Designing, developing, and improving church systems is the unsexy work very few church leaders get excited about.
Systems: How we get our mission done.
But the reality is: systems are simply how we get our mission done: processes, infrastructure, organization, and so on. When it comes to systems, think of the difference between George Whitefield and John Wesley, both dynamic preachers during the Great Awakening of the mid-1700s that radically shook England and the colonies. Whitefield became one of the greatest orators, a veritable rock star of his generation. Benjamin Franklin—himself, not a confessing Christian—described the effects of Whitefield’s preaching on the colonists in his autobiography:
It was wonderful to see the Change soon made in the Manners [behavior] of our Inhabitants; from being thoughtless or indifferent about Religion, it seemed as if all the World was growing Religious; so that one could not walk thro’ the Town in an Evening without Hearing Psalms sung in different Families of every Street.
Then Franklin described the sheer power of Whitefield’s voice:
He had a loud and clear Voice, and articulated his Words and Sentences so perfectly that he might be heard and understood at a great Distance . . . I computed that he might well be heard by more than Thirty Thousand. This reconcil’d me to the Newspaper Accounts of his having preach’d to 25,000 People in the Fields.
This was two hundred years before subwoofers. Pretty impressive. God powerfully used Whitefield.
John Wesley developed a system.
But John Wesley developed a system, a method (hence, Methodists) for developing disciples in a small group system that could be reproduced. Wesley believed the effectiveness of the revival waned because converts had no spiritual accountability, comparing their lack of training and support to “begetting children for the murderer.”
Wesley created a sustaining multi-generational system whose long-term effectiveness arguably outstripped Whitefield’s conversions, as impressive as they were.
Systems don’t have to be complicated (and less so in smaller organizations), but they do have to be clear about the process they are designed to accomplish. No matter how large a church is, questions like these—and this is not a comprehensive list—must be answered:
How do people who are far from God find him through us? (evangelism system)
How do we corporately and intimately connect with God? (worship system)
How do we help new people integrate into the life of the church? (assimilation system)
How do we help people grow into the likeness of Christ? (discipleship system)
How do we help people form safe and growing communities? (small groups system)
How are we recruiting/training/releasing leaders? (leadership development system)
How do we think about and plan together our goals and our future? (strategic planning system)
How do we make decisions as a church? (leadership/governance system)
How do we tell each other what we’re doing, where we’re going and why? (communication system)
These are all systems questions.
The answers won’t be the same for everyone, but they have to be thought through.
On a 10-point scale, how would your rate your church against these nine systems?