The speed of your decision making process has a direct impact on your effectiveness. Therefore, growing churches must work hard to determine how to speed up their decision making-process. When this happens staff frustrations are avoided or eliminated and churches move fluidly and with impact into our quickly changing world. For this to happen churches need strategic leaders that are gifted at making good decisions, a structure that empowers and enable those leaders to act, and good tactical leaders that are able to manage and implement day-to-day ministry.
Someone has to make decisions at a strategic level. Strategic decisions include vision, mission, direction, budgets, personnel, planning and goal setting, and evaluation processes. Make no mistake as a church planter, pastor of small church, or new church you are the strategic leader, tactical leader, janitor, worship programmer, small group leader, grass cutter, assistant to your own self, etc. However, when your church is made up of you and four or five others you can be all those things. As your church grows for it to continue to grow you must spend less time working in it and more time working on it.
A few years ago I had a conversation with my good friend Bil Cornelius pastor of Bay Area Fellowship. At the time we were pushing 1200 to 1500 in attendance. My question for him was simple, “How do we break through 1500?” I remember at the time being surprised by his answer. He response was quick and simple, “Grow the leader grow the church”. I just stood their waiting for more. He didn’t relent.
This marked a shift in my thinking as Executive Pastor. I embrace the fact that my number one responsibility was ensuring that our Lead Pastor was freed up to spend his time growing as a leader. As the Lead Pastor he has four or five responsibilities. They include: casting vision, communicating God’s Word, leading the team, and financing the mission. In order for our church to continue to grow he must spend more and more focus time growing as a leader in each of these areas.. It’s not that our Lead Pastor wasn’t already a great leader, but leadership has to continue to grow and expand with the church.
I realize that most churches are not at 1200 or 1500, but if you are at 120 to 150 the same principle applies. You have to constantly adjust your leadership and structure to become the strategic leader. This is not only true for the Lead Pastor, but for an expanding group of strategic leaders that he must take on the journey with him.
Organizational Structure that Empowers
When it comes to organization structures there are more then one way to “skin the cat”. There seems to be three or four consistent patterns. They include staff led churches, inside board led, outside board lead, or a combination of the above. By far the most nibble, efficient, and effective leadership structure is the staff led church. At the same time each structure in the right context can add value. Staff lead churches at their best introduces a plurality of elders into the decision making process, maintains healthy relationships with key teams from within, and often have a relationship with some kind of outside board.
At Mountain Lake where I serve we are a staff led church. There are three elders who meet the Biblical qualifications laid out in Timothy that serve as what we call our Strategic Leadership Team. They consist of the Lead Pastor, myself as Executive Pastor, and our Associate Pastor. While our Lead Pastor maintain the right to make the final call it would be totally out of the ordinary for him to make any kind of decision that all three of us did not agree on. As a strategic decision making team we meet every week for two to three hours without exceptions. In addition to our rigorous meeting schedule we get offsite at least four to five times a year for an entire day. We guard our schedules and everything else in our week and year is scheduled around these important times. As the Strategic Leadership Team we focus our attention on our vision, personnel, and budgets. The higher we can fly when it comes to day-to-day operations and ministry the quicker and more effective our church becomes.
Key Teams within the Church
We have two key volunteer teams within the church that free us up to lead the church and make quick decisions. At the same time they provide needed accountability within the church. They are our Financial Team and our Advisory Team.
Financial Team. Our Financial Team is made up of spiritual mature individuals who are wise and skilled when it comes to finances. As a Strategic Team we develop and implement the financial plans of our church. As a Financial Team they work closely with us providing good counsel and accountability. They review our annual budget, they get a financial report every month that details our income and expenditures, and we meet at least six times a year. This team pays attention to the details and don’t mind asking questions or raising good healthy questions. We depend on them and are thankful for the role they play in our church.
Advisory Team. Our Advisory Team consists of a number of individuals who make up a cross section of our church. The purpose of this team is to give us good godly insight and feedback as it relates to our church. We listen to these guys, we seek counsel from them, and gather advise from them. We meet with this team six times a year and they are invaluable as the eyes and ears of our church.
A common trend for some new and existing churches is an outside board that may consist of a number of key pastors. While this may work as a temporary solution in a new church setting it’s not my favorite or my recommendation. My greatest concern is “out-of-sight, out-of-mind”. I’m concerned that unless the outside board has something at stake there is not a high motivation for staying in touch. When this happens pastors can end up on an island by themselves with no accountability.
At the same time there is a lot to gain from those outside of your church. While we have no official board we relate to from without our church, but we have a number of informal mentor churches and leaders we relate to. We have been greatly affected and help by people like Dan Rieland, Bil Cornelus, Larry Osborne, Dave Ferguson, and many others. All of these guys have become personal friends with our pastor and Strategic Leadership Team. I’m not sure what we would do without the friendship and input of guys who are ahead of us in their journey that are constantly helping us speed up our decision making process. Our pastor has been very intentional about building relationships with these kinds of leaders. It is part of his commitment to grow as a leader.
With this in mind it is very important that we recruit and enlist, hire and develop a team of pastors or lay people who can manage the tactical end of ministry. The bottom line is “If I have to do it for you, I don’t need you.” Every time a leaders has to slow down and make a tactical decision or take care of some tactical area of our church it has a slowing effect. This is true for our entire Strategic Leadership Team. Therefore it is important that we spend our time working on the future, clarifying the win, hiring and developing the right team around us, and giving good feedback the team. The clearer we are, the more our teams feel empowered, the better equipped they are, the quicker we can make decisions at every level.
At Mountain Lake we are very fortunate in that we have the best teams in the world. Because of this we are able to focus on making strategic decisions and the speed of our church is constantly speeding up. Speed is essential in our face pace world.
Once again it is important to note that regardless of the size of your organization you can build teams and structures that empower others to act and frees you up to lead. We are without excuse. As the leader goes, so does the church.