In 2016, Brandon Kelley introduced 10 Characteristics of Churches that Grow. Reading over the list reminded me that my own church implemented many of the same changes recommended in the series, even though I didn’t know of Rookie Preacher at the time! So I wanted to look over the list again and implement all of the recommendations and see if the church would continue to grow. The model of church governance commended in the series had actually already been installed in the church before I arrived on staff. Here are some reflections on how a “staff led, elder protected” governance model has worked for us.
A Brief History
My church began (before I was born!) as a nondenominational Bible church. The founding pastor was the senior pastor for a long time. He then left to do missions work but eventually came back for a second stint. After he left the second time, the church went through senior pastor after senior pastor. So about 10 years ago, the deacon board decided to move to a “plurality of elders” model of church leadership. In many ways, my church operates as a “staff led, elder protected” church as detailed in the article. The results have been astounding. The church has continued to grow sustainably over the last 10 years. There has been much less staff “turbulence” with pastors coming and going. I am the least tenured staff member and I have already been on staff for five years!
Church Governance and Growth
I have actually seen a direct correlation between church governance and growth. I went back to our attendance archives and averaged out the attendance year-by-year. I also overlaid the tenure of the senior pastors on top of the attendance and what I discovered was that every time the senior pastor left, the church declined!
Church governance matters. It matters not just from a biblical-faithfulness perspective but also from a fruitfulness-growth perspective.
How “Staff Led, Elder Protected” Works on the Ground
The first article in the series lays out the various church governance models and suggests that a “staff led, elder protected” model is the best way to go. I agree. In fact, when the church moved to a plurality of elders model, it also began to function as being lead by the staff and protected by the elders. Here’s how our church governance handles the practical realities of ministry.
In our model, the entire church membership gets one major vote every year: the overall budget. The elders develop the budget for the year and once the budget is passed, the entire church does not weigh in on every expenditure. Each ministry is given a budget and then the pastors and/or ministry leaders are free to use that money as they see fit. Such a process keeps the leadership accountable to the wider church but also streamlines the day-to-day functionality of the budget.
The elders and staff pastor collaborate on the vision for the year. We, as staff pastors, will usually “pitch” a vision going into our summer leaders retreat. We then refine the vision for the year with input from the elders. We present the refined vision at our annual vision meeting in September (which kicks off our ministry year).
Controversy and Criticism
The number one way the elders protect us as staff pastors is by taking on controversy and backing us up when criticized. They will often meet with those going through difficult times or confront those in serious sin without the staff pastors having to shoulder the load. This frees us up for more ministry and service to the body. They also provide unflagging public support for us as pastors. Although they may not agree with every decision we make, they will back us publicly. In doing so, we can minister with confidence and courage.