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Having been part of many conversations on organizational structure, I know that each organization structure is a balancing of a variety of differing objectives and at times conflicting values.  The changes that are adopted depend on levels of trust within the community and the levels of anxiety that live within the organization.  I have also seen that simply organizing ourselves to work more effectively does not mean more work gets done. 

Finally, so much of what we desire for the life of the church is part of a bigger change in the relationship of the church to the larger community.  Today the church seems to be more vulnerable, the calling to share and be “good news” more difficult and busyness of our lives more challenging.  Many times we are looking for a new organizational culture which engages us more effectively in the mission of God in our neighbourhoods.  Any change in organizational culture is a challenge.  Fundamentally, this is not about the organizational structure but the development of habits of thought and behavior.  Let’s face it. This takes time. 

For all the challenges there are a few key insights that can help us discern our way through these conversations.

First, size matters to organizational life.  A small group loses some of its effectiveness when it grows beyond 15 members. The social life of the church changes when it moves from 40 families to 100 families to 150 families. There is good material on congregational size and its relationship to church organization from the Alban Institute. There are at least two consequences to this:

  1. Each congregation ought to consider how size effects its way of life.  This involves the way a conversation takes place within the congregation, the way we organize activity, how we reach decisions, and many other patterns of communication.  
  2. The council tends to become less effective as the size grows beyond 15.  That is why most larger councils have a smaller administration/ executive committees.

Second, time management requires that councils spend less time in governance meetings and more in doing the work.  So often when we meet the tendency is to engage governance.  We listen to reports and sometimes make and approve motions.  Yet in reality very little governance takes place (holding people and committees to account for the vision of the church and development of the mission of the church).  Yet every evening (usually) spent in a meeting deprives the elder/ deacon from spending their limited time engaging the work (visitation, leading small groups, or whatever the particular task is).  Depending on the size of the church sometimes the governance work of council is separated from the task orientated part of the work.  However we decide to organize it is important to ensure that the time of the volunteers is properly used. 

Third, it helps to know what we seek to encourage in the life of the community.  When I was a child, elders came to visit and encouraged a faithful devotional life, the learning of the faith in catechism, and appropriate engagement in the congregational life.  Today, we need to ask the question: what is it that we seek to encourage in the life of the community?  What are the patterns of behavior and engagement that will encourage our life with Christ?  For instance, James Byran Smith (Good and Beautiful God, Good and Beautiful Life, Good and Beautiful Community) seeks to encourage such practices as  Silence, Slowing Down, Prayer, Hospitality,  Reconciliation, Stewardship of Resources.  These are practices for the Christian life.  We are encouraging behaviours and attitudes that are part of the Christian life and mission.  So the question is: are we reorganizing to accomplish this purpose in deepening the spiritual life of the congregation so that the mission of the church will be accomplished?

Fourth, use new technology as part of the way to communicate and encourage participation in decisions.   Technology moves fast.  The internet as a useful tool in the life of the church is only 20 years old at most.  Because of this there is a generational divide in how technology is used.  But some things are obvious: we do not need to meet together in order to get information and we can get input on decisions without necessarily getting into the same room.  Not every decision can be made over email.  But it is worth asking the question about how we do business when these tools are available.  (recently I read Here Comes Everybody, and Open Leadership.  Both suggest that these tools can be used to great advantage in creating more dialogue and creativity in an organization)

Fifth, training and growth of leadership is required.  Any re-organization ought to ensure that the leaders are constantly being trained in their life and ministry.  It needs to be built into the structure of their work.  Whether this is meeting time or personal time does not matter.  But since it takes time, it needs to be part of the way things are done. 

Sixth, any re-organization needs to put more leadership and responsibility on members to do what God is calling them to do.  They should not need approvals as much as provision of resources and support.  If someone wants to engage in his/her neighbourhood (missional), how does the church encourage, support and resource this engagement?  The organizational structure needs to provide leadership for such ministry and support for those who are developing new ways of living in their neighbourhoods. 

Seventh, the agenda needs to change.  An agenda drives a meeting.  So the question is: what is the agenda asking of us?  If we want to change our behavior as leaders a good place to start is changing the agenda.  Do you want training?  Put it on the agenda.  Do you want to organize the work for the next month?  Set the first half hour aside to make calls and make decisions as teams.  Don’t simply say what we ought to do, but make time to do it.  What’s on your agenda?  How does this advance the goals you have in mind? 

Eight, most re-organization struggles because we are afraid of losing control.  We hate losing our voice in the process or our control.  Yet every re-organization shifts whose voice is heard and how votes are counted.  While we all want to listen to Jesus – the head of the church – we still struggle about who sits at the left and right hand of Jesus.  Realize the spiritual struggle and be upfront about it. 

How much change is required in organizational structure varies.  What is clear is that in order for the mission of God to be accomplished in our ever changing world does require changes in how we engage our work.  Yet it is worthwhile noting that genuine change (change in organizational culture) always takes much longer and requires great persistence.  What is required always is faithfulness to the calling God has given us.  We need to do the work to which we are called, train our souls in godliness and engage in the opportunities God gives us to seek first the Kingdom. 


Lots of good comments in this article, Neil.   But perhaps too many things at once.  What would you focus on?  What would you see as the priority at this time?   What takes us beyond the normal kind of common sense things, such as small vs large groups, technology, training, etc. to the significance of structural impediments or opportunities that we ought to focus on? 

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