Friday, March 23, 2012

An important question (and a delayed answer)

Recently we held a congregational forum on the work I have been doing in looking at the structure of our small congregation.  I was pleasantly surpised by the number of people who hung around after church for it.  Of course, I did hold it in the fellowship hall during the fellowship hour so I may have had an audience held captive by their coffee needs.

I have come to understand that the structure that we have used in the past with a church council and standing committees lends itself best to a maintenance approach to ministry.  Although there can be some visioning and experimentation the takes place, most committees just work to sustain what is already going on.  This worked well a few decades ago when the primary need of congregations was to sustain their programs.

Yet we live in another age in the church when we have need for vision and innovation.  The programs that used to work don't work anymore or don't work as effectively as they once did.  As mainline congregations look at declining numbers in membership, Christian education participation, youth group participation, etc. the time has come to try something new.

In my proposed structure, most of the standing committees would be dissolved and replaced by three task-oriented teams: Discipleship, Congregation Care and Outreach.  Each of these three teams would tackle one task at a time such as a new worship service or updating the bulletin or a new children's program.  When that task was completed, the team would then pick a new task.  With the exception of the Team Leader, membership on the team might be for a single task or continuous (trying to remove the sense that one must serve on a committee for life.)  The other important change is that, ideally, the teams will meet on separate Sunday mornings following worship, providing the opportunity for more of the worshipping congregation to take part.

Basic maintenance functions would be assigned to church staff and two functional groups: Finance and Property.  (I'm still not 100% sure what titles to give these structures.  I used "team" to denote the vision-oriented unit and "group" to denote functional units, trying to stay away from "committee"). 

I think the most important question that came from the meeting was whether or not this proposal was just another shuffling of leadership within the congregation.  I wish I had given a better answer to that question.  I believe I said something about how none of this mattered if the members of the congregation didn't participate, which is certainly true.  If the members of the congregation don't take part in the teams then it will be the same people doing the work and the small church committee structure using different names.

On reflection, my answer to that question is that I don't see this structuring as so much a shuffling of leadership as a redefinition of purpose.  The idea that each team will only focus on a single task (rather than trying to complete a list of maintenance duties) is new.  The idea that these teams will be more visionary than functional is also new.  It is my hope that we might bring more people into leadership on short-term projects than the few people who handled leadership for standing committees.

Again, this is all a grand experiment that looks interesting on paper.  The challenge is to see if it will work in the real world.  I was gratified that the congregation agreed to continue this discussion.