Depending on who you ask about church systems, you will either get excited looks about the potential of them and how they can help people, or you will get looks of disgust because they sound like the business world and not very shepherding.
Yet the reason many churches fail is not because of a lack of caring but a lack of intentionality.
They are led by pastors who are incredibly relational and shepherding but lack the organizational skills to help people grow. And that is the crucial piece of that word failure. I’m not talking about not growing but about failing to help people reach the growth in their discipleship that God has for them.
In a small church, that happens one-on-one with a pastor. As a church grows, that must begin to spread out or there will be a lid on how many people a church can disciple and help grow in their relationship with Jesus.
The answer to that dilemma: systems.
Many large churches have these systems down and do a great job at them. Sadly, many church plants need these systems but do not have them in place, so they fail to get the traction they’d like or see the growth in the lives of their people.
Here are five systems you need to have in place to not only grow as a church, but help your people grow:
1. First time guest. When a guest shows up at your church, what happens? How do you know they came? When you are smaller as a church, you know someone is a guest because you know everyone, or the guest comes dressed up and the regular attenders don’t do that. But as you grow it becomes easier for people to slip in and out. It is good to give people anonymity until they’re ready to let themselves be known to you. But when they are ready, how will they tell you? Is it a connection card? What will you do with that information? If you get a connection card this Sunday, what happens to that on Monday?
You can’t leave that to chance.
I remember hearing Rick Warren say once, “God sends people to churches who are ready for those people to come.” I believe that is true. Many churches that are growing can tell you what happens when someone walks in their doors.
We give something to a guest because we want to break down the barrier that the church wants something from them. That makes people defensive, especially men, as they are waiting for the church to ask for something. Instead we give them a gift, and then after their first time with us we send them a Starbucks gift card to say thanks. I get so many comments from second time guests who tell me they returned to our church because when they went to Starbucks, they thought of our church.
2. New believer. If someone became a Christian this Sunday in your church, what would you do? Of course you would be excited, but in that excitement do you have a plan for that person to help them grow? More than likely it would involve meeting with the pastor of the church. What if 25 people became followers of Jesus this Sunday? Now, you can’t meet with all those people. So what happens?
This is where you need a system and a plan to know what happens. Who do they talk to? Do they take a class? Do you have people in your church prepared and ready to talk with new believers?
3. First time giver. Giving can get weird in churches because it’s money and it’s private. Many pastors think it is wrong to know who gives in your church. I don’t see that anywhere in the Bible. Now if you struggle with treating bigger givers differently than those who give less, than that is something to work through, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Giving is a spiritual gift that many people in your church have, just like leadership and mercy are a spiritual gift. My hunch is that you know who has the gift of leadership, evangelism or hospitality in your church. You should know who has the gift of giving. And just as an aside, just because someone gives a lot does not make them the wealthiest people in your church, and you already know who the wealthiest people in your church are simply by going to their house and seeing their car and clothes.
In the same way that you should know who has the gift of giving in your church, you should know who gives for the first time in your church and do something with that. That is a huge step of faith on their part. Many pastors overlook that because they are always thinking about the budget and bills, and when someone gives that’s just helpful. But that person is now saying, “I want to grow in my faith. I want to hold loosely to what God has given me and trust Him. I’m bought in here to the point that I’m giving my money.” That is a huge step!
Celebrate that. Help that person continue to grow in that. They may have the gift of giving, they may not, but have a plan to help that person grow in that discipline. Giving is a crucial piece of spiritual growth and being a disciple of Jesus. Don’t let it happen by chance.
4. Community and relationships. Every church leader knows that growth happens best in the context of relationships. We preach on it and tell people that, but we fail to realize that community and moving into a small group of some kind is a huge step for people. It’s a time commitment in an already busy schedule. There is the fear of going to a house of a person they don’t know. How long will the group meet? Many groups are meeting until Jesus returns. What happens if the person goes to a group and doesn’t like it or the leader? Now it is really awkward when they see that person at church, and so many people choose to skip it all together.
These are barriers you have to get past if you want to see people enter into relationships at your church. We’ve experimented with three month small groups and told people, “You can do P90x for 90 days; try a group for 90 days.” We’ve also started to encourage people to enter a serving team first before joining a group. It is less of a commitment in their mind and still gets them shoulder to shoulder with other followers of Jesus. And serving helps you in your spiritual growth.
5. Leadership development. This last one took us the longest to develop, and because of that I believe it really stunted our health and growth as a church. Every pastor wants more leaders in his church. If you want to plant churches, you want men around you who want to plant churches. Yet many pastors simply hope those people will find their churches. If your church is near a seminary or a Bible college, that may just happen and will mask that you don’t have a plan to develop leaders.
Think about it like this: if you wanted to have 10 elder caliber leaders a year from now, how would you develop them? What would have to happen for that to occur?
If you want to plant a church two years from now and that person would come from within your church right now, how would you get that person ready? How would you find that person?
You need a leadership development system.
Like I said at the beginning, systems are often seen as bad or mechanical, so many shepherding leaders don’t use them. Systems help move people in their relationship with Jesus. Systems are crucial to the health of your church and the growth of your people.