, to expand the structure, you will have to multiply, and to multiply, you have to offer multiple worship services. Why? Because more hooks in the water mean you can catch more fish.

At what point should you add a new service? I would say when you can have at least 75-100 people in that service. If you’re trying to reach new people, you have to have a large enough crowd so that the new people who just walked in don’t feel like everybody’s looking at them.

7. You must create affinity groups to enhance community.

The more affinity groups you have, the more ways you have to connect with people. You want to avoid your church becoming a single-cell amoeba, so deliberately structure your church so it won’t become one big group that doesn’t reach out to other people.

8. You must intentionally break through attendance barriers with big days.

Crowds attract crowds! People like to be around crowds. When you have big, special days -- maybe Easter, maybe a Friend Day -- there’s something about seeing an extra 100 people (or an extra 1,000) that expands your congregation’s vision. They see what the church can be, and they see what it can look like. These special days help the church to see itself as bigger and growing and vibrant.

9. You must add surplus seating space and parking.

When it comes to building a facility, most churches build too little and too soon. And then the shoe begins to tell the foot how big it can get! You want to build as big as you can, which means having more than enough seating and more than enough parking. Sometimes that means you’ll have to wait to build until you can build big enough. We didn’t build at Saddleback for years because we knew we wouldn’t be able to build big enough -- we were growing so fast. So don’t limit yourself by building too early.

10. You must continually evaluate your progress.

Take a regular and honest look at what is going on in your church (and where your church is going). If you try to study everything you’ll end up with the paralysis of analysis, so decide to track three or four significant numbers, such as attendance or small groups.

Then compare the numbers of where you are now with where you’ve come from and where you want to be. Don’t compare yourself with a church down the road. Frankly, that won’t help evaluate the health of your own church.

Finally, decide on a standard for measuring the health of your church and shoot for it. The process is constant; you may hit the mark you’ve set today, but tomorrow is a new day. Continually evaluate your progress and make the necessary adjustments to grow healthy while growing larger.

Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

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