As a church or organization gets larger, complexity increases. That may seem obvious, but the impact of that complexity isn’t always so apparent at first. You may not realize some of the areas where you need to make changes until they start to suffer. Far too often, we just try to adjust our old systems and keep rolling.
But you’ll inevitably hit a wall, and it’ll feel something like this:
David and Sally, two of your best volunteers for years, start to complain about how they can’t keep up or how they feel overwhelmed. After a few more weeks, they meet you for dinner to tell you they’re stepping down immediately.
You hear more and more complaints that sound like this: “I never know what’s going on anymore” or “I don’t even know most of these people.”
Your part-time children’s minister refuses to change his approach to Sunday mornings, even though that ministry isn’t growing at the same rate as the rest of the church. You’ve asked him several times to add some games or to pick a curriculum, but he has excuses for everything.
Two of your staff members are on “speak only when I have to” terms. One accuses the other of trying to “steal” her ministry area or volunteers.
Your platform announcements keep taking longer and longer. You know you’ve got to do something, but you need everyone to know about the upcoming events.
Whatever they look like for you, the growing pains will come. But you can be ready for them if you make some strategic shifts even before you reach the next level.
Push Farther Out
As a leader, one of the best ways you can help your staff and volunteers is by taking a longer view. Smaller organizations can usually plan events with only a few weeks’ notice (if everyone hustles), but that won’t work if you’re starting to grow. You’ll need more runway to get things off the ground; if you don’t, you’ll end up seeing more burnout and “Sunday-to-Sunday desperation” from your team.
This is bigger than just thinking through Easter and Christmas, though. Instead, you need to plan out your whole upcoming year. That’s not as tough as it may sound, even if you’re not normally a planner.
You know you’ll have 52 Sundays each year—and Wednesdays for some of you. Put them on a spreadsheet and list out who will likely be preaching (here’s a sample spreadsheet you can use in Numbers format and in PDF). Also, add in holidays and major yearly events.
Ready to go even farther than that? Plan out your sermon series for the year as well. Here’s why. When you plan out the sermon series in advance, you can line up your events, small group curriculum, and communications/advertising. Think about it. A men’s event is much more effective when it lines up with that sermon series on being a godly man. A series on prayer can tie nicely into a night of worship.
If you’ve got it all planned out, you can hand things off to your staff and volunteers with a much more realistic timeline for getting things finished. They’ll still have stress, but setting up this pattern will help them reach new levels of excellence and confidence in what they’re doing. Plus, you’re helping to shape a more realistic budget with fewer surprises.
Change How You Communicate
When I visit churches that are just starting to grow, one of the “red flags” I note is almost always in the area of communication. As a small church, for example, you can get away with telling people to sign up for an event with “Peggy out in the lobby.” But once you hit 200, you’ll have more and more people who don’t know who Peggy is. These churches also typically present every single announcement for “niche” meetings to the whole congregation.
This is tough. But a growing church has to “depersonalize” announcements and move more and more to a digital platform.
Sign up for a church management platform, such as Planning Center, and route signups through your website. Give your Peggy an iPad so that she can still sign people up in the lobby, but make that the backup plan. (Bonus: This platform will also help you keep track of stats, follow up with people, and manage your resources.) Ideally, you’ll also want to establish an information desk in the lobby or common space if you don’t have one. That’ll make it much easier to tell people where to go.
Your next step? Cut your stage announcements down to the events and ministries that will move the most people. Now, I’ll warn you that this will cause howls of frustration. Every ministry will want you to call for volunteers, every clothes drive organizer will want their time, every student ministry will want their trip featured. And you can do that… digitally through the website, app, or social media.
As a leader, you’ll have to lean on the vision of the church and remind people why you exist and what Sunday mornings are about. Your goal is to introduce people to Jesus and to move them closer to Him. Yard sales are great, but getting people into groups or discipleship classes is better.
Here’s the truth: The more announcements you have, the less movement you’ll see. Narrow it down to one or two big ones on Sunday morning and lean in there.
Make Those Needed Staff Moves
Not everyone can move with you to the next level as an organization. They may be in the wrong seat or they may be wrong for the vision you have as a leader.
That children’s minister who won’t change his ways? He may be struggling to keep afloat and more gifted to be a helper to someone with greater leadership capacity. Those two staff members having turf wars? They may not have the heart for ministry that you need going forward.
Think about it this way. As you grow, more and more people will see your staff and key leaders as the face of your organization. They’ll interact with those leaders much more than they will with you. So, you have to decide what key values you expect your staff to exhibit. Lay out those values and stick to them.
You’re not doing your staff or volunteers any favors if they’re not succeeding where they are. In fact, you may be hindering their growth by letting them continue in the same dysfunction.
Act Bigger Than You Are
Growth means more than just putting out a few more rows of seats or adding services. It means thinking through how people will be discipled, how you’ll organize your volunteer teams as they grow, how you’ll structure your staff, what new staff are most needed, how you’ll figure out where problem areas are, and more.
But don’t wait until you have growing pains before you begin thinking this way. Systems and processes act as scaffolding to build higher. And you can begin working through those no matter what size your ministry.
Sit down with your team and ask questions like these:
If we added 500 or 1,000 new people this year, what would need to change?
If we wanted to send missionary teams to five countries this year, how would we do it?
How could we get everyone in groups this year?
If we added a new campus, what would we need to get there?
How can we make sure none of our resources are double booked this year?
What lessons have we learned from other churches that we can apply this year?
What happens when you ask these types of questions is that you always move toward systems and processes as you dig deeper. And, really, the fun part is that you’re giving your team permission to think up and try new things. But they’ll need margin to do that… which goes back to having the year planned out in advance.