Today’s post comes from Jeff Brodie. Jeff is the Lead Pastor at Connexus Church, where I’m Founding Pastor. Jeff’s my successor as Lead Pastor. He’s doing a phenomenal job leading our church community, and he’s also a loving husband, father and friend. This post is originally appeared on Jeff’s blog (where it’s no longer available) and is one of the most requested articles I’ve ever linked to.
So…here it is.
I think you’re really going to by surprised by and appreciate his powerful insights on the changes you need to make to your church’s constitution to be ready for the future.
By Jeff Brodie
Ever feel like your church struggles to keep the mission moving forward? Does it seem like decisions get bogged down? It’s a common issue in many organizations, and it’s hurting many churches.
I think the challenges many churches face in the areas of decision making and forward progress often have to do with two things:
- church governance
Improving leadership is the attractive challenge that everyone likes to talk about, but I think church constitutions and governance can be just as critical when it comes to building the future of your church.
Your leadership can have incredible vision and strategy, but an outdated constitution and governance system can slow you to a snail’s pace. This is true for denominational churches, congregational churches and almost any church that has a constitution and governance system based on a tradition more than a decade old. Antiquated governance systems are plaguing much of the Church today.
Many church leaders are working with constitutions that were written in entirely different times; decades or even centuries earlier.
Most leaders don’t want to push the board or members to overhaul and update the constitution because it is messy, difficult, and painful. Changing the system seems more painful than reaching fewer people. Over time the church increasingly, even exponentially, loses its effectiveness.
BUT here’s what’s at stake
By refusing to improve your constitution and governance system, you are handcuffing the next generation of leaders in your church.
You are feeding the cycle that got you here in the first place, and the next generation of leaders will suffer. In fact, this is the type of thing that pushes young leaders to start their own churches, rather than lead existing churches. They realize that old systems get in the way of the ministry Christ calls us to today. Time is being wasted and the Church’s mission is critical.
When we launched Connexus 10 years ago, the leadership team asked themselves “How do we create a constitution and governance that fuels our mission and helps push it forward?” This team worked extremely hard to create a constitution with a governance system and bylaws that fuelled our organization’s mission and vision. It was a lot of hard work, and to be honest, keeping it updated isn’t exciting, but it’s important.
When working on constitutions, bylaws, and governance systems remember 2 things:
- There are legal regulations that governments have in place for churches. Hire a lawyer when you are uncertain.
- The scriptures have some clear guidelines around leadership/governance that you should pay attention to.
With those things in mind, here are some characteristics of a healthy constitution and governance system that will take you into the future.
1. Keep Accountability Clean and Clear
Checks and balances are based on quality of people, not quantity of people.
There’s a misguided school of thought out there that says, “the more people you are accountable to, the more accountable you are.” The reality is that if you are accountable to 100 people, you aren’t really accountable to anyone. Keep the organizational accountability group (board or team) small and focus on making sure the circle includes high-quality leaders who get your vision and mission at their very core.
In our case, currently, 4 elders are responsible to keep the lead pastor and the church accountable. The elder selection process is intensive and includes a thorough interview. The lead pastor is accountable to the elders, and the staff and new hires are ultimately the responsibility of the lead pastor. It’s very clean and very clear.
2. Give Invested People Input
The most invested people should have the most input.
Leaders need valuable input from their community. Unfortunately, many churches are structured so that anyone who holds a member’s card and a pulse can influence the whole church. When setting up venues to get input from your community, things should be structured so that people who are most invested in the church’s mission with their time and finances have the most input.
For example, our staff meets with a group of Ministry Team Representatives (20-30 people) every quarter to get their input on where we are headed and bounce some ideas off of them to see what they think. These people are highly invested in our mission. They aren’t a decision-making body, but their input is incredibly valuable to our staff and elders. At that meeting, they also get up to the minute updates on things like finances and attendance trends.
3. Keep Decision-Making Nimble
If you can’t take advantage of opportunities within 24hrs, you are too slow.
Slow decision-making means missed opportunities. Be sure that if the key leaders in your church see an opportunity that can move your mission forward, they can make the decision quickly. If your circle of elders can’t make a major financial decision in less than 24hrs, you need to rethink your decision-making model. I’ve seen incredible opportunities missed by churches because of this one structural flaw alone.
4. Have Minimal Congregational Involvement
Involving everyone in leadership decisions is irresponsible.
Large-scale decisions (building purchases, major hires, etc.) can be emotional rollercoasters. People change their minds, finances fall through, and a “sure thing” can become a “mirage” very quickly. Always be transparent with finances and inquiries from people, but to take your entire congregation on every twist and turn along the way is irresponsible. You want to keep your congregation informed, but keep it to a minimum until plans are firm. Don’t take them on the rollercoaster along the way. If your structure demands that you have to over-inform your people, change it.
5. Vision and mission must be crystal clear and laser focused
It’s obvious, but must be stated, a great constitution and governance system only work if your vision and mission are crystal clear. Clear enough that people can tell quickly whether they are onboard with you or not.
Tip: If everyone who comes to your church gets onboard, your vision isn’t defined enough.
There’s so much more I could cover, but this is a start. What principles have you found that have been helpful in your constitution or governance model?
Scroll down and leave a comment.