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Our church has been struggling with finding people to stand for the office of pastoral elder for years now, which is likely a problem encountered in many churches. Currently all our members are assigned to a Care Group with 1 elder and 1 deacon, with an expectation that the elders conduct an annual home visit. Two years ago we also introduced small groups, some of which are led by the same people, but not all. At any rate we have some overlap and as part of our visioning process which we're presently engaged in, we are looking at this overlap, at church leadership structures in general, as well as how to most effectively meet the pastoral care needs in the congregation. We are therefore hoping that other churches who have done some restructuring, or who have both care groups (or system where every household is assigned an elder) and small groups (voluntary), might be willing to share their leadership structure with us.



Thank you for posting this question.  Our Elder's Network Guide Neil de Koning has written a response just for you Wendy.  Don't you feel special :-).  Actually his blog post is for all our benefit, but Neil still is:

"hoping that some people would respond by sharing their models of pastoral care.  Maybe they still will."

So to Wendy and everyone check out Neil's post, but also feel free to share your leadership structures with us.


I think we have struggled with some of the same issues you mention and as a result we implemented a model three years ago that is quite different and so far working quite well.  I can't cover here all we went through to determine it and the details of how it works, but here are some of the basics.  Hopefully this may help you in your thinking.

First of all, we developed a Statment of Direction - a set of concrete statements of what we are and what we are not in contrast to the more abstract concept of a Mission or Vision Statement which we found doesn't help much.  As a result of this, home visits also came under discussion as something we do concretely and after some discussion we came to the conclusion that we were looking at home visits too much as a "rule" and "the measurable target for elder care"  rather than as a tool to do pastoral work.  

We concluded our focus was on "completing visits" and not enough on actual pastoral care.  Hitting the mark (80%, 90%, 100% and you are the best elder) became the focus.  Maximum marks were given to those who completed one visit per family - even though from a pastoral perspective we would have been doing a better job had we focussed more on multiple visits for those families that really needed them and were often skipped completely because they were "hard" and less on others.  At the same time, we were finding more families not even wanting the visit.  Times have changed.  We could argue that those who don't want them are wrong, but that argument doesn't go far when you realize that there are many churches out there that do a great job of caring for their membership who have never heard of a home visit.

The other major negative side effect we were finding on our approach to home visits was that not doing visits created a great deal of guilt for many of our elders.  If they weren't completing visits (typically because they were uncomfortable with them), they backed away from everything (including consistory meetings) so all our efforts in other areas such as outreach, care, children and youth also suffered.  Guilt even drove some elders to become zero contributors.  Also, asking elders to do everything meant talents weren't wisely used and we were having trouble getting nominations.

What we did differently is that instead of thinking that the solution was to push elders harder to do more visits and "get the job done", we took Albert Einsteins advice that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity - and tried something different.

A key item is that we broke somewhat from the exact wording of church order without losing what we felt was the intent of home visiting and accepted that home visits were a pastoral tool and not a goal to be achieved, and as such some interesting things developed.

To begin with, since visits are no longer a rule we asked for congregational input.  To provide background, we are pretty traditional, not overly conservative,  larger church (850 members), two pastor plus youth director with a fairly high seniors population due to a Christian retirement home right next door. We explained what a home visit was about (spiritual discussion, not a coffee meeting) and then asked:  Do you want an annual home visit?  What we found was:

1.  Among our seniors (65 and older) 40% requested to have a home visit.  We actually expected the number would be higher and further examination found that many of those requesting visits were actually strong spiritually, but were lonely or just appreciated the attention.  In our thinking, good pastoral reasons to do a visit - even if just a social one.

2.  Among the rest of our professing members, only 12% asked to continue a visit.  This was also  lower than we had expected.

3.  As a group of elders we also looked at the entire congregation name by name to see who we thought needed ongoing spirtual care and every last one of them were in the 12% - they all had asked for it as well.  This rather surprised us, but was good to see.

With all of this as background, the following is a quick summary of how we have re-organized and its impact on visiting:

1.  We have become minstry area focused.  Our minstry areas are Children, Youth/Young Adult, Adult, Seniors, Worship, Care, Outreach, Deaconate and Admnistration.

2.  We have assigned elders to specific ministry areas based on their talents and that is all they do.  These elders are encouraged to form teams by solicting help from other congregational members to help them in their duties.  This has greatly enhanced our other ministries such as Children, Youth, Care and Outreach. These elders do not do home visits.

3.  Our Care ministry visits those with immediate "acute" care needs.  These are not home visits, they are care visits.  Different goal.  Our Care ministry also incorporates a very strong Stephen Ministry and invokes their help whenver needed.

4.  Our Seniors Ministry elders (2) do home visits for the 40% that asked plus maintains general social contact with our elderly and this keeps them busy.

5.  Our Adult Ministry consists of six elders.  We assign an elder to every family so they know who to contact, however the elders do not use these lists as "districts" which we have abandoned as a concept.  Instead, as elders we went through our entire congregation and determined what we felt was needed for each family - including a list of those that were "fine" meaning they are involved, are regular attenders, etc.  These we review once per year to make sure nothing has changed, but we assume that for the most part these people are in the "embrace" of the congregation as a whole and we focus elsewhere.  These are the "ninety-nine" sheep that we do not ignore, but do not focus on.  They may not see an elder all year - and they are find with that.

Once done,  we  assign as many elders as needed (in our case typically 2) to have only six families each where we feel the "one visit" model was not sufficient even if the one vist was done.  These elders love working closely with a small number of individuals and they are expected to provide complete pastoral care for those families including multiple visits.  Six each of these is a full load - they do nothing else.  

For the remaining four Adult Ministry Elders, we assign Education, interaction with social committee, small groups and any other Adult Ministry activity we feel needs an owner.  Then the visits for those that asked for one but aren't difficult situations are spread among the four to balance the load with what they are already doing.  In a church with 180 members, we have 20 of these families.

6. Administration ministry covers Finance, Personnel, Library, Facilities and anything else that don't fit the other Ministry Areas.  The Council Chair, Vice-Chair and Clerk act as elder representatives to these areas.

7.  To run all of this, we have a Leadership Council that conists of one elder from each Ministry Area except Deaconate that provides 2 plus the Admin elders (Chair, Vice-Chair and Clerk).  Leadership meetings are held monthly and are kept to a summary of each Ministry area and discussing those items that a Ministry wants to raise for which help or advice is needed, not to go through in detail what each Ministry is doing.  So Leadership meetings are typically 2.5 hours and truly administrative.  Each ministry area also meets on its own as they see fit - incorporating others into what they do.  This is where the non-administrative discussions happen.  In our model, elders are responsible for seeing the job gets done, not necessarily doing it.

7.  We only have meetings with all our elders on occassion and then only to discuss overall church direction, etc. or to deal with consistory only issues such as discipline.


We have been running this model now for three years and have been very pleased with the results.  Our pastors tell us that the Care ministry typically gets to families before they do.  Our outreach has expanded since we have two elders who do nothing but focus on it.  Youth and Children volunteers know who to turn to and work with to expand programs and deal with issues.  Those with spiritual needs are getting multiple spiritual visits focussing on their needs and issues.  The elderly who are lonely or alone are getting visits - even if only social.  We are also finding it easier to get nominations.

Nothing is perfect, but we found that this change to focus on Ministry Areas and accepting the home visit as a tool to be used  when needed rather than a "rule" has allowed us to make some definite improvements over what we were achieving before.

Ken Libolt on April 13, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi T

 It sounds like your chuch has found a model of great promise. I would like to add , If you considered chroniclly ill and severely handicapped as individual group. Especially semi and total shut-ins who are socially isolated. I will tell you they usually become isolated from freinds and to certain extent from their immediate family. We feel rejected by everyone  because we are not fun to be with abd suffering is hard to watch. We also are not big contributers due to our condition.

  Please talk to Mark at Disability section on this network.




Thanks for your comment.

We have not created a specific Ministry around shut-ins or special needs situations and I doubt we would given our approach, but we do consider them very important for all of the Ministries.

As part of our Statement of Direction (which in contrast to a simple Mission Statement is 18 pages long) we note that as a church we focus on our guiding principle of "belong, believe, become" - in that order.  That means that a key focus for every Ministry  - each in their own way - to ensure that everyone feels they "belong", from visitors to regulars to shut-ins to special needs.  This is noted in our Statement of Direction that everyone works from.

With that in place, our various Ministries do a number of things related to what you note such as:

1.  Children's Ministry has set up a special Sunday school for several children in our church that have very special needs.

2.  Seniors Ministry watches out for the Shut-ins (most of whom are seniors), visits them and enusres that communion is brought to them from time to time.  The also enlist others to help with this when the visits are not one that an elder is required.

3.  Adult Ministry includes anyone with special needs as part of their "need attention" list and they are reached out to more that our traditional "home visitng" model would have allowed. What you point out where people are isloated unfortunately does happen.  We view this as someone not feeling they belong to our community - and since "Belong" is a key focus in our statement of direction, we are constantly reviewing the "belonging" question in every ministry area.

Since Adult Ministry elders are responsible for getting the work done, not necessarily doing all the work (this took time for us to get used to - especially for elders who have been edlers before) they also enlist the help of others to see that the isolation you mention does not happen.  Of course, it still does sometimes - but by reviewing or statement of direction from time to time each ministry is reminded of the importance of everyone feeling they belong.

4. Ensuring our safe church policy is implemented.  Having a safe enironment is part of our statement of direction and every ministry reviews this from time to time.

5. Admin ministry has ensured that all our facilities are special needs accessible.

So rather than create special ministries for some of these things, our approach has been to take things like "belonging", special needs, safe church and put them into our Statement of Direction along with definitions of what we thing they are and then have each ministry area use this same Statement of Direction as a guideline.

I would be happy to hear if you think this misses something.


Ted, thank you so much for sharing your model, and especially for providing so much detail! This is exactly what I was hoping would come, and one of the benefits of this network where churches can help each other. We had our visioning session Saturday, and much of what came out certainly points us in the same direction your church has gone. The details, however, of who visits whom, how the lists are drawn up, what their responsibilities are, etc., which you provided will really help us put flesh on what so far is a bare-bones model. We've been drawing up all our models, so to help us compare yours with our own and some of the new suggestions that came out of our retreat, I am taking the liberty of emailing my drawing to your church, and hopefully they will forward it to you.
If I may, would it be possible to also get a hard or a pdf copy of your Statement of Direction?
Again, thank you so much!

We have assigned a group to each elder and we encouraged the elder to do home visits with any member who does not participate in the Shepherd group or in another group.   We also send a letter to all members so all members know that they can request a family visit, even if they are in a group.    

We have three types of groups.  1) Shepherd Groups:   The elders have care of the entire congregation and therefore every member falls into a shepherd group by assignment.   Members may switch groups if they prefer another group for any reason.   The shepherd group meet once a month in a member's home or at church.  It is multi-generational and sometimes large and unwieldy.   Some shepherd groups thrive and some do not, often depending on the skills of the elder's leadership.   Many groups feel like a large Thanksgiving potluck meeting in someone's house.   But with a short devotion, and a dedicated time of prayer together, many find a valuable sense of community and support in these groups.  2) Affinity Groups / Interest Groups:  These groups gather by life position or interest.  For example, Young Adults, Youth group, Sr. Bible study, Women's Fellowship,  Men's Breakfast --  all help create community and family.   3) Iron sharpens Iron:   Especially effective for discipleship are groups we call Iron Sharpens Iron groups, where a group is purposefully small and closed.   These groups go deep into discipleship, study, prayer and fellowship.   Usually 5 or less and by invitation only.  It is basically one believer saying to another, let's meet regularly to pray and study and encourage one another.  

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