Agile Church: Beyond the Committee Structure

It’s been a long fabulous day at Preacher Camp.

This evening at dinner I was sitting with a friend who is helping coordinate the NEXT Church conference in Dallas in just a few weeks. (Not too late to register! 400+ and counting.) He was fiddling with his phone as we all ate and talked, and I found out he was receiving updates as people have begun registering for workshops. “14 people are registered for your workshop, MaryAnn.” A few minutes later: “Now it’s up to 20.”

The workshop is called “Agile Church” and will be partly about our experience at Tiny Church. When I got there, we had nine elders and eleven committees, many of which were committees of one—or zero. We have moved to something that is messier and still nascent but hopefully more agile. And no committees. We will be reading and working with the agile manifesto, mining this business/software development resource for wisdom in how we do our work as a church community. It’s not all directly translatable, but I contend that much of it is.

But I need your help. I also want to talk about other churches that have moved beyond outdated bureaucratic structures into other models that are more effective and life giving.

Do you have ideas to share?

Do you know someone I should be talking to?

Failures and challenges are important to hear about as well. I especially need to hear from folks in larger churches. Are committees the worst structure except for all the others? Or can large churches also move beyond the committee?

Comment here or e-mail me at maryannmcdana at gmail dot com. I’d be grateful, and I know those 20 people (and counting?) will be thankful too.

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12 thoughts on “Agile Church: Beyond the Committee Structure

  1. When we form a committee, maybe we make the mistake in thinking that it is supposed to meet forever. Rather, maybe it should just be a task force to explore and experiment? Committtees can get so reified. The Mission Yearbook for today (2/7/12) describes this in its story about Cimarron Presbytery in Oklahoma.

  2. Wishing you the best on your quest.

  3. Sue Ferguson says:

    I think you are aware of CPC’s approach – not perfect and still a work in progress. But much improved- I doubt you’d find a single person pin our congregation who wishes we had committees again -even the die hards. Almost 200 members, we have no committees and stuff still gets done. People still have meetings – but not anything regularly scheduled. It has been good way to really put us more in line with how the Spirit moves us, and highlighted how some things we had always done were ready to be retired. It has also given life to more new ideas that can be implemented without a lot of fuss. This does not mean there is not oversight/approval from the visioning body- but it leaves more time for doing the work of the Kingdom and less time managing the calendar fitting in all those meetings…

  4. jledmiston says:

    First of all, those 20 people have signed up b/c you are the workshop leader. Really. You could be talking about Tiny Church’s paint colors and people would come.

    Secondly, FPC shifted in 2003 from a Session of Committee/Ministry Leaders to a Session of Spiritual Leaders who make decisions for the Body and a Team of Volunteer Coordinators. It was very, very messy and probably still is. What if no volunteer stepped up to lead Christian Education? Then we let it go (which didn’t last for long because there is always someone who has a passion for the spiritual nurture of our children and adults.

    I believe Sessions should be as small as possible (6?) and Ministry Teams are everyone else in the church – or as we all know – the committed, willing & able few. This model changed the way we functioned as a Session, although It Is A Long Slog getting people to change. One newly elected elder said, upon hearing my plan not to let the Session have their hands in everything, “But I wanted to be an elder so I COULD run everything.” Ugh.

    Hope Next Church is great.

  5. Kerri PD says:

    very interested to see what comes of all this. We adjusted the structure when we arrived at Pioneer and are looking at refining it again. Hope you’ll make your thoughts available for those of us not able to be at NEXT!

  6. When I arrived at our church we had the following teams (committees): Mission, Facilities, Worship, Fellowship, Personnel, Finance, Health Ministry, and Discipleship (CE)

    We now have: Connect, Grow, Serve, Personnel, Health Ministry and Finance

    Connect is responsible for creating a welcoming environment for visitors and guests, and helping visitors to move into membership and into our Grow step.

    Grow is responsible for helping people into a small group and implementing Connect, Grow, Serve with our children and youth.

    Serve is responsible for helping members identify their gifts and a place to volunteer in the church and supporting members or small groups as they plan mission opportunities.

    Fellowship and Facilities teams have been disbanded and replaced with volunteers who are on-call to help with those functions as needed.

    We are just getting this off the ground and nor everyone gets it or is on board, but our old team structure was dying a quick death and we had to do something. Team leaders are whoever the best person for the position is, whether they are an elder or not. We have less than 200 members, a 9 person session, and currently 2 teams led by elders. Elders do not have to serve on a team unless they want to.

  7. Jo Ann Staebler says:

    Re: “Committee”–At its root, it’s a wonderful word: the Latin means “sent together.” If we could jettison the baggage that the word and the practice have accumulated and live into the root meaning, a “committee” would be a very different animal. Transformed, even!

  8. Sharon says:

    We have four groups that match our vision statement–Welcome, Nurture, Serve, Proclaim. These four groups are staffed by elders and congregational members with the task of inviting other church folks to participate in the ministries under each broad heading. Very messy and at times very frustrating, but seems to engender more energy and creativity. And if something we’ve been doing forever no longer has someone to do it, bye-bye.
    Hope the conference goes well.

  9. […] 3. Which means we’re bracing for the end of the month, when I go to NEXT Church in Dallas. (Are you going?) Thanks, by the way, to everyone who’s sharing ideas about vital congregational structures. […]

  10. Rod says:

    This is some really great stuff you are doing! As a follower of Jesus that has found himself quite frustrated with “the church” and as an agile programmer, I think God has been showing me that Agile Church is much more like the church of the first century. In agile development practices, we value people over documentation, focus on delivering software the that works, collaborating with our customer on a daily basis and always being ready for change. Because our processes are very light (no committees, no heavy docuementation, etc), we can respond to a need or new direction in a single day.

    I recently went to an agile presentation that was able to explain the benefits of agile development and back it up with information from 2 scientific fields. This same logic applies to church, and I believe really was what Jesus taught the disciples in the first place.

    If we simply take the 4 agile core values and think of them in terms of the church, they might be worded: “We value people and relationships, we focus on doing the work of God (not “building things” for Him), we follow God’s leading every day (and watch for new needs in our community as they arise) and we value change (new areas in which we can serve).

    I have lots of ideas of how these seelmingly dissimilar fields go together very well, and I am hoping to pull these ideas together into a presentation or even a workshop in the next few weeks.

    How did your workshop go? How was it received by people? Would you be willing to post your materials for all of us to see?

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