We often don't realize how important it is have healthy governance systems in our churches. We inherit a system or are used to a system but often that system is not designed to help you do leadership well in the present day. What often worked at one phase of a church’s life does not work well in another. Remember, churches don’t simply grow – they change and unless our governance structures change with it, the church starts to feel the strain of unfriendly and unempowering structures getting in the way of leadership.
Here are nine simple best governance practices for the local church. If your practices deviate significantly from these it is probably time to take a look at them. My book, High Impact Church Boards can provide a roadmap if you need one.
- There should only be one elected board that is ultimately responsible for the ministry of the church. Multiple boards means confusion over roles and responsibilities at the best and conflict at the worst.
- The board should be clear on its God given responsibilities: keeping the spiritual temperature high; ensuring that the congregation is taught; protected; cared for; released into ministry and led well
- The structure should be leadership friendly so that leaders are empowered to lead easily. Whenever leaders express frustration on how long or difficult it is to make decisions you know that there are problems in how the system is designed and that it is time to change it.
- The board should be responsible for policy and direction and leave day to day management to staff. Boards should not do any management that others can do. They should focus on the big rocks of health, ministry clarity, direction and the missional effectiveness of the congregation.
- There should be absolute clarity on the responsibilities of staff in relation to the board. While the two groups work together they have different responsibilities.
- The organizational structure should be as flexible as possible so that changes can be made as necessary.There should be as few elected positions as necessary.
- All positions in the church (including those elected) should be filled on the basis of gifting rather than on the need to fill positions on a ballot.
- Your system should reflect the three components God built into His church: flexibility, effectiveness and missionality.
- Finally, and most importantly, the structure should serve the mission of the church rather than the mission needing to serve an outdated or ineffective structure. Too often we miss the last point. Our structure and bylaws are simply a tool to serve the mission of the church. When that tool becomes a hinderance rather than a help it is time to reexamine the structure.