April 28, 2014 Tony Morgan

7 Warning Signs Your Church Has Ministry Silos: The Structure Test

In previous articles in this series, we covered the vision and leadership gaps that can lead to ministry silos. Today, we tackle a topic that you’ll likely never hear about at a church leadership conference. If we don’t get this right, though, it’s very difficult for the vision to become reality. And, it’s not uncommon for it produce ministry silos.

3. The structure isn’t aligned with the vision and strategy.

When a church approaches our team because they are stuck, we always force the church to think vision and strategy before they consider structure. In this case, form follows function. When a church tries to reverse the order, the priority typically becomes preservation of existing structure. Forcing a church to consider what the win really looks like naturally requires us to revisit who does what.

This is a big deal because within churches, structure is sacred. Usually pastors and ministry leaders have spent years fortifying their own ministry program. (Think student ministry, children’s ministry, women’s ministry, etc.) Obviously, the more the structure is built around individual ministries, the more likely silos will exist.

Similarly, and maybe even more damaging, churches have also established structure around different steps in the discipleship path. There’s a discipleship department that’s really only focused on Bible knowledge. There’s a missions department that often times ends up focusing on getting people on international trips. There’s a fellowship department that gathers people for events. Even though each of these elements is part of spiritual formation, the departments end up competing with each other for time and attention.

Until the structure forms around a unified vision and strategy, the natural tendency will always be for church leaders to form protective walls around their own ministry areas. They try to position their ministries to get more platform time, promotions, money, facility space, volunteers, leadership investment, etc. The ministries with the strongest leaders get the most resources…even if it’s not what’s most important for the overall health of the church.

When The Unstuck Group helps churches think about their staffing and structure, here are some examples of the questions we address to shape a healthy organizational structure. Let me highlight a couple of specific challenges, though, related to structure that our team mentioned.

“Flat” Structures

Sometimes to eliminate silos, churches try to keep the leadership structure as flat as possible. The sense is that if everyone is reporting directly to one leader, it’ll be easier to keep everyone on the same page. (As a sidenote, this is usually a sign that the senior pastor has major control issues, but that’s a topic for another article in the future.)

In one example in a larger church, I saw one senior pastor trying to directly supervise 25 different people. It wasn’t healthy for the pastor or the people he was trying to lead. When the leadership team becomes too large, it is no longer able to function as a team or be led as a team.

Need help with this challenge? We’ve talked about who should be in the leadership team meeting before.

Centralized Functional Leadership

As more and more churches embrace multisite strategy, it’s creating new challenges when it comes to structure. One of the most common tensions develops when a church must decide who has authority? Is it the campus pastor or the ministry leader at the “sending” campus. For example, does the children’s pastor at the sending campus have authority over the children’s pastor at the new campus?

We’ve embraced a philosophy I first heard expressed in this way by Mac Lake who used to serve at Seacoast Church, a multisite ministry in South Carolina. In healthy multisite structures, the campus pastor has  authority and the ministry leader or ministry champion has influence.

If campus pastors are the only leaders, though, functions (i.e. children’s ministry, small groups, communications) will be executed in a siloed fashion at each campus. You still need the centralized influence of ministry champions who are trying to leverage the synergy of ministry leaders working together across campus lines.

How are you doing with this test? Is your structure aligned with the vision and strategy? If not, that’s the third warning sign that your church may have ministry silos.

Other articles in this series:

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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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