Structuring for Growth

When I think about church growth I think about growing people:

  • With respect to God in spiritual maturity and depth
  • With respect to the world, doing what God wants them to do, reaching the people God wants them to reach

In other words church growth is in essence the development of people in their discipleship and mission, individually and corporately.

Why might it be hard to develop the structures of a local church so that they closely reflect this twofold pattern? One reason is that development is dependent on the interaction between two quite different things: our missional aims and our organisational culture. Ideally these ought to be closely related, but in practice for many churches they aren't. Each constrains what it is possible to achieve:

  • You can do all the planning you like but if the people are not on fire for God or willing to sacrifice for the gospel the result will be no development for growth
  • On the other hand you can have all the godliness in the world and no planning and the result will similarly be no development for growth

In the first any initiative for growth will be resisted, in the second growth will be vaguely hoped for rather than intentionally pursued.

By "organisational culture" I mean what's important to us, how do we do things and why do we do them this way. Organisational culture often rests on deep-seated assumptions and values:

  • corporate beliefs and value commitments
  • the history and traditions that govern corporate ideology about "the way we do things here". Do we have an idealised rosy tinted "golden age"?
  • who the dominant personalities and groups are, and whether their agenda are gospel agenda
  • assumptions about how things should be organised and led, and who has responsibility and authority to contribute (eg is there an assumption that greater longevity in a church conveys more authority to speak on direction?)
  • how discussions take place
  • do our traditions make us inherently tribal or non-tribal
  • do we consider the world a threat to be avoided or an opportunity to be grasped

All of this determines what may or may not be attempted at any point in a church's life. All of this has to be shaped and moulded towards the gospel by leaders who wish to bring fresh developments for church growth. Trying to build a missional church structure without a congregation full of mission-minded hearts is doomed form the start. Structures don't change hearts, the Holy Spirit does that. Subsequently changed hearts then change structures.

The aim is to bring get organisational culture and organisational planning to come together to produce action. The critical factors in the interface between the two are:

  • What the church believes
  • Whether the individuals in the church hold those believes for themselves in meaningful and transforming ways 
  • How those beliefs inform practice. The key question here is does the organisational culture help people to apply and work out gospel belief or hinder it? ie is organisational culture subservient to the gospel or vice versa?
  • Whether people in the church are prepared to work out their common beliefs in ways that are sacrificial to them. The key question here is does the organisational culture encourage them to do so or discourage them? 

It is very hard to structure around our core gospel priorities if a large percentage of a church either doesn't own them for themselves, or is only able to vocalise them in the vaguest terms. They simply don't get why you would change anything that they like. In the worst cases people confuse never changing anything with orthodoxy such that development feels to them like being unfaithful to the gospel.

I guess most leaders regularly communicate biblical vision for church, but I wonder how many of usare as good at helping our church to take stock of where we are structurally with respect to the vision. How many of our activities are not directed towards the vision (and therefore implicitly hinder it because they take away some of the limited resources and use them in non-vision ways).

Leaders have to not only cast vision, we also need to work at helping people practically align themselves with it if we want everyone to pull towards the same goal rather than just vaguely hope they will get there somehow with other people doing the driving.