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The Story that Pastors Are Forgetting to Tell

This is the fourth post on “Vehicles for Vision.”

The series started with an exploration of why preaching should not be your primary vision vehicle. Then we reviewed six vehicles that every church leader should use. Next, we declared the leadership pipeline is often a missing link when it comes to using every vehicle.

Now I want to discuss a vehicle that is always in place but not intentionally used. It’s a powerful way to tell your story but when neglected, it broadcasts static. It’s your church’s “structural story.”

What is that you ask? More consulting speak?

Your structural story is the combination of language, systems, and processes that are running in the background of your organization that communicate, for better or worse, something about your church’s identity and vision.

Here is a sampling of five major structural story components:

1. Staff titles and org charts:

  Even when we chart a new course in ministry direction, it’s easy to keep the labels of yesteryear. Recently, an executive pastor completely redrew an org chart using a circular format instead of a linear top down scheme. Several titles changed. It energized the leaders and helped them understand their new strategy better.

2. Budget categories and process:

How we think and communicate about spending money tells a story. What is it? One church is reevaluating their annual mission budget process, which is completely separate from their operating budget. Forty years ago, having a separate budget highlighted the priority of missions, but now it seems to minimize the emphasis in missional living.

3. Systems and information:

What information do we keep on hand for each member? What does a first-time guest receive if they give us their information?  Your church has a lot of systems (whether designed well or not). On more than one occasion, I’ve visited a Sunday class where a sheet is passed around with the term “prospects” printed at the top. (Southern Baptists have historically used this term.) While I appreciate the attention to attendance tracking, what does that terminology in our database suggest when a guest sees it? Or when the class leaders review it?

4. Policies and procedures:

Does your church have a policy for reserving space? For designated gifts? For social media? Again, this list goes on. What values or aspirations do these policies subtly reinforce? One church I am working with is developing a social media strategy. As we look at the policy, we are wrestling through the tension of trying to control what’s being said versus trying guide positive engagement in the body of Christ.

5. Internal communication “footprint”:

By “footprint,” I am referring to the amount of space and prioritization of messages that are embedded into the internal communication strategy. This would touch on things like the “square footage” of content areas on Web space, Web navigation, the size of ministry brochures, and word count and font size of ministry info in the worship guide. At a church I visited this week, the women’s ministry brochure was three times bigger (and more colorful) than the “next step” brochure based on the church’s strategy. In this case, the emphasis in the print communication did not align with the church’s vision.

These five things are not an exhaustive list of your church’s structural story, but they illustrate many simple and everyday decisions in church life. Why not use them to better broadcast your vision and story? Use this vehicle.