You’ve decided you’re ready to engage in a revitalization process in your church either on your own or with an experienced, outside guide. You’ve decided on who will be a part of the team to go through the process. Ready to start? No!
Don’t overlook a very important next step– empowering your revitalization team to make decisions.
In general, a church with a more restrictive constitution/by-laws and/or congregational polity may be able to make decisions, but not be able to implement them quickly. This is not always the case, but this is often the case. A church with more power and decision-making ability delegated to the pastor and revitalization team will have the flexibility to make decisions and implement them quickly.
It’s important to know from the beginning how your church’s red tape is going to impact your ability to implement your revitalization plan. Acknowledging your starting point helps you manage people’s expectations and maintain morale.
The fact is that thousands of churches are established with rules that require a rather slow and sometimes arduous process of decision-making.
So what can you do if your church is facing a lot of red tape?
First you have to decide if you really care or not. You’re engaging in a revitalization process, not picking out new paint (you’ll pick out new paint later). Has your decision-making process and slow-to-change structure contributed at all to getting the church to the point that you’re in now and needing revitalization? Don’t just gloss over this question, think through it.
Let’s assume you do wish to empower your team and push through the red tape.
Here are three tips to empower your revitalization team for success and help you navigate red tape:
Define the expectations from the beginning.
Everyone will feel better about the process if the whole church is on the same page from the beginning. Be really clear about the scope of work for the Revitalization Team. What will they work on? What won’t they work on? What decisions can they make? What decisions can they not make? Once they make a decision, how will it be “officially” approved by the proper boards and committees?
Consider going through your current approval process to allow greater authority to be given to the revitalization team ahead of time, before the work begins. This is not a blank check, but a delegation of trust and authority to allow a more streamlined decision-making process by people who will become well-versed in all aspects of how the church can improve it’s health and become re-aligned with what God’s Word shows us of healthy church function.
With that delegated authority in hand, your team could talk and act as you go through the process and begin seeing momentum build.
Ensure the leadership is pre-disposed to say “yes”
Assuming you’ve followed the first step and used your current system to “pre-authorize” your revitalization team to make decisions within a certain scope of work, it’s critical that your leadership takes on a “yes” posture. This is more about attitude than structure.
In his book Building Leaders, Aubrey defines empowerment as “releasing authority while maintaining responsibility.” This means that we trust people to make decisions, but the buck still stops with senior leadership. It’s critical that if you’ve empowered the revitalization team within certain boundaries that your senior leaders don’t say, “No!” or constantly revise every decision that comes out of a revitalization team meeting.
This is why it’s so important that the revitalization team is comprised of people that are known and trusted by the congregation. For more tips on putting your team together, listen to Episode 2 of The Church Revitalization Podcast, “Building Your Revitalization Team” and read the show notes. You can also use this free download to help brainstorm good candidates for your team.
Let’s take a concrete example of why this is important. If your revitalization team was tasked to develop a new mission statement, but your deacon board completely changed the end product, this is going to totally de-rail your process. A board, committee, or congregation should only alter the work product of the revitalization team if a genuine red flag is raised or they go beyond the agreed-upon scope of work.
It’s the pastor or senior leader’s job to make sure that the decision-making structures are pre-disposed to say, “Yes.” Again, this isn’t a blank check, but an attitude and disposition to agree with the work of the revitalization team.
Set a timeline for decision-making
In a revitalization process like Strategic Envisioning, there is an order of operations. One step must be completed before the next step can begin. Because of this, it’s important that your leadership agree to a timetable for approval.
For example, in Strategic Envisioning, the team will draft a mission statement and core values credo in Session 1. These must be approved in order to do the work on a Discipleship Pathway that takes place in Session 2. Therefore, a church partnering in our Strategic Envisioning process will need their board to approve the mission and core values credo in the interim weeks between Sessions 1 and 2.
It’s unfair to the revitalization team to not have the approvals they need within a timeline that is reasonable. It’s fair to need approval; it’s unfair for the approval process to be lengthy. Once again, this goes back to our first point of defining expectations up front. Included in those expectations should be a timeline for meetings and decision-making.
It’s not easy to implement a change process in a church with lots of red tape, but it can be done. As time goes on, it might be wise to revise your by-laws and constitution so that there is less red tape moving forward. However, getting the revitalization process under your belt might be the confidence-builder that your church needs to tackle that next challenge of revising structures.
Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up. Push through. Define the expectations up-front. Make sure your leaders have a “yes” mentality. Stick to a pre-determined timeline.
If you can do this, your revitalization team can be empowered for success, no matter how much red tape your church has.
A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.