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

Details, Details, Details

So what exactly does a Carver Policy Goverance Model look like when it’s implemented in a church? Let’s summarize by going point by point:

  • The governing board serves five functions: (1) Be the Senior Pastor’s main support system. (2) Be the Senior Pastor’s sounding board. (3) Hold the Senior Pastor accountable for the results of the organization. (4) Approve the budget and (5) Hire/fire the Senior Pastor.
  • The governing board oversees the Senior Pastor, and the Senior Pastor oversees the paid staff team members who oversee the volunteers and ministries of the church.
  • The Senior Pastor has clearly defined Executive Limitations and functions as a servant-leader, not a CEO.
  • All staff members report directly to the Senior Pastor who has the authority to hire and fire. No staff members attend the meetings of the governing board. In the absence of any paid staff the Senior Pastor oversees volunteers who lead the ministries of the church who eventually are brought onto the church’s payroll over time.
  • The Senior Pastor is a permanent, voting member of the governing board.
  • Future board members are selected by the decision of the current board and the Senior Pastor, not by congregational vote.
  • Your board meets monthly, or better yet, quarterly, to hear a report from you on the ministries and activities of the church and to offer their guidance. The potential for board micromanagement increases as meetings increase.
  • The Senior Pastor is the only one who leaves these meetings with an assigned task. All other board members are advisors and decision makers on high-level matters. If board members have concerns with something the Senior Pastor will say, “I’ll check on that and bring a report back next month.”
  • The governing board members continue actively serving and listening to church members so they have a clear understanding of the current state of the church. That way in governing board meetings they can contribute clear, substantial and objective ideas.

Suggestions for Leading By-Law Changes

If I woke up in your shoes tomorrow, here’s how I’d go about changing the by-laws in your church

1. Rewrite the by-laws yourself.

If you could wave a magic wand and have the perfect set of by-laws appear, what would they look like? One exercise I give Senior Pastors I coach is to rewrite their own by-laws using CCV’s by-laws as a guide. I would encourage you to do the same. Take our by-laws and rewrite them for your context. Email me if you’d like a Microsoft Word file. That way you can just delete our church’s name and insert your own. It’s one thing to think about these matters in abstract. It’s quite another to actually put pen to paper

2. Befriend the top three decision makers.

If you haven’t heard John Maxwell’s tales about serving in a tiny church in Hillham, Indiana, where the main leaders were a couple named Maude and Claude, you owe it to yourself to look that up. Anytime something needed to happen, John would talk with Claude first, and then Claude would bring that matter up at church meetings. Because of his tenure Claude had more credibility than John did in the congregation, so John made that work for him instead of against him. Are you investing in the Claudes of your church? Truly work at being their partners. Ask for their guidance. Give them a seat at the table. Work with them, not against them, especially when it comes to changing the by-laws. Give them your reworked by-laws and ask them to edit them.

3. Get a few “wins” under your belt before pushing.

Here’s a caution for Senior Pastors: Don’t try to change the by-laws immediately. My suggestion is to start doing things that will cause growth in giving and attendance. Then once you have momentum on your side and excitement is building, introduce the need to change the by-laws. You want to introduce by-law change while momentum is on your side. Otherwise people will misinterpret by-law change as another one of your “hair-brained ideas” that didn’t work.

4. Stress the congregational benefits with your leaders.

Don’t focus on your potential newfound authority in the operational matters of the church, focus on the benefits to the congregation: clearer vision, more effective ministries to meet everyone’s needs, evangelistic impact, increased giving, especially to missions, etc.

5. Stress the accountability you will have.

One of the fears your leaders will have of changing the by-laws is that you will mess things up. That’s a legitimate fear because, when we are left to our own devices, we WILL mess things up. The good news is that a corollary document will serve alongside the church’s by-laws as a way to clearly define your church’s Executive Limitations of the Senior Pastor. This is a document listing all the things you can, and can’t do. The value of this document is that nothing is left to chance. My encouragement is that in the same way you’re going to rewrite CCV’s by-laws for your own context, do that with our church’s Executive Limitations document as well. Email me if you’d like a Microsoft Word version.

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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.