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Quit reporting and start visioning

Observation binoculars

Rev. Gary Step shows how churches can simplify their administrative structure, freeing ministry leaders to dream and act boldly.

Sr. Director of Leadership Development, United Methodist Foundation of Michigan

Did you ever notice that the majority of a typical church council meeting’s time consists of reporting past events? Too often, visioning is not on the agenda because we are bogged down in day-to-day ministry efforts.

In addition, decisions are often made at a glacial pace, if they are made at all! For example, in one church I was working with, it took six months of multiple meetings with the church council, trustees, and finance to change the paint color in the nursery. You may be familiar with the multiple steps that can slow effective decision making: You need the trustee’s approval, now off to finance, and then back to the council for final approval. Ugh, I am drained just thinking about it!

This structure is often referred to as “we have always done it this way.” When I asked how it worked at the church with the unpainted nursery, they said, “It isn’t.” They were stuck with a structure that worked at one time but ceased being effective years ago. The current consensus-based structure in many churches has become so convoluted that no one is sure who can make decisions. This raises questions like, “Who gave you the authority to do this?” Pastors find it frustrating to lead in this type of environment.

Multiple meetings. Slowed decision making. Looking backward rather than forward. Is this the way we want our church to function? Is this how we want to live out our faith? Might God have something more in mind for our efforts as followers of Christ?

Thankfully, there is a way forward. Although it can be a difficult journey, many churches have decided to move to a Simplified, Accountable Structure (SAS). This new structure combines all the administrative committees, thus flattening the structure and moving the day-to-day decision making into the hands of ministry leaders. The new simplified structure is charged with holding the pastor and leaders accountable for the mission of making disciples. It supports innovation in ministry, even encouraging it. The structure is nimbler and more responsive to the ever-changing mission field. Leaders create sub-teams as they are needed for tasks like hiring, capital campaigns, and outreach.

Pastors and laity agree that when the simplified structure is done correctly, it is a game changer for ministry and making disciples.

I found the book Mission Possible: A Simple Structure for Missional Effectiveness by Kay Kotan and Blake Bradford to be an excellent resource to guide church leaders in this process. The book lays out three distinct phases: discerning, equipping, and implementing. Implementing the phases properly takes almost nine months.

It is important to remember that adopting a system takes time; change can be difficult in an entrenched culture. For example, a church I recently worked with began shifting some of their council behavior to the simplified model immediately after they started the discernment process. When it was time to vote on the new structure, it was voted on unanimously, and now they are in their first year, humming along with vision squarely in the driver’s seat.

I am a certified SAS coach, along with several others in the Michigan Conference. A coach will guide your congregation through the structural change. Ask your district superintendent for more information.

As Sr. Director of Leadership Development for the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan, I can help congregations understand their purpose and move forward with a Spirit-led vision. The Simplified, Accountable Structure is just one tool for freeing leaders to dream and act boldly. Please get in touch with me at [email protected] if you’d like to learn more about SAS, setting values, visioning, capital campaigns, preaching, and coaching.

Last Updated on April 4, 2023

The Michigan Conference