Who Runs Your Church?
By: Lyle E. Schaller
One system that is widely used in American Protestantism is encountered most frequently in congregations that have been gathering in the same room for the corporate worship of God since before 1945 and average fewer than 85 at worship. A modest number of larger and/or newer congregations also follow this same system.
In simple terms, the system places a high value on local traditions and usually affirms the power of one or two or three family trees and/or a few individuals who satisfy their thirst for power by "volunteering to run the church." When challenged, a frequent response can be condensed into nine words: "Someone had to step forward and fill the vacuum."
How Do Human Beings Divide Up Their World?
The fourth association of human beings in this scenario has been to create a new nation out of a collection of tribes. A 21st century example is the nation of Iraq. One way to build a nation out of a collection of tribes is to place a dictatorship in charge. A second is to identify a common enemy and rally the people behind the leader to defeat that enemy. The war in 1980s between Iraq and Iran modeled that strategy. The invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War appeared at first to fit that model. Nation building in Iraq, however, is between difficult and impossible because the tribes also are divided into three factions by religion.
That paragraph could be used to introduce why most of the mergers of Protestant denominations (nations) since 1955 have produced an aging and shrinking number of members. For most Christians in America, it is difficult to generate and sustain institutional loyalties beyond congregations…and extremely difficult if the size of that congregation (tribe) exceeds 750 people at worship.
Ten Formal Systems
1. The Participatory Democracy
2. The Representative Democracy
3. The Elder Run Model
4. The Denominational Rulebook
5. The Charismatic Personality
6. The Founding Pastor Led Model
7. The Senior Pastor Led Model
8. The Staff Led Model
9. The Team Led Model
10. The Very Large Church Model
An overlapping second reason is the absence of agreement on the appropriate response to this question helps to explain why one-half of the congregations in American Protestantism average 75 or fewer at weekend worship.
A third reason to seek agreement on this issue is it is easier to design, adopt, and implement a customized ministry plan for a congregation if there is widespread agreement that, "This is our system of governance."
A fourth reason is this is the best single explanation of why (a) most very large Protestant congregations in America today use one of the last four of these 10 systems of governance and (b) congregations averaging fewer than 250 at worship use one of the first three systems on this list.
A fifth reason is this helps to explain why congregations that are committed to following the denominational rulebook tend to encounter difficulty in reaching, attracting, serving, assimilating, and nurturing Americans born after 1960.
Finally, this discussion helps to explain why the most gifted specialists in ministry tend to be found in congregations using one of the last three systems of governance on this list of 10, and that helps to explain why most megachurches in American Protestantism belong in the same category with the very large law firms and the very large medical clinics and large universities. All four affirm a preference for specialists over generalists.
During the past four decades, church growth expert Lyle Schaller has greatly enhanced his ability to respond, "What you're asking of me is beyond my area of competence. I don't do that." When appropriate, that response by a paid staff member can help clarify who does and who does not run that church.
Copyright 2009 by Lyle E. Schaller