Skip to Content

Organizing for Holistic Ministry


Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Organization

How healthy are your church’s organizational systems? There are three warning
signs that indicate a need to renovate your church’s structure.

1. A lack of organization. Do not confuse disorganization with Spirit-led spontaneity.
There’s nothing super-spiritual about chaos. God desires order in the church (1 Cor. 14:40).
While organization takes time and energy, the cost of dis-organization is even higher:
missed deadlines for proposals, late fees on bills, lost time spent looking for buried files,
frazzled staff, mis-matched or unsupervised volunteers, repair costs for equipment not
maintained properly. A well-run system is flexible enough to adjust to the disorderly and
unpredictable realities of daily life, but structured enough not to be at their mercy. The goal
of organization is for the right people to focus on the right tasks at the right time with the
right tools, instead of scrambling to cover for what should have been done by someone else
last week.

2. An overemphasis on structure and efficiency as the goal, rather than a means to
an end.
If a church does not keep the higher purposes for its existence in clear view, it may
confuse maintaining the institution with pursuing the mission. Such a church is likely to
resist innovation, because the cry of WNDITWB (“We’ve never done it that way before!”)
drowns out the voices calling for change. In churches that place too high a premium on
order and traditional ways of doing things, ministries become as rigidly bureaucratic as
government programs, and the gifts of those who think “outside the box” are lost. Leaders
who pursue holistic ministry must be prepared for God to break the mold, to “reorder
priorities and reorganize schedules.” It’s an uncomfortable process, but out of the
uncertainty can come a liberating openness to the movement of the Spirit.

3. The church is efficiently organized to serve a purpose—but it is the wrong
There is a mismatch between what God is calling the church to do, and what its
systems and routines are set up to do. The church may be organized primarily to satisfy
the needs of its own members, for example, or to perpetuate its endowment, or to enhance
its “status” and reputation in the community. As a congregation strengthens its commitment
to holistic mission, it needs to examine whether its structures help or hinder the goal of
reaching out in word and deed. “The shape of the church must be determined by its
mission. Often the reverse is true,” notes Tom Nees, administrative director of Nazarene
Compassionate Ministries. “Creating appropriate organizational structures to carry out the
mission of the church is in itself of theological importance.”
“The bottom line,” writes Amy Sherman, “is whether we’re being faithful stewards of
the resources, time and talents God has given us for the purpose of loving our neighbors.
If the old ways aren’t working, it may be time for us to start pouring our love out of new
wineskins.” Is it time for your church to create some new wineskins? Restructuring the
church is not a substitute for revival—it will not make people more loving or more
self-sacrificially dedicated to Christ—but it can define and ease the path that you are asking
the congregation to take.

The key is to continually keep the structure in service to the mission. Missioncentered
organizational strategies can liberate the church to embrace the new
opportunities—and weather the risks—of holistic ministry. Here we look at two critical
organizational tasks of the church which are necessary to put faith into action.

Make Ministry-Related Decisions

In the process of developing holistic ministry, expect your church to be inundated
with new questions and choices. Should the church revise its mission statement? Which
ministries should you start, and in what order? Will you accept government grants? What
qualifications should you require of prospective program staff? Should ministry beneficiaries
be expected to contribute anything in return for services? Ministry decisions relate to three
basic categories: the church’s overall mission and vision; ministry life-cycles (creating,
expanding, altering, or discontinuing); and day-to-day administration.

The process of making decisions is less important than the values and theological
principles that guide the process. Try to anticipate how your system of governance is likely
to handle the kinds of questions that the holistic ministry journey will generate. Is the
system designed to protect the church from the world, or to equip the church to go out into
the world? To serve its members, or to empower its members to serve? To preserve the
status quo, or to adapt to the ever-changing context for ministry? Examine the last five
major decisions your governing body faced. What core values are reflected in the
deliberation process and the outcomes? Becoming mission-centered is a process of
aligning the core values of the decision-making body with the church’s mission.

Good leaders work within the system whenever possible, and gently push for
changes as they go. For example, a pastor might begin working with the board of deacons
to help them understand and restructure their role in light of Acts 6, in which the diaconate
was founded to administer the developing church's benevolence. Or in a church that has
a lopsided focus on evangelism, the evangelism committee could launch a “service
evangelism campaign” charged with training members to carry out holistic service projects.
But good leaders also know when they have to work around the system, or even to
dismantle existing structures to create new pathways for making wise decisions and getting
things done. Consider, for example, a congregation that commissions the Building and
Maintenance Committee to explore the possibility of renovating a wing of the church for a
new youth center. Like most maintenance committees, the members are dedicated to
keeping the building in good shape, and they balk at intentionally exposing the facilities to
the ravages of children. Committee meetings focus on issues of cost and liability, without
much reference to the church’s mission or to the community’s need. The committee
deliberates for six months, and at the end votes not to start a center but to send a check
to the denomination’s youth ministry fund instead.

Now consider an alternative organizational approach. The governing body of the
congregation appoints a new ministry group to explore the youth center, which includes
representation from the Building Committee and the Finance Committee, but also from
parents and even youth likely to be served by the new youth center, and from the
volunteers/staff who will operate it. This new committee is chaired by a mature member of
the congregation who enthusiastically embraces the church’s vision for holistic outreach,
and who meets regularly with the pastor and other church leadership. Once a month, the
ministry group joins the members of all the other church committees for a Bible study on
the church’s mission, led by the pastor. This gathering includes time for sharing and prayer,
giving the “old guard” a chance to rub shoulders with new ministry recruits and to air
suggestions and concerns. It takes time to clear up all the questions and conflicts that
arise, but gradually the ministry group completes a strategic plan for the youth center,
backed by the key leaders in the congregation.

Decisions are only valid if they can be implemented. (See How do we get there from
here? on developing a strategic ministry plan.) The church’s leadership team must be able
to see how all the church’s systems fit together as a whole to make ministry work. An afterschool
program, for example, may involve the finance committee in fund-raising and
accounting, the office support staff in answering calls and photocopying materials, the
evangelism committee in ordering children's Bibles to use in the program, and the
maintenance committee in making sure there is extra toilet paper in the bathrooms.
Effective implementation requires organizational foresight, but it also depends on an
attitude of teamwork. The Director of Operations at New Covenant exemplifies this attitude,
as his team carries out the behind-the scenes work necessary for the church’s ministries
to thrive. “We’re not here to be a stumbling block for the ministries,” he says. “We’re here
to make the programs better.”

Facilitate Communication

Your organizational system must allow for sharing and accountability between vision
makers (those who influence the church’s theology and mission), vision managers (those
who make the decisions regarding how the vision will be fleshed out in ministry), and vision
implementers (those who carry out or financially support ministry decisions).
Communication among ministry leaders both averts conflicts and generates
inspiration for creative collaboration. A basic organizational necessity is a communication
flow chart so that ministry leaders know whom they should contact with problems and ideas
that arise in the field. Another structured way to promote collaboration is to invite
representation from each ministry group to a central committee. At Central Baptist Church,
for example, a Board of Outreach coordinates and supports the work of largely autonomous
Mission Groups. The pastor who attends Board of Outreach meetings helps to bridge
information and ideas from the rest of the congregation to the Board.

In addition to keeping one another informed, church leaders must create avenues
and habits of communicating with the congregation about ministry. But note that if this
communication consists only of asking for things (donations or volunteers), people will soon
learn to tune it out! You can relay “free” information in a way that draws people in and
makes them feel like part of the action. Tell stories, distribute newspaper articles, ask for
prayer, share your dreams and even your struggles related to holistic ministry.
Communication is a two-way street. The congregation needs opportunities to share
with leaders and with one another about ministry, beyond the regular congregational
meeting. If leaders do not actively solicit input, all they are likely to hear are the complaints
of the most negative, outspoken members. (See How do we overcome obstacles to
mission? for more on managing criticism.) Thus an explicit invitation and clear process for
gathering feedback from the congregation—positive as well as negative—is critical to
bringing your congregation along on the journey toward holistic ministry.

This can take many forms. A congregational survey is one common tool. This can
be as simple as distributing a blank sheet of paper at a worship service with one or two
open-ended questions at the top, such as: “What does holistic ministry mean to you? What
fears and hopes do you have about our new mission statement?” Another method is to set
up “listening groups,” in which church members discuss questions as a group. If the church
has established small groups, they might dedicate a session to giving feedback on the
church’s ministry. Or how about an email discussion list? The idea is to create a safe space
for constructive dialogue which fosters learning and growth toward holistic ministry.

Another reason for seeking feedback is that people are more motivated to participate
in something they have had a hand in shaping, and more apt to listen to leaders when they
feel they have been heard. But the most important reason for soliciting the congregation’s
ideas is that God anoints every Christian an ambassador of holistic ministry. Members may
well have information that the pastoral staff lacks, or see challenges from a uniquely helpful
perspective. Good communication between the leaders and the congregation unlocks this
valuable resource.


Adapted from Ronald J. Sider, Philip N. Olson and Heidi Rolland Unruh, Churches That Make a Difference: Reaching
Your Community with Good News and Good Works, chapter 10. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, copyright (c) 2002.

organizing.pdf23.94 KB