5 Essentials Every Church Constitution Needs To Thrive In The Future

 

constitution

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:

  • leadership
  • 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Your leadership can have incredible vision and strategy, but an outdated constitution and governance system can slow you to a snail’s pace.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:

  1. There are legal regulations that governments have in place for churches. Hire a lawyer when you are uncertain.
  2. 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.

26 Comments

  1. Mike on May 11, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’m also a bit concerned that there’s an even number of elders to ‘keep the lead pastor and the church accountable.’ In the event of a tie vote, who breaks the tie? If, in fact, this 4-person elder board includes a non-voting chairperson, it would have been helpful to include that in the description. This also indicates that all votes are either unanimous, or 2-1 votes, which seems a bit on the slim side to me.

    • Jeff on May 11, 2018 at 2:27 pm

      Great comment Mike. We do normally try to have an odd number on the board. Sadly one member passed away mid-term so we are at 4 currently. Having said that, I can’t remember a time we didn’t have a unanimous decision. Appreciate the feedback.

  2. Oliver Tomlinson on May 11, 2018 at 5:54 am

    Work with both in the meantime…looking at the most biblical interpretation of the institution’s formal guidelines.
    Nothing really has or needs to be a negative interpretation.
    And maybe positive and negative decision we can discover is mostly our choice.

    • Jeff on May 11, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      Thanks for that feedback Oliver!

  3. Oliver Tomlinson on May 11, 2018 at 3:40 am

    This visionary perceptive format must obviously have the mental emotional and spiritual capacity/ability for it to be applied.
    I’m thinking of Romans 12. 3.

    all the Best,
    Oliver Tomlinson

    • David on May 11, 2018 at 11:21 pm

      Could you comment on point number 5? I am not sure I understand why if everyone is on board that would mean the statement is not focused enough. Our vision statement says “to enlarge the size of heaven by taking as many people as possible with us”. We wanted to say something that would help the community understand our purpose and also state something that people could get on board with. Please elaborate. Thank you for a great article.

  4. Ev on May 10, 2018 at 8:59 pm

    Interesting! Especially the suggestion to keep congregational involvement low!

  5. Frances White on May 10, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    There can be a problem when as you say in Point 2 the people most invested with their time and finance have the most input. Such people can think they ‘own’ the church. There can be pressure especially from those with finance to use that as a lever to get the church to move in the direction and be the church they want.
    I think there can also be a danger where the perspective of the whole congreagation is not taken into account. A small leadership team which does not regularly communicate and receive input from its wider congregation can take leadership decisions which are at odds with the majority of people in the church.

    • Walter Woodall on May 11, 2018 at 9:15 am

      The direction of the church is not the direction of the majority unless the majority is focused on God’s direction and mission for His church.

    • Jeff on May 11, 2018 at 2:32 pm

      I agree Frances. Thanks for the comment. We find that the wider Ministry Team Representatives I mention with that point (who in turn communicate with their teams), plus the elders, and the staff are able to communicate well and get the feedback we need before we make a large decision. Appreciate the input.

  6. Gary Brown on May 10, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Amen to McL. Bad leadership starts at the top and won’t be corrected by your constitution.

  7. Rex Simcox on May 10, 2018 at 11:21 am

    The church is actually a governance structure AND an assembly, both are an integral parts of its life. When I founded our church I used a more hierarchical model as its governing structure, but I built into the by-laws room for the structure to change or for membership privileges to grow. The reason is this: Using the demographics obtained from the Southern Baptist Convention for an area 3 miles, 5 miles, 10 miles and 20 miles in diameter from my home in a largely rural area, we found 17,000 people within 10 miles who were unchurched, most of whom were over 20 years of age and had never been affiliated with any church. There are 5 large churches within that 10 mile diameter that averaged 500 – 1000 in attendance, but they were not reaching those other people. I deliberately focused on those. However, it is foolish to think that a person who is 25 years old, lived for drugs and sex, and had never been in church until, say last week, when he heard the gospel and believed, has the same spiritual insight as someone who has been saved for 50 years, and been a good deacon and SS teacher for 30 years. The business of the church is to do the will of God, not the will of the majority; and the will of God is simply the Word of God. Having experience in the Word makes for good, godly decisions.
    Having said that, it also important to examine the growth of the church. Once members show evidence of spiritual growth, and the spiritual gifts begin to manifest themselves openly, then it is probably time to re-organize and move to a more democratic structure.

    • Jeff on May 11, 2018 at 2:35 pm

      Thanks Rex. Sounds like that member-oriented model that grows with someone is working well for you. Interesting idea. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Heath on May 10, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Any chance we could see a copy of the Connexus constitution? I know we need to update and line up our documents with our actual procedures, but in a church with no other staff I need something to help my volunteers try to take these steps among their other responsibilities.

    • Fred on May 10, 2018 at 10:12 am

      Agreed. I think we have a pretty good set of bylaws and board practices, but its always helpful to see how others have documented good practice. I would appreciate receiving a copy of the Connexus Constitution and/or supporting Board practices.

    • Rick on May 10, 2018 at 2:37 pm

      Ditto. I’d love to see a copy of the constitution.

      Can you post it?

    • Jeff on May 11, 2018 at 2:38 pm

      Hey Heath. Thanks for asking. Unfortunately, we are unable to share it. Having said that, in Canada many provinces have now created templates that have worked well for new churches and non-profits. If you could find out something like that is available in your area and add a few hours with a charitable law-firm, it might take you a long way. Thanks again.

  9. Fr. Daniel on May 10, 2018 at 9:35 am

    As an Anglican/Episcopl priest, I can tell you this: Our annual Conventions or Synods often have from 100-500 people in a room who are delegates from every congregation, the number based on size of congregation. It is a disaster, always. Somehow, our Bishops fool themselves into believing that more is better. Also, since they rotate on and off, most have no knowledge of anything they are discussing. It is a complete waste of time. Most of what we do can be done via email. It’s a shame, but our leaders are low-performers who are too invested in the institution maintaining the status quo; something at which we excel.
    Great article, and very true.

    • Oliver Tomlinson on May 11, 2018 at 3:51 am

      Hi Daniel

      Yours, is also a great article also.

      Oliver

      • Fr. Daniel on May 11, 2018 at 4:35 am

        Thank you Oliver.

        In my congregation, we minimize meetings, even though our constitution demands we meet nearly all the time.

        We decided (once our leadership team was truly healthy enough to make necessary changes) to meet ONLY when we really needed to meet. Otherwise, we all lead various parts of the ministry, so we stay busy building the Kingdom. But, we aren’t the norm. Most Diocese’s and Synods and Conventions continue to inform people that systems that have never worked MUST be followed to the letter – and each year our denomination shrinks more and more. Good news – once we are extinct, some of us can begin again – using a more Biblical model, and following articles like Carey’s to guide us to health and growth. God loves to grow believers and churches – if we could just get out of the way. 🙂

  10. Bill on May 10, 2018 at 8:36 am

    “Have Minimal Congregational Involvement” – Is a church a governance structure or is it an assembly (ekklesia, also translated congregation)? Large scale decisions should grow out of the life of the assembly. A good leader will recognize this and act in ways that maximize it. I’m afraid this bullet point will encourage poor leaders to bypass the assembly.

    • McL on May 10, 2018 at 9:27 am

      Bill, This is the bullet point that made me stop and say, “Whoa!” The model that I am currently working with was designed to be less hierarchical with more direct involvement from the whole congregation based on spiritual gifts. It doesn’t work when the leadership teams start making the decisions by themselves with “minimal congregational involvement” because that is when the membership has no buy-in and no respect for what God has given them to offer the wider Kingdom.

    • Dan on May 10, 2018 at 11:30 am

      This article presumes great leadership, but it struggles to answer the problem of a poor leader. I can identify a church where a poor leader followed this principle of “Minimal Congregational Involvement” and things blew up. I am not advocating for a congregation voting on large scale decisions, or much of anything at all, but the wording of this principle needs to be greatly improved. We do not want to blindly take “everyone” in the congregation on a roller coaster ride as the author states. However, we need to ensure that we are modeling Proverbs 15:22 which teaches “many advisers.” Many advisers is not merely a governing board. Many advisers include leaders and people with life skills that can offer rich advice. Many advisers include those who disagree. Listen to their objections – and I am not including someone who disagrees just to disagree.

    • Jeff on May 11, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      Thanks for this. I do think it’s important for a congregation to be given the opportunity to understand a decision. I think what I ‘m trying to articulate is the mistake many leaders make by taking everyone through all the ups and downs. For example, when we built our facility, there were twists and turns every week for months – taking the average person through all of those would be discouraging and confusing. We only took a smaller group of elders and Ministry Team Reps through the twists and turns. In my opinion, it’s better to bring things to everyone when the decision and opportunity are clear. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Coleman Walsh on May 10, 2018 at 8:26 am

    It is ALL about leadership. Good leadership will always overcome a bad governance structure, but a great governance structure will not overcome bad leadership. I have seen far too many examples of how leaders use the by-laws as the “whipping boy” for their own timidity and unwillingness to make decisions. In my church some staff have regularly complained about “cumbersome” by-laws, but when I ask them to give a specific example of a provision that made it unreasonably difficult for them to do ministry, I got silence. Perhaps they did not want to answer the next question, which would have been “Why haven’t you proposed to change it?” From my perspective, it is all about the quality of the leadership!

    • Jeff on May 11, 2018 at 2:49 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that leadership is key. Unfortunately, I’ve seen great leaders fight uphill for decent progress because of an outdated set of bylaws. I’ve also seen great leaders get great results in a healthy environment when they have good governance and bylaws. I think that’s the ideal. It is all about leadership in the end – Carey has lots of posts on that topic:)

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