Before you can move your church toward greater growth, you've got to fully understand it and your role in its growth. There are essentially three phases of a church as it grows, and your role as pastor must change with each new phase.
Speaking to basic structure, there are three kinds of churches: single-cell, multiple-cell, and multiple-congregation churches.
How do you lead in each of these situations?
In the single-cell church, there is just one single cell, that is, one group of people who make up the church. Generally, the single-cell church has less than 200 people.
Multiple-cell churches tend to have between 200 and 300 people. In this type of church, there are several cells, such as Sunday school classes, women's groups, men's groups, and so forth.
In multiple-congregation churches, there are congregations within congregations within congregations and there are cells inside each congregation. For example, at Saddleback Church, our women's ministry is a congregation within itself. So is our men's ministry. Our children's ministry is larger than most churches. Multiple-congregation churches usually have 400 people or more members.
In each of these growth phases, your role as pastor (or ministry leader) has to change to meet the changing needs of your congregation.
In a single-cell church, the pastor is the owner/operator. He does most of the work himself: he prints the bulletin, locks and unlocks the church, sweeps up - you name it. He's the entrepreneur.
In order to grow to the next level – a multiple-cell church - the pastor must be willing to change from owner/operator to manager/supervisor. At this level, you add staff members. Your role becomes managing and supervising people under you.
Then, when the church grows beyond 400 people, the pastor must take on the role of executive. You know you've reached this stage when you allow for an administrative pastor to work with you, someone who will handle the details for you.
At the executive level you evaluate, make decisions and preach. You lead and feed, and let others handle the smaller details. The key role of the pastor at this stage is vision-setter. He sets the tone and the theme of the church through his speaking - what he tells, what he talks about, what he shares.
It is very rare to find a person who is skilled at all three of these leadership levels.
Generally, you'll be good at one. Either you're a total hands-on leader, or you like managing others and supporting them as they do the work, or you excel at having a vision for the church and delegating decisions.
Frankly, I'm a terrible supervisor, so our church got stuck at the middle stage. I've discovered that I work best either doing all the work myself or being completely out of the picture and letting someone more skilled handle the work.
When we were in the early-stage - the single-cell phase of Saddleback - things were going great. I personally set up and took down the church. For a while, I kept the stuff in my garage.
I borrowed a pick-up truck every week and used it to take all of the church's stuff to where ever we were having church that week, and then I set it all up, preached, took it all down and took it back home.
And I know many of you are still in that stage, and I want to encourage you to stick to the vision God has placed in your heart.
"Stick to the vision God has placed in your heart."
Now that the church requires me to function at the executive level, I actually know very little of what's going on in the church in terms of day-to-day detail.
How do I keep in control? I don't - I'm not even trying to control it! The administrative pastor handles all the details, but I'm still the leader of the church.
My point: there are changes to be made at every phase of growth or you will become the stumbling block to your church's growth.
So, the key to growth in the single-celled church is the addition of new cells. If you have a church of about 90 people, you probably have eight cells of approximately ten people each - children, nursery, women's class, men's class, youth class, and so forth.
The key to growth here is the addition of new cells. You begin to expand those, and then you add more services, more cells, more classes - all of these will help your church to grow.
One of the key issues at the multiple-cell level is that the worship service must improve. In the single-cell church, people will put up with a lot of flack in the worship service. The singer doesn't have to sing on key, or a child can run down the aisle. We put up with a lot of these things because it's "just family," that is, just us.
But once you start getting about 300 people in your church, you'll find that not everyone is coming to the church for the same reasons.
Most likely, people came to your church when it was smaller because of bonding. But 300 is too many people to bond with - so suddenly the reasons that people come to your church are different from the reasons they came when you only had 100 regular attenders.
Before, they came because of friendships. Now they're coming to check you out: Is the worship good? Is the preaching good?
Which is why, at this stage, you need to consciously improve your worship service. It's got to be sharp, and it's got be culturally relevant, aimed at the type of people you aiming to reach (Who is your Saddleback Sam?).
At the third level - multiple-congregations (about when you get to 400 regular attenders) - then the key issue becomes staff management. You need an assistant who is gifted in administration, so you can be free to focus on preaching. The larger the church gets, the more powerful the pulpit becomes for setting the direction of the church.
In order for your church to grow from single-cell to multiple-cell, or from multiple-cell to multiple-congregation, you must be willing to respond to the changing needs of your church by changing your own role.
This article is used by permission from From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry. www.pastors.com.