This Week’s Reading – May 26, 2017

This Week’s Reading – May 26, 2017
May 25, 2017 No Comments » News Richard Bass

This Week’s Reading

May 26, 2017

The Professional Church

Our current conversations about a new governance model for Aldersgate reminded me of an article that appeared in 2008 in the Alban Institute’s Congregations magazine, which I edited at the time. The article, “Beyond ‘Corporate:’ New Insights on Larger Churches,” by Alban consultant Susan Beaumont, helped us distinguish between different types of “large congregations,” based on characteristics such as size and budget. In her typology, Aldersgate would be classified as a Professional Church. Her insights below are helpful for understanding how we are and how we work here.

The Professional Church

In larger congregations, the size of the operating budget is probably more predictive of transition points and complexity than the level of Sunday attendance. First, the level and excellence of programming in the large congregation are indications that there are people who interact regularly as part of the congregation who may or may not be a part of the worshiping community. The larger congregation may operate a day school, extensive recovery programs, grief groups, and a variety of other program-based cell groups that increase the demands placed upon the church’s infrastructure without increasing weekend worship participation.

The congregation with an annual operating budget of between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 and/or weekly worship attendance of 400 to 800 is driven by professional operations. Its programming has outgrown the capacity of its lay leadership, and the demand for a staff team of specialists emerges.

In the professional church, growth is related to capacity. Ideas abound, but they are limited by the capacity of the staff team and/or the physical limitations of the facility. Consequently, the congregation’s capacity for growth is largely a function of the size of its budget.

Assimilation of new members in the professional church becomes as much about watching the back door as it is about bringing people in through the front door. The professional congregation can quickly feel anonymous to newcomers, so finding innovative ways to keep track of members and to get people to engage beyond the worship experience takes a great deal of leadership energy.

The pastor of the professional congregation has a managerial style of leadership, letting go of a purely relational style. He or she needs to figure out how to create and sustain the performance of the congregation through goal setting, budgeting, performance review, and a coaching leadership style.

As staff members take over many of the functions previously provided by volunteers, they must find new ways to engage the laity in the life and ministry of the congregation. The staff is increasingly moving away from a generalist orientation toward a specialist orientation. An executive leadership team of staff and lay leaders often emerges to coordinate and guide the church’s work. An administrator may be appointed in this size congregation to relieve the senior pastor from having to manage the church’s day-to-day financial, personnel, building maintenance, and information technology needs.

In the professional congregation, the governing board must learn a more distant approach to leadership, relinquishing the daily management of the church to the staff team. Working with the pastor on vision articulation, the governing board is instrumental in creating policy and systems for managing performance, maintaining accountability, and preventing vision drift. The board spends less time on the daily fiduciary work of the congregation and more time on strategic leadership.

Adapted from “Beyond ‘Corporate’: New Insights on Larger Churches,” from the Summer 2008 issue of Congregations magazine, copyright © 2008 by the Alban Institute. This material later appeared in the book Inside the Large Congregation.

This Week’s Reading will share insights encountered that help us understand the mission and ministry of Aldersgate Church, collected and compiled by Director of Communications Richard Bass.

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