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Seven Characteristics of an Effective Church Structure

Seven Characteristics of an Effective Church Structure

One of the least talked about, but absolutely crucial areas to explore, is church structure.  How are decisions made?  How is leadership allowed to function?

This is critical, because one of the most frustrating things for anyone in ministry is being in a situation where the structure stymies progress.  It’s hard enough to take a kingdom hill as it is, but when the very design of the church works against you, it’s maddening.

Is your church structured for effectiveness?  Not just efficiency, but effectiveness?  Here are seven characteristics:

1.       Most decisions can be, and usually are, made by those leading that specific ministry.

This is critical.  Those doing the ministry are best qualified to make decisions regarding that ministry.  If you have to work through committees or other bodies that are separate from the ministry itself, not only are bad decisions more prone to be made, but uninformed barriers can be erected for doing what needs to be done.

2.       Staff/team leaders are allowed to build their own teams.

If a leader can’t build their own team, but someone or some group builds it for them, you have a recipe for disaster.  Personality conflicts, lack of chemistry, and more will become far more likely.

3.         Policies and procedures are kept to a minimum.

I once read of a thirty-three page government document on how to buy a hammer.  It’s much better to hire people you trust to buy hammers, and turn them loose.

4.       Votes are rare.

Some churches vote on everything from the color of the carpet to whether to add a new Sunday School class.  The better structure is to vote on very few things, such as the annual budget or a new building, and let leaders lead.  Not only does voting on everything create a bottleneck for forward progress, it is the most dangerous form of church governance.  There was only one majority vote in the Bible, and it kept the people of Israel out of the Promised Land.

5.       There is an annual financial audit along with strong internal controls regarding money.

The best structures let leaders lead, but have strong internal controls and outside accountability regarding money.  Yet in most churches, it’s the exact opposite.  Leaders are kept on a short leash, but you could drive a truck through their financial controls.  Tighten up on money, loosen up on leadership.  Accountability is good and necessary when it comes to financial matters; when it is applied to leadership decisions, it too often becomes a euphemism for control.

6.       Organizational charts are kept fluid and nimble.

Peter Drucker used to say that with every 15-20% growth, an organization will need an entirely new structure.  His point was that as a church grows and develops, matures and expands, it will need new levels of leadership, new channels of communication, and new processes and procedures.  If you’re growing quickly, the minute you get an org chart finished, it’s probably time for a new one.  So just keep them in pencil.

7.       Hierarchy is avoided.

The latest wave of companies that have proven their effectiveness are less hierarchical and more organic (think Google or Apple).  Rather than a Management Team or Board approach to decision-making or problem-solving, the goal is to get the right people around the table for each and every challenge.  This creates an ever-changing dynamic to leadership, but one that ensures more effectiveness.

James Emery White



For more on church structure, as well as how the biblical materials on the role of pastors and the church as a family factor into developing structure, see the following:

James Emery White, Rethinking the Church (Baker).

James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker).

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.