How to Develop Scalable Systems That Support Healthy Ministry Growth
Enjoy this guest post from our friends over at TrainedUp. They empower churches with a simple, easy-to-use online training platform featuring hundreds of ready-to-use training videos and unlimited space for custom content.
I was talking with a ministry consultant in Colorado last week on the phone named Chris. Chris’ area of expertise is helping growing churches increase their capacity for growth. That includes both designing ministry systems and making multisite work well.
I learned a few really interesting things on that call with Chris. First, he has convinced more churches to NOT go multisite than he’s coached through the endeavor. He says that most churches try to go multisite too soon.
Second, his experience is that most churches think about scale in terms of invites, guests, seats, and parking when they should be thinking about ministry systems before anything else.
What are ministry systems?
Ministry systems are just guidelines for how ministry responsibilities are accomplished. And when it comes to systems, you’re probably in one of two camps:
You might be a systems-oriented person by nature and would have loved to be listening on a call like that. You probably see the value in systems that scale even if you’re not facing scaling issues right now. You see peripheral benefits of systems beyond people-growth.
On the other hand, you might think that systems design is something that only big churches worry about. You’re not naturally a “systems person” and maybe you cringe a little when other people use that term...like when crossfit people start talking about their burpee record.
First, let’s be honest; every ministry area has systems. Again, ministry systems are just guidelines for how ministry responsibilities are accomplished. Even the ministry leader who isn’t a “systems person” has to work with systems to get things done.
Ministry systems might not always look like systems. They might be informal and exist only in the mind of the ministry leader. They might be defined by the phrase, “that’s just how we do it here.” These are systems, but they’re most often not scalable systems.
Here are some examples of non-scalable ministry systems.
On Monday mornings, the ministry leader sends an email to all guests from Sunday.
On Tuesday mornings, the ministry leader sends a thank you note to a volunteer.
On Wednesday afternoons, the pastor makes a powerpoint of the sermon notes for Sunday morning.
On Thursdays, the pastor schedules social media posts for the next week.
These are all good things to do. And it’s good to have some guidelines about when and how they get done. But not all systems are designed to scale. In fact, these are the types of systems that prevent you from growing.
Bad ministry systems prevent church growth.
Systems that don’t scale aren’t just unhelpful to your church’s growth. They’re actually hindrances. A bad system will make you feel productive, but will have limited ministry impact and keeps you from doing things that only you can do.
Sending emails to guests is great, but it’s also something that can be automated. Scheduling posts on social media is great, but it’s also something that can be delegated.
When you do these tasks personally and manually, you’re not working on something that takes a step toward growth. You’re not writing about church culture. You’re not having coffee with a future leader. You’re not planning strategy for the next six to twelve months.
Put another way, your current systems might be working, but they’re not efficient. Good systems are more efficient.
These are the four stages of systems efficiency.
Systems promote scalability through efficiency in four stages. As a system works through these stages, it grows more efficient. As it grows more efficient, it creates more opportunity for church growth.
Stage one is repeatability. Most ministry systems that look like systems are repeatable. Sending sermon slides to the production volunteer is repeatable because you can do it the same way every week with little variation in the process.
Stage two is one-to-one delegation. That usually means taking a repeatable system and asking someone else to do it. Good delegation is often all that is needed to see a system support moderate church growth.
Stage three is team delegation. Assigning a task to a team is best done once the system is well-established and producing valuable results, but it’s just too much for one person to do efficiently.
Stage four is automation. Not all systems are right for automation. For example, having a robot automatically call church visitors isn’t the right approach. However, there are many areas where simple automation can streamline otherwise cumbersome tasks.
Why do efficient systems promote church growth?
Systems alone aren’t the reason churches grow. There are tons of factors at play when churches grow: preaching, planning, systems, congregation-wide convictions, vision clarity, etc. Systems are only a part of church growth.
However, efficient systems do promote church growth for a few reasons.
Efficient systems increase ministry capacity with fewer resources. For example, having a team of volunteers do guest follow-up means you can increase the number of guests you can reach out to with quality interactions.
Efficient systems include more people in the process. When you create teams and delegate to them, you’re creating more contributors to the church’s mission and fewer church consumers.
Efficient systems reduce the chances that people or important tasks fall through the cracks. When more people or software are applied to an endeavor effectively, there are fewer chances that something important doesn’t get done.
Efficient systems avoid linchpin situations. Smaller churches have a terrible time with linchpins...those situations where only one person is capable of doing something. If that person is sick or gets upset, problems follow. What’s worse is that decisions are then shaped by those lynchpin people.
What should you do next?
You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the things that could be systematized. But, don’t feel like you need to do all of them at once. Let’s start with something simple…
Let’s make a system for deciding what to systematize next.
We’ll start with a list of ministry responsibilities that you are doing right now. It might look something like this.
Following up with first-time guests
Creating sermon slides for Sunday morning
Creating song lyric slides for Sunday morning
Organizing children’s curriculum for Sunday morning
Gathering all receipts for monthly budget report
Scheduling volunteers for Sunday morning
Writing and sending a monthly email newsletter
Planning the weekly staff meeting agenda
You get the idea. Make your list your own.
Next, choose one thing that’s not repeatable that you can most easily make repeatable. For example, maybe your sermon slides could be made into a template that’s faster to create from your sermon notes. Maybe the children’s curriculum could be made into a checklist so anyone on the children’s ministry team could do it. It doesn’t matter what you systematize at first, it just matters that you start.
Now that you have a repeatable system, do it and live it. You should test it out for a few weeks and live with the new system. Think about how it could be improved, where the rough edges could be smoothed out or the redundant things could be eliminated or made into templates.
From there, you’ll have a fully functioning system that can be more easily delegated to someone else. As your church or ministry area grows, you’ll find that a repeatable system that’s been delegated to one person can be delegated to a team of people with just a few adjustments to the system.
Next step, enjoy life.
Scott Magdalein is the founder of TrainedUp. Previously, he worked as a project manager for YouVersion and Church Online, a software developer at Treehouse, a digital director for an ad agency, and as an Executive Pastor in multiple local churches. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife and three kids.