You probably almost didn’t open this blog post, did you?
Who cares about governance?
Well, if you care about church growth and accomplishing your mission, read on.
I’m convinced bad governance is a key contributing factor as to why many churches don’t grow.
And, conversely, I’m convinced that good governance is a key factor as to why some churches do grow.
In fact, there’s a good chance bad governance is frustrating you right now…and you might not even know it.
Bad governance…or maybe more charitably, unhelpful governance…is pretty much the norm in church world. Even if you have decent people on your board or boards, the system itself is sometimes the obstacle.
But if you spend 3 minutes going over these 5 issues, I think your church could end up poised for greater growth. Or at least you’ll have better insight into why things aren’t going the way you hoped they’d be going.
Bad governance is the silent killer of many great church missions.
Don’t Be So Emotional
Before we jump into the signs that bad governance is stifling your church’s growth, a few words.
I realize that many denominations pride themselves on governance as much as they do on theology. I get that.
So as you read through this you might be tempted to think I’m being unbiblical in my critiques or even insensitive to your denomination’s approach. As a former member of a denomination, (I lead a non-denominational church now), I can empathize.
Yet many forms of church governance are not so much biblical as they are historical, which means they should be open to change. Most governance systems were designed to work in an era when churches were smaller, when communities and cities themselves were smaller, and when we were not living in a post-Christian era.
This doesn’t mean all vestiges of historic church governance should be ousted. But I’ve seen many cases where church governances hurts the mission of the church more than it helps the mission of the church. What worked 200 years ago has stopped working today.
Churches that are willing reformulate governance (within the parameters of scripture of course) will do far better than those who don’t.
So as we go through these 5 signs related to bad church governance, try not to get defensive. Stay open. There’s too much at stake not to rethink everything in the church.
5 Signs Bad Church Governance is Stifling Your Church’s Growth and Mission
So how does governance hurt the mission rather than help it? Here are 5 signs your governance is working against your mission, not for it:
1. Your board or congregation loves to micromanage
Small churches are notorious for wanting approval on every decision, from the paint colour in the kids ministry rooms to every hire in the church, to every minute curriculum change.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
Once you reach a certain size, ministry becomes complex enough that two hours a month or even a monthly congregational meeting isn’t nearly enough time to meaningfully review the issues before the congregation.
Just think about it for a second.
A pastor or staff member will have spent 160 hours working on issues in a month…minimum. A board member might spend two. A congregational member might spend an hour..or, more likely, about 30 seconds, before passing judgment.
How can a board make a decision on every item in the allotted time? How on earth can a congregation?
Yet it’s not that hard to find board members and congregational members who have opinions on everything…no matter how ill-informed those opinions might be.
Boards and congregations that micromanage keep their churches small because of their need to control every decision.
Churches in which boards micromanage rarely grow beyond 200 attenders because the issues facing churches larger than that require boards to stop micromanaging (here are 7 other reasons churches never break the 200 attendance mark).
Micromanaging shrinks the size of the congregation back to the size in which everything can be ‘controlled’.
One more thing on micromanagement.
Great leaders never say “Please micromanage me.” So if you want to repel great leaders, micromanage them.
2. Your congregation demands consensus
Somewhere along the way someone got the idea that everyone has to agree with every decision.
I think that someone is crazy.
Where on earth did the idea that we need consensus on every decision emerge?
If Moses had waited for consensus before leaving Egypt, the Israelites would still be in slavery.
Consensus kills courage. Churches that look for consensus will never find courage, and churches that find courage will rarely find consensus…at least initially.
When you drive for consensus, decisions get watered down to the point where all the risk is gone, and any boldness evaporates. You get churches that come out in favour of yard sales and Mother’s Day. And that’s about it.
Look, if you and your spouse can’t agree on where to go on vacation, how do you think you’ll get 200, or 2000, people to agree on anything significant as a church?
Almost nothing gets accomplished if everyone has a say.
So should you ever try for consensus? Well, yes, but likely at the board level. John Stickl has a fascinating approach to consensus style leadership in a mega-church context that he explains in Episode 29 of my leadership podcast.
3. Your board or congregation doesn’t trust the staff
This sounds so basic, but it’s so often missed.
For a church to grow and be healthy, there has to be a high level of trust between the staff and the board and congregation.
Naturally, that trust has to be earned by the pastors and staff.
But it’s amazing to me how many people in churches distrust their pastors and staff for no good reason. Churches that cultivate a default assumption of suspicion, not trust, will always pay a price.
The best leader I know on this subject is Andy Stanley, and if you haven’t listened to his 20 minute podcast on trust v. suspicion, you should.
If you don’t trust the staff, fire the staff. If you trust them, let them lead.
4. Your staff hates the board
I realize hate is a strong word. But I’ve met enough church leaders who loathe their boards to know the problem goes both ways.
Sure. Look. I know you don’t have your ‘dream board’ yet.
You inherited a board when you stepped into leadership. We all did.
When I began in leadership, the three small churches had a total attendance of 45 people (adding all three together), but had 18 elders (I’m not making this up).
The average age of the eldership was about 70, and they had all presided over churches that had been stuck for decades. There were some great people on the board. And there were a few who were not ideally suited for leadership.
That could have been a recipe for disaster.
But why not see it as an opportunity instead?
You have to start cultivating a relationship with the people you have in leadership before you can work with the people you want in leadership.
If there are toxic board members, you can deal with that. And over time you can build a better board.
But if you hate your board after 3 years of leadership, it’s not your board’s fault, it’s yours.
You haven’t done the hard work of cultivating a relationship of trust or moving unhealthy board members off.
So get started. Be a great steward of who you have, not who you don’t have.
5. Your board focuses on complainers
If your church board meetings usually begin with “So and so isn’t happy about X”, you have a problem.
Sometimes boards feel it’s their responsibility to speak up for people who don’t have a voice.
That might be true for widows and orphans. It’s not true for the cranky church member who is opposed to everything.
As my friend Reggie Joiner says, great churches focus on who they’re trying to reach, not who they’re trying to keep.
Why do so many churches struggle with trying to please people?
That’s great question. Here are a few blog posts and a book I’ve written on the subject of handling opposition to your vision:
Boards (and congregations) that focus on who they’re trying to reach will be much healthier and do much better than congregations that focus on complainers.
What Do You See?
I realize this is tough medicine and may come as a shock to some leaders, but I do think bad governance in the silent killer in many churches.
What do you think? What are you seeing?
Scroll down and leave a comment!