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Grow Your Church: 3 By-Law Changes Needed to Break 100, 200, 400 and 600

Churches Over 200

Here is what the organizational structure of a church over 200 looks like as reflected in their by-laws:

[The Senior Pastor and his staff oversee the operational matters of the church under the oversight of the governing board.]

Three Necessary Changes to Break 200

Here are three by-law changes you must make to ensure your church’s organizational structure doesn’t inhibit future growth.

1. The governing board must transition from operations to oversight.

Every church I’ve seen who can’t find its way past the 200 barrier has an unpaid, volunteer leadership team that is set up to run the church. The only way you’re going to grow past this barrier is for the leadership team to transition from collectively running the entire operation of the church to overseeing one person, the Senior Pastor, who oversees staff and volunteers that collectively run the operations of the church. The governing board in turn provides oversight through its regular meetings and by the policies it creates to clearly define what a Senior Pastor can and cannot do so as not to shipwreck the church. These limitations for the Senior Pastor are called Executive Limitations.

In its oversight capacity, the governing board must focus on its five essential duties as it relates to the Senior Pastor:

  • Serve as the primary care group for the Senior Pastor.
  • Provide a sounding board for the Senior Pastor as he senses the next steps for the church.
  • Hold the Senior Pastor accountable for the performance of the church.
  • Serve a fiduciary responsibility to the church by determining salary increases for the Senior Pastor, approving the annual budget and holding the Senior Pastor accountable for the financial health of the church.
  • Hire/fire the Senior Pastor.

These are the only tasks the governing board focuses on. Everything else concerning the operational details of the church is given over to the Senior Pastor to manage through the staff.

2. The governing board must focus on the “ends” of the church and hold the Senior Pastor accountable to focus on the “means” of the church.

This language comes from a type of organizational structure used by all churches over 400+ called Carver Policy Governance. What this means is that the governing board becomes a body that defines what the church stands for. It says, “We’re going to be a church that is all about __________ and __________ and __________ and __________.”

One of those things will be, for instance, evangelism. That’s an “end” result for the church. “Are we evangelizing?” is a question the board should ask the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor will then answer, “Yes, here’s how, and here are our results so far this month, quarter and year.”

The governing board has defined the “ends” (ex. evangelism) and is holding the Senior Pastor accountable for the way in which evangelism is carried out in the church, or, the “means” (ex: A class which trains people to share their faith). The board says, “This is important,” and the Senior Pastor says, “Got it. Let me go develop a plan to make that happen and I’ll let you weigh in on it next meeting.”

3. The Senior Pastor must transition from chaplain to leader.

I’m not saying that every church must grow beyond 200, but what I am saying is that if that’s its desire, it won’t happen with a Senior Pastor who wants to be a church chaplain. A church chaplain is content simply teaching and loving people while someone else carries the stress of leading the church. Sometimes this happens because this type of pastor is really good at caring for people and hates leadership. Sometimes this happens because the pastor has bad theology and doesn’t believe people without Christ are lost, thus dampening any evangelistic passion.

The main reason I think this happens is because the Senior Pastor hasn’t been given the authority to lead from the church’s by-laws. The by-laws are all about responsibility and authority. In a church under 200 the Senior Pastor has not been given the responsibility and authority, from the by-laws themselves, to lead the operational matters of the church.

Let me give you an example: If something needs to be changed, like, say, canceling the Wednesday night Bible study, in a church under 200 the Senior Pastor can’t do that. If he stands up on a Sunday morning and announces that he’s going to end it because it’s ineffective, he’ll surely be met by members of the governing board after church asking, “Who gave you the authority to make such a decision?”

Well, if your church is organized the way most churches are under 200, the answer the Senior Pastor would give is “Nobody.”

In the by-law model I’m encouraging you to transition to, the question of authority would be clear. And more importantly, decisions like that would have never been made that way. Leaders on the governing board would have heard about the decision to end the Wednesday night Bible study many months prior, would have weighed in on the decision, and would have helped craft the communication of the decision made.

Here’s the deceptive thing: Many Senior Pastors think that just because they have a multiple staff that they’ve changed their organizational structure. Adding staff or going to multiple services hasn’t changed anything. Until you change how the Senior Pastor relates to the governing board you have not addressed the fundamental issue. You may not be experiencing problems now, but you will. Trust me. Like wearing a shirt two sizes too small, you won’t realize how pervasively constricted your structure is until you try to move outside your governing board’s comfort zone. For all intents and purposes you are a church of, say, 475, structured like a church of 75.

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I’m the founding Senior Pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in the suburbs of Philadelphia. In 13 years the church has grown from a small group in my home to over 2,000 incredible people. Before that I served in churches of 25 to 600 in attendance. I love church planters and pastors of smaller churches, and totally understand the difficult challenges they face as they try to help people find their way back to God.