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Church Leadership

The Goal of the Staffless Church

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Which came first? The staff who ran the programs or the programs which required the hiring of staff?

No offense to my friends who work at churches– but I wonder if their goal is to secure a job for life or to work themselves out of a job as quickly as possible?

When I read church growth strategy books and articles I’m always amazed that they only talk about getting larger budgets, larger buildings, and larger staffs. Never mind that it’s a horrible strategy. Most think tanks only think about one strategy… how to get bigger. The idea of getting more efficient is ludicrous.

When I read about the church of the first 100 years after Jesus I see a church growth strategy of “get in, train people up, and get out as fast as possible.

Here’s a centuries old tried and tested church growth strategy we have rejected: With no staff your church will grow.

The “if you build it they will come model” of the last 50 or so years has lead to utter devastation of the church. Numbers are down big time. Sure, you can point examples of big churches. And no doubt people will leave comments saying how awesome their programs are. But the percentage of Americans regularly involved in the local church has declined sharply in the current multi-staff model.

The fact remains that a church with less staff will be forced to be the church more than a church with programs where people show up and everything is done for them. This “worked” for thousands of years. What we are doing now isn’t working and we all know it.

At some point someone decided that everyone needed to be on staff at the church. So we hired a music pastor. A worship pastor. A youth pastor. A children’s pastor. An associate pastor. An administrative pastor. A senior ministry pastor. And all of that staff required administrative support. Oh- and they’ll need offices and space– so we’ll need a bigger building.

If I put my businessman’s glasses on I examine this trend and say: You’ve added a lot of overhead. Your business multiplied by 25 times, right?

Wrong. The strategy didn’t work. But now we have an entire industry of church workers in an environment where they are reaching fewer and fewer people with bigger, more expensive programs. Now we’ve created an entitlement that simply isn’t sustainable nor is it leading to the growth long ago predicted.

It’s almost too easy for me to point to examples of this in other countries. (We certainly saw this in Haiti.) But it’s also true among the exploding Latino and African-American churches in the United States. With almost no infrastructure they reach thousands. In your own community it is likely that there is a church kicking butt with nearly no overhead of staff or a building.

I’m well aware of the biblical justifications that church staff deserve to make an income. Yes, I’ve used that myself. I’m not arguing that you have a right to claim that to be true. I’m merely questioning the strategy and inviting you to recognize that this strategy has seemingly paralyzed the church.

Even those who bring up the Pauline argument for getting paid in ministry often neglect to mention that Paul also didn’t implement this strategy in all the places he ministered. Nor did he ever buy a house and start a family.

Some questions to get you thinking

  • Where does the offering at your church go?
  • Where did the funds in Acts go?
  • How much has your church grown in the last 10-30-50 years using the current staff-heavy strategy?
  • What would it look like if say… 90% of that offering were given away in your community to feed the poor, care for the sick, take in orphans, protect widows, on and on?
  • Don’t you think that would be good news to the neighborhood?

What I’m not saying

  • The church is wrong to have staff
  • The church should fire staff
  • All of my friends who do associate level ministry are bad/dumb/hurting the ministry of the church in their community
  • My own church is bad, filled with money hungry punks who make fat salaries. (Um, they all raise their own support!)

What I am saying

  • A church as effective as the Book of Acts is possible today.
  • Churches should ask hard questions about meeting the needs of their community.
  • A lot of church growth strategies are really “church growth industry” growth strategies.
  • Church leaders should challenge their assumptions of what they know vs. what they know to be true in Scripture.
  • It is possible for the local church to reach 90%+ people in your community.
  • We should not be satisfied to “pay the bills” and reach 5-10% of our community.

Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
Ephesians 5:14