Multiplication Church Growth: The Third Season

Multiplication Church Growth: The Third Season June 8, 2018
Church Growth

Two of my previous posts in this series reviewed the prior seasons of church growth. The organic season sees people gathering to the new church, bringing a sense of unity and excitement. The subsequent catalytic season positions leaders to cast vision and create culture. There is momentum and movement as the direction and destination become clear. But excitement can never sustain a growing organisation on its own. Questions will arise that need answering. There is a need to consider ‘how are we going to do all God has put on our hearts’ and ‘who do we need for that?’. This leads to the next phase, a building time I call the ‘multiplication church growth’ season. This name arises from the internal multiplication that needs to take place, as opposed to any external multiplication from new church or campus plants.

The defining mark of the multiplication season is the increased sense of the need for order, process and a more organised movement. But be warned – this sense won’t be universally embraced! Some people will not like any move towards organisation, feeling that this is a move away from what the Spirit of God is doing. Whilst there is a genuine risk of this (as there is in any church season), organisation is not the opposite of the work of the Holy Spirit. Biblically, we can see Creation had an order, as did the construction of the Tabernacle and Temple. Administration and leadership are both gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the means by which we steward what God is doing and wanting to do in the church. Wise use of the tools of organisation ensures we build well for today and for tomorrow. It is also how we respond to the leading of God, preparing in faith for what He has said He wants to do in us and through us. 

Administration is not an ’unspiritual gift’ but as per the Greek word used in 1 Cor 12:28, equates the role to one who steers a ship. Such a person would need to have the authority to set or correct the route of travel. This helmsman would need an awareness of starting point, destination, timescale, hazards, crew complement, cargo, and any stops along the way. This tells us that biblically, administrators are not those who staple or photocopy, but direct affairs. In modern business terms, a company director could be the equivalent. Some people in the church are skilled and gifted in this kind of administration, and they should be valued and embraced. Without them, we build reactively instead of proactively.

If we don’t administrate, manage and organise, then we might have very exciting but small works! Of course, over-administration kills the work of the Spirit. But it is interesting to note that the deacons appointed in Acts 6 were full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit, and were tasked with an administrative job in feeding the widows. Moses, the friend of God who saw miracles through his own hand, had enough of a level of administrative skill to coordinate the construction of the tabernacle and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt to the cusp of the Promised Land. Success in the multiplication season requires an embracing and honouring of the prophetically sensitive administrators amongst you. If you are a visionary, don’t dishonour those strategic leaders around you by becoming frustrated at their questions. Just because we feel God has spoken to us about something, it doesn’t mean we should do it immediately, without pausing to ask important questions of ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘who’ and ‘how!’

This season, when healthy, is marked by many focused leaders making things happen. Ministries multiply, succeed and are sustainable. Others may close down because they are no longer fit for purpose, or successful. The church has an increasing number of paid staff. Some of these will be generalists, but there might be a few specialists on the payroll who have a single-area focus. There could include staff who are not in a pastoral or ministry role but in a non-secretarial high-level administrative function. This is a season of transition and learning to do things differently, building the scaffolding around the house in readiness not just for growth, but for ministry extension.

Mission During Multiplication Church Growth

If the church is healthy, mission and a focus on the lost should be in the DNA of the church. It is important during this season of change, with new starting ministries and ministries closing down, that the focus doesn’t become the church! This can happen, especially if there are staff or role changes, or significant shifts of ministry priorities. Whatever is happening, whatever is planned, and whatever changes are occurring or will be occurring, ensure that the people never lose awareness of those outside who are yet to encounter God in a new way.

Vision During Multiplication Church Growth

The previous catalytic season should have led to the generation of an inspiring, compelling vision. The direction and destination of the church should be clear, and people are either moving with you or not. With that in mind, the vision provides a perfect foil and yardstick for any and all changes that may be coming. If a proposed change or idea does not contribute to the success of the vision, then it isn’t something to be prioritised during this time. This guideline also helps the leadership team walk through concerns and questions from members of the church, especially if any changes affect either people they are close to, or ministries they are invested in. This season will act as a pruning, because some surprising questions, objections and criticisms will arise, from some surprising people! Seasons of transition like this showcase who is truly with you. Issues of vision and values pull people in or push people out, but changes need to take place sometimes so individuals hearts are revealed. You may find that some people you thought weren’t with you actually are and that some people you thought you could count on aren’t on the same page! Pastor them, listen, gently respond, but hold the line – with your leadership team supporting you. These changes aren’t the idea of the senior leader alone, but the senior leadership team is in agreement – that is, if there is a healthy leadership team dynamic present in the church.

Culture During Multiplication Church Growth

During this phase, the core values have been perpetuated throughout the church community. Whether the values have developed into personal cultures or not will vary from member to member. By now, cultural spread and growth needs reinforcement the wider leadership. It won’t be ingrained by the preaching or ministry of the senior leader and leadership team alone. This means a shift will be required from the senior leadership team members. A good step is for them to focus their time on wider leaders by investing and discipling more proactively. Culture is caught, not taught. If the senior leadership team embody the culture they are trying to create – which they must if they want to replicate it – then the wider leaders will catch it, and in turn pass it on to those that they themselves influence. Many of the wider leaders may not be on staff, which requires some flexibility on how to get quality time with them. How this situation is handled is an important moment. If the senior leadership (assuming they are primarily on staff) serve the non-staff wider leaders in increasing their availability to ensure quality, regular connection, they will build the ministry of the church more mindfully, aware of the restrictions that non-staff leaders are impacted by. This will lead to creative and empowering solutions for involving non-staff members. 

If the senior leaders focus attention on staff members then the message and model demonstrated is that being on paid staff in the church is the only way to have real authority and responsibility in church life. This will disempower the vast majority of the attendees of the church, communicating to them that they are only useful for giving financially and serving as workers on the leader’s ideas. Additionally, all the weight of ministry responsibility will be placed on staff which can contribute to unnecessary pressure and burnout. Finally, a leadership bottleneck will be created because no leadership opportunities of real note will be available for those not on staff. High-level leaders invested in the church but not on staff will grow frustrated and step back or even move on, and the shortage of leaders will impact the church later down the line. Ministry ideas and needs will overtake leadership availability, meaning that unless you have staff resource, things will not take off. The short-term solution is to hire more staff, but this can be short-sighted and add further salary expense. This is risky if the wrong people are hired, or the right people are hired for the wrong reason or role. Both impact the team dynamics and culture of the leadership team, and therefore the church.

Instead, develop your discipleship pathway to proactively take into account those with leadership gifting. Leaders grow by leading, and leading takes the form of service – so potential leaders serving on a team is a great first step. Over time, increase their responsibility and authority and see who grows, who stands out, and who leads well. This is a great time to develop a process to not only establish leaders but also to develop them – whether they are on staff or not. Remember, though, that leadership development has to mean leadership opportunities. Leaders grow by leading! One opportunity once a year simply isn’t enough. It isn’t enough for the leader to grow, and it isn’t enough for you to observe and see strengths and areas needing development. Leaders need to be empowered to lead their ministry, their area, their team, their department, their budget, and whatever and whoever they are leading.

Structure During Multiplication Church Growth

The nature of this phase of growth visibly impacts the church structure more than earlier seasons. If the concept of team has been genuinely embraced, there will be a sense of the church leadership being team-based rather than personality-based. There may well still be a single, identifiable leader, but in the context of having other senior leaders around not just as workers, but as genuinely empowered and authoritative co-leaders. 

Because of the growth and activity taking place, robust systems are needed to keep everyone and everything aligned and connected. One vital example of such a system will be a clear organisational chart, showing who supervises who and for what. If everyone is reporting to the senior leader or THINKS they are reporting to them, prioritisation becomes impossible and the senior leader is never able to be blessed by an empowered team serving him and the church. A bottleneck will be created adding extra stress on the senior leader, and leading to an absolving of responsibility and a disempowerment in other leaders, who simply ‘look upwards’ for decision making and permission. A well-structured organisation, with clear supervising lines, aids discipleship and supports accountability. It also prevents ministry silos from forming, which can happen if people pursue their passions without being mindful of the mission and vision of the church as a whole. By now, the senior leader should be functioning as a visionary and ‘leader of leaders’ and spend a large amount of his time pouring into other senior leaders. Being involved in the minutiae of church life robs the senior leader, other leaders, and the church, of opportunities to see leaders growing into what God has for them.

Biblically, a structure is always formed in response to what God is doing in the season. Effective structure stewards the grace and fruit of the season, whilst ineffective structure restricts, limits or quashes it. Ultimately, a structure is essential to support and maximise growth. For example, our skeleton is the structure that holds our various parts together, yet it grows throughout the seasons of our life as we change. Sometimes growth hurts too – we feel it in our bones! These growing pains also happen to us organisationally, such as whenever we encounter some kind of big-picture tension. That tension may manifest as a clash of ministry priorities – where do we send our finite money? Where do we send our finite people? What is the ministry we should focus on now? We will never have enough money or leaders, no matter the season! This idea of tension isn’t something new or unusual. Some classic tensions in church life may include feeling like we have to choose between the experience of God’s presence or having plans and order in our services; or whether we focus on feeding the sheep or reaching the lost; or how we make space in our meetings for expressions of the Holy Spirit or share what we feel God is saying through our preaching and teaching. Each of these examples contains two good things every healthy church wants, and all of us would say ‘yes’ to every single one. Yet throughout church life, these elements seem to at times compete against one another! Add to the equation that each of these will have their own advocates within the church who feel the church “needs to have more of X and less of X” and you can see how tension can sometimes be a pain in the neck for leaders! 

Tension exists and is painful, but is also encouraging. If we try to remove the tension through placation or scaling back, we actually risk instigating a compromise that stifles growth and moves against the grace that God is pouring out on in that moment. Some compromise is important, but some is negotiating a false peace that merely robs the church of something wonderful. Better to put up with a little pain if God is doing something! So, if you are having times where God’s presence invades the meetings and threatens to wreak the plans, embrace it! We gather to meet Him, anyway! Also, He is the best evangelist, sanctifier, convictor, restorer, teacher and healer there is, and probably more effective than any of our preaching or ministry! So, if you are enjoying a season of evangelistic fruit, lean into it and trust God to care for the sheep. Even if they bleat about it, they are His sheep – and Jesus said He will build the church, meaning we don’t need to do his job! Whatever the tension you face – which simply reveals what God is doing and pushes up against some cultural and structural aspects of the church – lean into it instead of trying to remove it. Take the long view of faith, which recognises the season and enjoys the benefit of that season. Understand that God will bring different seasons at the right time that may restore some balance, yet won’t lose what He brought in before.

Church leadership has this tension – that word again! – where we lead, but we are also leading second. Our part is to see what God is doing and respond, which often looks like stewarding it. In church life, that stewarding will increasingly look like life-giving organisation and structure. Developing robust administrative systems will help keep things moving. At this point, it might be wise to empower key leader as a COO or Executive Pastor type role. This individual should oversee the administrative and operations aspects of the church, and have a blend of business understanding and ministry insight. They should be very connected to the senior leadership of the church and be part of the team. This empowers them to hear the heart of the senior leader and share ideas, knowledge, concerns and updates which will be informative for all. Visionaries and strategists work best in the same room, hearing each other’s hearts and learning to ‘read’ each other. The heat of vision and the light of strategy are both needed to see things happen. One of the worst things to do is to form vision in a room, then present it to the strategic thinkers and say “make that work!” It is especially prevalent when visionaries feel they have heard from God, which locks up the conversation. They can interpret wise strategic questions as doubt, unbelief or lack of trust. The subtext can be “God has spoken, why are we still speaking about it?” Even if that isn’t explicitly spoken, it is a surefire way to disempower leaders and close the door to invaluable feedback. After all, why would you discuss something with someone when their mind is already made up? It is worth reminding ourselves that just because God has spoken something to us, the timing of moving forward with it isn’t always ‘right now, this very minute!’ It’s ok – even prudent – to weigh things in the context of the team, especially when they are connected to mission, vision, culture, structure or strategy.

With the new structure, comes the need for systems – the boring way of saying ‘what we need to do to make sure something happens’, Systems, processes and policies exist to protect and to reproduce. They protect the church, and individuals, from actions that could bring financial, operational or reputational damage to the church – the handling of finances, for example. If everyone has access to money, or no-one knows who is spending what, then sooner or later there will be no money to spend! So systems protect, but they also bring reproduction by ensuring that the right things happen consistently. The correct spending of money, for example, allowing growth and more of what you have invested finance in. Ultimately, systems should be developed to ensure the church core values run through everything. Think of them like the pipes in a house – not the prettiest to look at, and some need to be hidden, but they ensure water is accessible when we need it, and flowing correctly when we don’t. Without pipes, it might well be a lot freer and people can splash in the water whenever they want, but at the same time, there will be lots of mess throughout the house!

Strategy During Multiplication Church Growth

The strategic and administrative serves the vision and is shaped by the vision, but equally shapes the outworking and manifestation of the vision too. A honing and focusing of strategy will take place in this season. Now, not everything able to happen should be considered ‘priority strategy’. Critical mass means some activity will be rolling on, but strategy now will look less like making sure things happen rightly, and making sure that the right things happen with the right resources. The strategy will be based on the growth engines – the areas where there is a grace, and fruit, in this season. The season might be a long season – your youth work might be constantly amazing – or it might be a short season full of unusual outpouring. A flexible and dynamic strategy means the church is able to partner resources and attention on the things God is breathing on unusually. This doesn’t mean other areas are less than – it just means that for a time, one or more areas might be deserving specialist attention. As always, ensure the strategy is leading towards the vision. But in the making of plans, no longer can you afford to be senior leader-centric, or having everyone involved in everything. There will be too much at stake, and the focusing and wise deployment of resources – finance, people and leaders – will ensure growth continues as you partner with what God is doing in and through the church.

Multiplication Church Growth: Summary

In summary, the season of multiplication is marked by growth – new, upcoming leaders; some ministries gaining momentum; and more activity. This requires a restructuring to ensure the growth is stewarded and what God does sustains, rather than peters out. This is why it should lead to multiplication – the multiplication of leaders, which leads to the multiplication of ministries.

In all the growing ministries, don’t allow the church to become so excited that they forget the point of growth – which is to fulfil your mission – your unique part of the Great Commission to see people saved and discipled. Keep evangelism high on the priority list, so that all growth is geared towards reaching the lost.

Let the vision be a yardstick to all existing and proposed ministry ideas, events and programs. Some things may need to stop, and you may need to say ‘no’. Don’t be surprised if some people don’t like this!

Develop your discipleship pathway to include a leadership growth track. Leaders should be spending their time investing in other leaders. Ensure you don’t become staff-centred in your leadership investment, which will disempower and reject anyone not on the payroll, and create a bottleneck stifling available, quality leadership.

Build a church structure that stewards and supports what God is breathing on. Don’t be scared of establishing reporting lines, or systems and processes, to ensure people are managed and things are done the right way. Consider whether there is a need for someone to own the administrative, operations and strategic oversight of the church, working closely alongside the visionary team whilst being a fully recognised part of that team.

Focus strategic priorities on deploying resources to the areas that have life and fruit on them, or there is an agreed level of faith for what God is going to do. Make sure your strategies are not depending on the senior leader’s involvement – this is a time to let leaders lead.

This season is often a significant gear-shift away from how things have been done before. My observation is that some churches do not fully maximise this phase when they have a visionary leader who does not want to change how they lead. Instead, they want to remain the pioneering, entrepreneurial visionary who has seen success up to now, so doesn’t see the need to adapt. But the need for change isn’t about making a visionary become a strategist, or bringing restriction. It is about understanding the need for structure and systems to steward and release what God is and wants to do. You can only multiply that which is ordered. Empowering other leaders and trusting the team to make goods decision is the key to truly benefitting from this season. Otherwise, we will have lots of churches that remain personality-centred and may well have exciting things happening, but under it all, perhaps carry a sense of unfulfilled potential. Multiplication of leaders means the multiplication of ministry, which means the multiplication of fruit. As leaders, there are times we need to grow by changing how we lead. As always, the decision comes down to us.