These pants are too big! We seldom struggle with this problem. The bathroom scales and our middle-aged girth speak otherwise. Yet many congregations suffer from “oversized syndrome.” Their programs, ministries, and organizational structure are simply too big for the size of the church.
While this syndrome affects mostly small churches, it can impact any size congregation and can keep the church from moving forward in its ministry. While structures usually change as a church grows, many churches—especially declining churches—face the danger of structures, programs, and ministries that may not fit the congregation’s size. No longer do the structures serve the congregation (and the larger community around it), but the congregation serves the structures and may become enslaved to them.
How can a congregation tell if its structures, ministries, and programs are too big? The following factors provide some insight.
1) BYLAWS SLAVERY: Bylaws dictate the organizational structure of most churches. When working properly, they provide a guide to help the church set up its boards and committees. Unfortunately, many churches are structured by bylaws written many years ago, especially during a period of rapid growth in their earlier days. This results in “filling positions” to meet the demands of the bylaws rather than performing ministry. Churches (especially smaller ones) would be served better by fewer leaders with a passion for ministry rather than those meeting a bylaws requirement. Smaller churches would benefit, as well, by considering the possibility of becoming a single board church in which the leadership can work together.
2) THE MUMMIFICATION OF MINISTRIES AND PROGRAMS: In ancient Egypt, pharaohs were preserved as mummies to keep their memory alive, though the pharaoh was dead. While great efforts took place to preserve their bodies, the meticulous mummification process could not bring the pharaohs back to life. Unfortunately, many congregations suffer from the “mummification” of their ministries and programs by keeping alive something that died years ago. The church doggedly plans the event or ministry for another year, though interest has waned and the community couldn’t care less. Too many ministries hang on and add unnecessary burdens on the church. Perhaps, churches would benefit from the theme of the Disney movie, Frozen and “Let It Go!”
3) THE GLUTTONY FACTOR: The “More is better” philosophy permeates many congregations overstuffed with activity. Too much activity and too few people lead to burnout. Sometimes a congregation falls into the trap of believing if more programs are added, it can become like that big church down the street. But larger churches can also fall into the trap of “program-itis” by spreading themselves so thin that they lose their effectiveness. The difficulty lies in churches that also suffer from the “mummification” factor, resulting in program overload. Churches would benefit greatly if they learned to say “no” to some things.
One cannot underestimate the importance of church growth and a congregation that is committed to the Great Commission of making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). As a church grows, programs and ministries often expand, as well as its leadership and organizational structure. But such structures should never outpace the growth of the congregation and will need to adapt as the church changes.
Likewise, in declining congregations, structures and programs can often be a deterrent by maintaining a status quo of the way things used to be rather than focusing on the current reality of decline. If such churches desire to see a turnaround, then structures, programs, and ministries will need to align with the current situation. From there, the church can begin to cast a new vision in making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Churches, large and small, need to approach their ministry much the same way as one approaches going to the clothing store. If the pants are too tight, get a bigger pair. If they are too large, get a pair that fits. If more churches would consider this principle in their ministry, perhaps Holy Spirit led disciple making would become a reality.