Why Structure Matters to Mission

Culture eats strategy for lunch.

However, good culture, combined with good strategy, is powerful.

Take church planting for example. I’ve written before about how church planting movements benefit from a simple structure that encourages reproducibility. This follows in the structural model Paul set up for the churches he planted. The goal and culture of church planting is one of reproducing the next generation of churches, pastors and planters. To accomplish this, churches and organizations must be intentional to establish structures that mesh with the culture.

Such structure is important in all churches that grow beyond a few dozen members.

The structure you have in place should be an aid to the culture you are trying to produce, not a hindrance. So, how can that happen in your church? How can you implement a structure that affirms the missional culture you want to establish?

Look to provide a simple way for people to progress to the next step of service and mission.

A Purpose Driven Inheritance

At one point not that long ago, one out of every ten churches in the United States were “Purpose Driven,” measured by some level of participating as part of that network. It was higher in some parts, and lower in others. But, the influence was amazing. Obviously, the terminology has certainly declined in the United States.

Despite there being fewer churches using “Purpose Driven” terminology, it’s left a helpful and important impact. Even if you don’t use the phrase, you’re probably using the structure (or a variant of it). Perhaps not the famous baseball diamond, but certainly the fact that there is a progressive plan to being people to deeper spiritual maturity through a process.

In a 2002 Christianity Today article, Tim Stafford wrote, “Purpose-Driven principles are best explained with two diagrams you can scribble on a napkin. One is the baseball diamond, used to explain the flow of church ministry in a person’s life.” The other, and perhaps more important, has to do with purposes, but for this article, I will focus on processes.

And, that really was a revolutionary idea—made simple.

Rick Warren created the baseball diamond to show there are things that every Christian should know and experience, such as evangelism, church membership, community, discipleship and ministry engagement. It was an easy and effective way to demonstrate the sequential process of discipleship– which is one of the reasons it exploded globally.

At a church I used to pastor we talked about begin, connect, thrive and engage. The names have changed and perhaps the way it is applied, but the need for a structure that encourages a culture of making disciples has not. We are children of a Purpose Driven structure– and your church probably is a well.

We’re using the process without the terminology.

And, that’s what we need to move people toward mission.

You need a process.

Establishing the Next Step

Victory Metro is a multicampus megachurch headquartered in Manila, Philippines with 65,000 attendees each Sunday. Two of their leaders have written fantastic books that deal, in part, with how structure can help culture.

Steve Murrell, an American missionary who planted Victory in 1984 and has recently returned to the US, describes the model in the book WikiChurch: Making Discipleship Engaging, Empowering and Viral.

When I interviewed him, Steve said that a WikiChurch, like Wikipedia, does not require professional oversight of the work being done. By the way they operate, the intentional structure of the church, the leadership encourages all of the members to be involved in service. Their culture is strengthened by a structure that equips and empowers every believer to be on mission.

Joey Bonifacio, a former leader at Victory, wrote The Lego Principle about how people were designed to be in relationships. They were made to connect on the top and the bottom, with God and others. No matter the color or when the Lego piece was made, they fit together and can make something amazing.

These ideas of empowering believers and building relationships are served by the structure established in Victory. Joey compared it to the process immediately after arriving on an international flight.

You have several steps that you always take. No one gets through the airport without going through those. You go through and have your passport checked. You pick up your luggage. You go through customs. It is all a clear path for everyone involved. There is no question as to what is next. Their church has created a simple process for everyone to go through. Part of what makes it fascinating is that they actually have an app to take people through their discipleship process. I had never thought about using that, but it is brilliant in their context.

Here’s the thing that I think is key for Victory. They have a very intentional pathway that reinforces the culture they have developed in their church since the beginning. But what if your church hasn’t always had a missional culture? Maybe, you are working to grow that type of mindset. Can that be done? Can a structural change help in the process of creating a new culture? Absolutely.

I’ve written before about how the church I planted a church that grew from a 25-person core team to 125, but the 100 that came in didn’t do anything. With a new culture we encouraged them to change, but was also empowered them to change with practical structural shifts, one of which was requiring all members to go through a training course.

We didn’t just say, “We need you to serve here.” We said, “We need you to serve here, but first we are going to train and equip you for that service with a three-class course.” Two families left because they just did not want to participate, but everyone else got on board with what we were doing.

Missional in Your Context

The right structure provides a very clear, intentional pathway for your people to progress toward mission.

The culture is what pushes everybody towards that pathway. At Victory, they have 50,000 people who are turning to their neighbors consistently asking, “Have you gone through One-to-One? Have you been to a Victory Weekend?” Their structure and their culture work together to affirm their values.

This is a process for your church. At Grace, our plan was to get the whole church walking through our pathway. We had our clear path established and the desired culture expressed. For you and your church, it may look differently in terms of the specifics.

Joey was clear that he doesn’t believe American churches can come over and copy Victory’s method step-by-step. They have to be contextualized to the setting of your church. Victory’s plan works in their Asian context. Joel Hunter, at Northland in Florida, has worked to adapt some of what Victory has done, but it is tweaked to fit where God has planted them.

If you want your church to be missional, you need to implement a structure that encourages the culture you are trying to develop.

When your culture and structure are in sync, they will move your church, regardless of its size, toward being missional.

If you set your face like flint toward your goal, with your culture and structure in support, you can move to missional.

Read more from Ed.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Standing Strong…Why Church Structure Affects Church Growth

Structure is essential.

Like a body without bones or a building without supporting walls, an organization without a structure goes nowhere, fast.

Having said that, it’s important to understand that only healthy structure supports growth. Unhealthy structure holds organizations back from growing.

Todd Henry, author of Louder Than Words, says this,

The more structures we have to navigate in order to do our work, the more difficult it is to do our best work. When we are required to resolve the dissonance of complex systems, reporting relationships, and accountability structures just in order to get our objectives and check off our direction, we will begin to lose our drive to do brilliant work. Over time, this complexity only pulls entire organizations toward systematic mediocrity.

(Discovered via Tony Morgan’s short book, Stuck in a Funk?: How to Get Your Church Moving Forward)

The more complex an organization becomes, the more room there is for communication leaks. Information and instruction gets lost, tweaked, and twisted as it moves between all the different layers and channels.

This explains why government bureaucracies have such bad reputation. There are so many arbitrary rules and regulations, implemented at different times and for different reasons that it winds up being pretty tough to get a final decision from anyone.

In tech startups, however, a seemingly large business may consist of only a handful of remotely-working entrepreneurs. These organizations can often make decisions quickly and with agility.

One of the features of Saddleback Church that amazes me is the speed with which decisions and instructions can be carried out. The elders believe in passing decision-making authority down to the lowest possible level. With fewer layers of approval needed, leaders could make changes quickly.

I often thought of the Saddleback staff as a flock of birds. Pastor Rick Warren was out front, leading our v-formation. When his direction would suddenly shift, the church’s staff could quickly adjust and follow right along.

So, what does this look like for your local church? What does an unhealthy structure look like contrasted with a healthy structure?

Churches with unhealthy structures:

  • Have too many committees.
  • Vote on too many issues.
  • Lack simple, written parameters for decision-making.
  • Spread authority out randomly.
  • Move slowly to allow everyone’s turf to remain safe.

Churches with healthy structures, on the other hand:

  • Have high trust in their leaders.
  • Give responsibility to more leaders whenever possible.
  • Have few or no committees.
  • Don’t vote on almost any issues at all.
  • Are able to move and change more quickly.

Can an unhealthy structure be overcome? Possibly, but it takes a long time. There is usually a lot of foundational work that has to be done, especially in the trust-building department. People avoid change because of the fear of losing control, and fear is a very powerful emotion to try to overcome.

One of the issues I often coach leaders about is how to create a healthy, growth-oriented and life-giving culture that allows the structure to be changed.

An unhealthy structure doesn’t necessarily kill churches and organizations, but it can definitely keep them sick and weak.

Change the culture, and then address the structure. Sometimes an overhaul is the only sensible answer.


> Read more from Brandon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brandon Cox

Brandon Cox has been a Pastor for fifteen years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas, a Saddleback-sponsored church. He also serves as Editor of Pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders (brandonacox.com). He's also the author of Rewired: Using Technology to Share God's Love.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.