Health and Growth

How and When Pastors Should Start Thinking About Scale

Ask these 7 questions with your church leadership team to break through growth plateaus.

How and When Pastors Should Start Thinking About Scale
by

Paul Maxwell

If God has called you to ministry, then he’s given you a heart for people.

That’s a good thing that should be celebrated. The Apostle Paul was driven throughout his ministry by both conviction of the truth of God’s Word and a devotion to the wellbeing of God’s flock. When the church is “fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part,” then it “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

And yet, at a certain point, the Apostle Paul had to figure out how to transition from being a member of the church to a leader in the church. 

This meant that Paul had to face the problem of how to scale his ministry.

As the church grew, and as Paul’s ministry became increasingly important, Paul had to learn the skills of leading the church in a manner that catalyzed their maturity in Christ and conformity to the teachings of Christ and his Apostles.

Luke records in Acts 16:5: “So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.” Paul reflects on this growth—that it was not a happy accident, but God’s very purpose for their ministry: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

As Paul’s influence grew, he had to answer the same question every organizational leader must ask: “How can we have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people in our movement?”

Like the Apostle Paul, if your church is successful, you must ask yourself this same question. As a pastor, you want your church to grow. But as your church grows, your job will begin to transform. As needs increase, skills must increase. Jobs must increase. Volunteers must increase. Technology becomes necessary to manage these ever-more-complicated details. Fundraising skills are needed to propel these projects. 

Many pastors are never able to break through their church’s growth plateau precisely because they never sit back and ask the question of how to have a bigger influence by solving the problem of scale—by implementing new strategies as their ministry grows that enables them to capitalize on what makes them essential to future growth and delegate the rest.

Here, we’re going to look at 7 key questions pastors should ask as they face the question of scale in the process of church growth.

1. “Is it too early to scale?”

It’s never too early to start thinking about scale. But scaling requires two things—growth in people and growth in finances. Sometimes, new pastors scale first in an attempt to preemptively prepare for growth, but the truth is that this requires an up-front cost that may end up handicapping your financial power in the beginning of your ministry that might more usefully be deployed elsewhere.

Set key performance indicators for your church that trigger certain scaling strategies. For instance, once your church reaches 50+ people, you will need some kind of digital member management system like Tithe.ly ChMS. When you start collecting tithes, you’ll need a digital giving solution like Tithe.ly Giving. As more and more people ask for your time, you’ll need a church administrator or assistant pastor to aid in the task of giving pastoral care to people in real-time while more senior roles transition from working as operators to working as administrators.

2. “Do I have a specific scaling strategy?”

Consult with other churches that have successfully scaled. Ask them what their strategies and timelines looked like. How did they prepare? How did they transition? How much did it cost? How long did it take? Look at those who are where you want to be and get as much information from them as you can. 

3. “Does our leadership team share the same vision for scale?”

Decisions about scale should be a team decision. If a rogue leader starts making moves toward scaling and the rest of the team is hesitant about timing, cost, or logistics, then that leader’s decisions, good and effective as they may be, will be clouded by a sense that he or she is mismanaging the resources of the church.

Do the hard work of having hard conversations with your senior leadership team so that you can all get on board with what God’s doing and how the church can faithfully execute God’s call on their community. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

4. Do we have a robust and committed volunteer base to support scale?

Scale doesn’t work if you try to solve every problem with a salary. Churches work because volunteers work. More than that, volunteers are the heartbeat of your church’s influence and outreach in your community. If you hire someone to meet a need in the church, make sure they are gifted mobilizers.

If your hire tries to solve every problem by himself or herself, then church members will feel under-involved and your church staff will feel overworked. As you delegate in order to scale your church’s operational structure, make sure you always have a line-of-sight on how your delegation reaches the volunteer base in your church.

5. “Do any opportunities for scale compromise our quality of pastoral care?”

It’s easier to get “lost in the weeds” at big churches that don’t devote training or resources to greeting new visitors, onboarding them, and cultivating the health of their church membership.

As you grow as a church, scale isn’t just about making the church bigger—it’s about making sure that as the church increases the quantity of its membership, it doesn’t thereby compromise the quality of its care. 

Scale has its eye on effectiveness and efficiency with regard to the mission and vision of the organization. The church exists to care for its members and to reach its local community for the kingdom. If getting bigger waters down the church’s ability to do this, then fail should be focused on solving that problem, rather than expediting growth at all costs.

6. “What makes me most valuable to the church?”

This is a question not only for the senior pastor, but for the entire leadership team. Each member of the senior leadership team should ask: “What makes me most valuable to the church?” The more time each member is able to devote to what makes them valuable to the church, the better they will become at performing that task, and the more valuable the church will be overall.

Whatever tasks are left, those tasks should be either (1) delegated among the leadership team according to time and gifting, (2) delegated to a new hire, or (3) cut from the church’s program.

Scale is about maximizing the value, focus, and resources of your church’s talent, from top to bottom. Doing this requires first taking account of what those talents are, who has them, and how they plug into the mission and vision of the church.

7. “How will scale improve our ability to fulfill our mission?”

We’ve already noted this once, but it’s important to always come back to this question. Your church might scale in a way that compromises its mission and vision. For example, your church may have the choice between hiring a much-needed executive pastor or funding the renovation of your children’s ministry wing. 

Both choices supply an opportunity to maximize your church’s value proposition to prospective members and manifest the church’s mission and vision. Your church must have a firm grasp on exactly why you exist, what in our culture moment sparked the need for your church, why you planted in your community specifically, and what demographic you aim to reach. 

The better you understand the purpose of your specific church, and the more aligned your leadership team is regarding that purpose, the easier it will be to determine what scaling options truly facilitate your church’s effectiveness, and what options are merely indulgences in convenience. 

Conclusion

Every church faces the question of scale at some point—even if only at the beginning. Work through these seven questions with your church leadership team so that you are prepared to make swift and effective moves in the right direction when your church does experience growth. 

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How and When Pastors Should Start Thinking About Scale