December 13, 2010 Tony Morgan

Big Churches Getting Bigger: The Alignment Factor

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted recent research that confirmed larger churches were more likely to have grown last year. Since then, I’ve launched a series of posts identifying what I believe are the key factors behind that trend. Today I’m going to focus on “The Alignment Factor”.

In churches that have stopped growing or have started to decline, they’re typically just trying to “do church”. They’re just doing what other churches have always done hoping (and praying) that it generates different results.

Typically the larger the church I go into, the more aligned the church is. You’d expect the opposite. You’d expect that smaller churches would be more focused and have less complexity because they have fewer people and resources. Honestly, though, there’s typically an inverse relationship. Larger churches are more focused and more aligned, and smaller churches haven’t clarified their purpose and are typically very complex in both structure and ministry programming.

Here’s a picture of what it looks like to be fully-aligned as a church:

  • The primary purpose or mission of the church is established.
  • A focused ministry/discipleship strategy has been established to accomplish that vision.
  • All of the church’s ministries and programming are intentionally designed to fit into that strategy.
  • The church is structured with staff and volunteer leaders and teams around the strategy.
  • Resources like money, facilities and space on the master calendar are distributed to maximize impact rather than to maintain fairness.
  • There’s a web and communications strategy in place to keep everyone focused in the same direction.
  • The teaching includes life application that identifies specific next steps to engage people in a discipleship journey that mirrors the overall strategy of the church.
  • Rather than celebrating when lots of people gather, the success of any special events or initiatives are measured by how they help people engage in this journey.
  • The church is capturing stories and measuring data to determine if the strategy is working as intended.

This all begins with the end in mind. We have to identify what we ultimately want to accomplish as a church. And, we have to identify what we ultimately want people to look like at the conclusion of our discipleship process. Again, most churches don’t do this. They just do what other churches have always done. Here’s a little secret: What churches have always done isn’t working.

The only way things are going to change is if churches clarify where they’re heading and then make sure they’re fully-aligned to experience the intended results. Most larger churches are willing to engage the difficult and time-consuming process of ensuring full alignment of everything they’re doing behind a big vision.

Critical to alignment in any organization is routinely saying “no” to good ideas. Here’s how Steve Jobs explained this critical piece of the culture at Apple:

“Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea. And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important” (BusinessWeek Online, Oct. 12, 2004).

In order to maintain alignment, many times you have to say no to expanding the vision. Many times you have to say no to adding a new ministry. Many times you have to say no to doing another special event. Many times you have to say no to communicating something to your entire audience. Many times you have to say no to good people with good ideas. Big churches get that. They understand that saying no helps the organization maintain alignment and creates opportunities to say yes to the things that will make a bigger impact.

And that’s another reason why big churches keep getting bigger.

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Previous posts in this series:

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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