In discussing church development, we often categorize churches by size. The most common taxonomy is family size (1 to 50 participants); pastoral size (51 to 150 participants); program size (151 to 350); and corporation size (351 plus).
Now this may seem a little artificial, and there are other ways of addressing church size (especially in relation to transition), but such categories are useful tools in considering how churches go about organizing themselves and functioning as they grow in number of participants.
We often think about the barriers that churches encounter as they move from one size or stage to another. One of the most difficult transitions takes place when the church moves from the pastoral to the program stage.
In the pastoral stage, everything generally flows through one person – the pastor. This does not mean that the pastor makes all the decisions, but he or she is usually the nexus of the community with lay or part-time staff members leading the church activities and ministries.
In the program model, there is an amalgam of groups, activities and so on, with leadership provided more by full-time paid staff or empowered lay members. The pastor becomes the “upfront” person and coordinator of all these functions.
A friend and I were discussing the transition from a pastoral-size congregation to one with more diverse leadership and ministries.
Neither of us was very satisfied with the “program” label because we both agree with Reggie McNeal’s idea that a missional church leaves behind program development and concentrates on people development.
We started talking in terms of an “organic” stage. (I know that there are those who have an organic approach to church starting and development that emphasizes a grass-roots effort to reach nonbelievers, disciple them and grow them into church leaders. We are not talking about that concept.)
We are talking about the church that is ready to grow beyond the pastoral size, develop the systems necessary for healthy church functioning, and then allow them to work.
The idea, of course, comes from the human body with its various systems – the digestive system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the nervous system, the reproductive system, the skeletal system and so on.
The church has various systems as well – the worship/praise system, the pastoral care system, Christian formation/nurture system, the outreach system, the assimilation system, the social ministry system, the management system and so forth.
I am not interested in providing analogies between these various systems and those of the human body. I will leave that task to others.
The point I make here is that a growing church is made up of a number of interdependent systems just as a healthy body is made up of various interdependent systems.
In a healthy body as in a healthy church, each system has a purpose.
Just as Paul wrote about the importance of each part of the body (1 Corinthians 12), each system in the human body carries out its specific function – providing locomotion, oxygen, resources for cell replacement or energy.
In the church, each system carries out a necessary function like member assimilation or drawing members closer to God through worship.
In the body, systems are expected to work together and complement one another.
Paul also writes of the interdependence of the parts of the body. In a healthy human body, there are major problems when systems do not work with each other. Lack of coordination of the bodily systems can lead to death.
One of the interesting things about systems both in the body and in the church is that we rarely think of them or even notice them when they are functioning properly.
When was the last time you stopped and thought about breathing (although you will now that I mentioned it) or digestion (unless you have a stomachache)? The same is true of the church.
Most of us expect the doors to be opened on Sunday morning, the lights on, the choir or praise band in place, a planned time for worship and a good biblical message.
When we refer someone to the pastor for counseling or to the appropriate staff member for a particular need, we expect that ministry to be available. We don’t think about these various components unless something misfires.
Realistically, we realize that a healthy body and a healthy church don’t just happen.
Human bodies only grow if they function properly by getting the care and resources they need.
The same is true for churches; they require intentional care and ample resources to move from the pastoral level to the organic level.
When everything works together, the church is a wonderful thing.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.