It’s Not 1997 Anymore: Changing Leadership Structures to Keep Up with the Times

“Everyone has to have a job,” a church growth guru told our group. Throughout the three-hour seminar, he repeated these instructions in many different ways: everyone in the church should have a position of some sort, even if it is only serving on a committee. In his opinion, this would make everyone feel valued and help them take ownership in the church. It sounded like a great idea. It wasn’t.

In short order our church of 70 had 23 committees set up, and everyone was assigned to at least one. Some people were assigned to three or four. That small church was busy with lots of meetings and lots of activity, but very little ministry actually got done. That was 1997.

Fast-forward to 2019, where a person who comes twice a month to church is considered a “regular attendee” and a growing number of attendees come from non-churched backgrounds. This whole committee idea falls apart. Clearly giving everyone a title didn’t work out so well.

An Outdated Infrastructure

In today’s world, local churches and ministry organizations like the Baptist Convention of New England must shed as many of those committees as possible. Despite their well-intentioned purpose, mostly unneeded committees just slow down the decision-making process and suck up time and energy from actual ministry. I’m not suggesting that we should get rid of ALL committees, as we do need infrastructure to function. But a system that involves multiple committees with overlapping duties that simply hold up decisions is a relic of the past. The time has come to retire that leadership style.

This is why the BCNE has eliminated several committees, sometimes eliminating their roles altogether, other times assigning their tasks to other groups that have proved to be more effective. It is why many local Baptist associations in New England are choosing to merge with the BCNE organizationally, so focus and energy can be on mission and not on maintenance of an organizational structure from a by-gone era. And what is the result? Healthy and sustainable growth numerically, spiritually and financially. To God be the glory!

Streamlining Your Infratructure

Churches and mission organizations that streamline their structure and flatten out their decision-making processes become more effective. They spend more time accomplishing their purpose and goals. Younger leaders, who have no interest in maintaining outdated organizational charts, begin to volunteer, lead and give. This is what is happening in the Baptist Convention of New England, where two of our last three chairmen of the board were under 40 and our “older” chairman was only 42! They have brought fresh ideas and new energy to the BCNE, which is producing healthy growth in our ministries.

If you find your church or ministry organization has a lot of great people but just can’t quite seem to get things accomplished, perhaps it is time to streamline the structure and eliminate some layers. All those layers are probably draining the energy out of your volunteers. If you don’t do something soon, they might not be volunteering much longer. Or giving. Or even showing up at the table to let you know they are leaving.

It’s not 1997 anymore! Let’s be willing to change our leadership structures to better reflect what works in today’s world.

 Dr. Terry W. Dorsett serves as the executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England.