Church structure is spiritual for several reasons. However, the most important is that it allows for or prohibits the growth of the body--and thus the reaching of people for Christ. If a church refuses to change it's structure, it will not grow beyond a certain point. It's spiritual physics. You cannot plant an oak tree in a flower pot...or, you could...it just wouldn't grow past the size of the container. It's the same with a church. God can do anything. If a camel can go through the eye of a needle, a church can grow with a restrictive structure. But, I haven't seen it happen yet.
We can see the counsel to restructure in Scripture in several places. The most vivid and obvious are Jethro telling Moses to delegate responsibilities to capable people, and Paul telling Timothy to appoint elders in every place. The greatest is Creation itself. Notice that in each case, it was understood that ministry needs leadership. But, leadership structure must adapt to it's context.
Most churches are structured to be the size they are. This is part of the problem. Growing and "Turnaround" churches need structures that allow room to grow. Usually, churches that need a turnaround usually need a retooling of their structure. However, not all need to expand.
Some need a retooling because they once were big, but now are smaller--but maintain a large-church structure that burdens them. I call this condition, uncoothly, "Al Roker Syndrome." This is when a church loses a lot of people, but keeps it's calendar, resources, and ministry as it was...there's lots of leftover skin on a now-shrunk body. What is needed is a simplification and reduction...but it's hard to help the church view contraction missionally. It's hard to convince people that getting smaller for a time will help you get bigger later and that doing less will help you do more in the long run. However, until the church can get a bit leaner and meaner, a turnaround will be all the more difficult. This is one type of restructuring that can be helpful when a turnaround is needed. It's more typically needed by churches in precipitous decline, or churches who have experienced protracted periods of decline.
The other structual change is typically needed by churches that were growing but have plateaued. It is an expansion of structure. Notice I didn't say, "Expansion of ministry or activity." I mean a structure that decreases bottle-necking and hoarding of ministry at the "top." Such change frees up entry points for new people to come, and substantive ministry opportunities for more people. This means adding leadership, but changing it's orientation from doing to equipping.
To use a basketball image--as a church grows or earnestly seeks to grow, ministers should move from the guy or gal who takes all the shots to the Point Guard who looks to pass first--and pass to the right person at the right time. To use yet another athletic image--they should become more like a player-coach, and less pure player.
Ironically, as the church grows bigger, the elders meetings and staff meetings should get shorter. They should move away from operations toward toward prayer, pastoral concerns and big-picture strategy. More time will be spent equipping others for ministry rather than feeling the need to do it all oneself--an exquisitely biblical concept. This doesn't absolve anyone from the need to continue to serve in a hands-on way. But, the focus must change or the structure will choke off growth.
If your church has experienced substantial decline, simplify, simplify, simplify. This is good advice for any church...but especially those in decline. If your church is plateaued or growing, structure yourself to be double or even triple the size you are...now. For instance, if you are a church of 100, ask yourself how you would need to function as a church of 300. And then implement it. If your are in a church of 500, structure yourself as a church of a thousand and keep expanding as growth comes. Again, this doesn't mean one should add the activity of a church 3 times it's size. Most churches are already neck-deep in activity. We're talking structure, here.
What structural moves need to be made? It will vary from church to church. But, look at assembly times, assembly space (try not to have a service more than 75% full at the most), elder/staff functioning, the essential calendar, what ministries you will need and need to take away, cultivating leadership from within the body, and infrastructural needs - facilities, web, things of that sort.
One other potentially helpful structural change has to do with the overall ministry system.
More on that in the next post.