Systems and churches

Ed Stetzer asked Darrin Patrick a great question recently, “Why do most churches stay small?”

Patrick answered, “Largely because most pastors don’t know how to build systems, structures, and processes that are not contingent upon them. Most pastors can care for people, but don’t build systems of care. Most pastors can develop leaders individually, but lack the skill to implement a process of leadership development. When a pastor can’t build systems and structures that support ministry, the only people who are cared for or empowered to lead are those who are “near” the pastor or those very close to the pastor. This limits the size of the church to the size of the pastor.”

I agree with Darrin.

I’ve known pastors who are prayer warriors yet lead small churches.

I’ve known pastors who are great preachers yet lead small churches.

I’ve know pastors who care deeply for people yet lead small churches.

I remember pastoring a church in New Castle, PA. The church was about 30 or so in size when we went there. Six years later we were running close to 150.

During our last year there I said to Sherri multiple times, “This church has grown because of us, but it’s not going to grow any more because of us.”

People had come to the church because they liked Sherri and me. That’s great, but the problem with that is I have a maximum number of people with whom I can be close. I realized that my maximum number is about 150. Beyond that people begin to “fall through the cracks” and end up leaving.

I told Sherri, “I need to change my leadership style, but I don’t know how.”

Then we were moved to another church; a church of 600 people. My leadership style was forced to change. I was leading/pastoring people that I did not know. In two years the church grew from 600 to 800+. The reason? I was not the solo catalyst for growth or retention! There were systems in place that were not dependent upon me which helped people plug in and engage in the life of the church.

I recall during those days wondering what it would be like to pastor a small church again. Today I am pastoring a small church.

I’m doing things a bit differently now. I expect that we will soon pass the point at which I am able to effectively pastor all the people, so we are working to set up systems that will enable our church to connect with more people than I alone can pastor.

Some examples:

  • Even though we are a small church we have multiple pastors who lead out in their respective areas of ministry.
  • We emphasize the importance of everyone being connected to a LIFE group and developing relationships outside of the weekend service.
  • I am not the only one who teaches on the weekend (though I do carry the bulk of the teaching responsibilities).
  • I am not at every church function.
  • I participate in family events as a daddy and not as a pastor (e.g. at FAMJAM I was in the play and never spoke as “the pastor.” No one who was new would have known that I was the pastor.)

It is critical, especially at this phase of church life that we establish systems and processes that allow us to maximize the people and gifts that God has given us so that we can most effectively expand the influence of Jesus in our community and beyond!

(Click here to read the rest of the interview with Darrin Patrick)

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