Learning the Power of Systems

by | Jun 10, 2021 | Church Leadership, Church Planting

What’s a system?   I define a system as the process of developing and leading a church that lays out a process all can easily participate in the church life easily.  A system is an agreed-upon way of behaving and reacting.  A good system answers the right questions before they are even asked.


The starting question for systems leadership is:  What do you want to accomplish?


One trainer put it to us this way –“seek to master the answer to the question, “what are you trying to do to these people anyway?”  Too often leaders are stuck with clichés as targets that have little value.  I like clear quantified targets.  And then clear systems that help you hit the mark the easiest way.


The power of repetition can’t be overstated.  Propagandists know this. And every good teacher does as well. Clarity is not so easy to gain these days. Everyone is deluged with data. Communication has to be simple and repetitive. Often church speakers seek to be innovative and creative to their own demise. Not that we want to be boring or the proverbial broken record.  But it can take mindful repetition to get a pattern of church life across. And this is where recruiting systems, vision casting systems, and calls to action must be systemized to catch on.  Events have short-term influence whereas systems and organizational habits can shape cultures for long periods.


System-based leadership is the most effective way to grow strong churches.


Personality is great but personality strength often leads to unanticipated negative issues and short-term results.  Personality-driven structures can exhaust a group and leaders. Systems that are built around clear steps, targets and values work and usually give energy rather than drain a group.  One of the reasons the US church has struggled to reach our country is we have been events-based and personality-driven to excess.  I have studied churches with long histories of success and they are 100% of the time built around a systems approach.  Everyone knows the process.  No heroes are needed or stars,  just people who effectively carry out their part of the dream.


Too often we look for geniuses to lead. 


And we boast of our talent that drives growth. But the truth is both those elements are rare and will not drive the great commission.  Systems that the average leader with average talent can execute drive growth much more universally. And systems that are broken down to the level of the average layperson are even better.  Developing growth strategies that are shared by numbers of people each doing their part making the whole project work has proven to be most effective.


As a church analyst, I started noting over the years that the fastest growing and strongest churches were assumed to be led by geniuses.  But I found that in fact most (though for sure some were led by geniuses) were led by leaders of slightly above average talent who had learned the magic of repeatable systems approaches to church life.


Some of the greatest communicators I have seen have much smaller followings than leaders I have known with systems awareness. Clarity, repetition, and ease of understanding the mission to the average church member are going to grow the strongest churches every time.  I often looked over highly talented A students for staff people and went with hard-working B students so to speak.  I just needed staff with strong work ethics and the discipline to follow our systems. No geniuses or heroes need to apply. People often didn’t understand some of my choices for staff.


So what makes a good system?


I like to begin with a big picture mantra if you will. I chose a simple in one church.  We make “bringers and includers”.  A dear friend of mine had the mantra Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness.  A simple statement of the big target helps keep the tone and things focused.


A clear and common development of a picture of what success looks like is essential to developing a self-image and targeting the resources of a group. The problem with most churches that stagnate is what success looks like is either not agreed upon or there are too many ideas of what success looks like. Keep things simple. State clearly what hitting the mark looks like for your group and you will usually hit it.


One of the best descriptions I heard of in developing a workforce came to me this way.


An observer asked two bricklayers what they were doing?  One said I am laying bricks.  The other said I am building a Cathedral. One of the cement mixers was asked what he was doing.  He said, “I am making cement for bricklaying.” The other said, “I am building a Cathedral.”


An inspired church workforce isn’t laying bricks or making cement they are building a church, a cathedral. And every worker knows what their part is in building the big picture.  The problem with having a children’s church workforce that is just teaching kids is the big picture gets lost. Really an effective church is going to have a workforce that is reaching a city. Their part in the cause is reaching and training kids well.


So how can you get started in building a systems-based church?


The first step is doing the detailed work of defining every job that your church needs to be done to be a success. This is best handled by having your leaders write job descriptions for every job that needs to be done in their areas of responsibility.

This phase should include the following:


  • The aims and purposes of the department or ministry in the church.
  • A breakdown of the essential tasks of each job in the department.
  • An assessment and description of necessary skills workers must have for each job.
  • A training plan to pass on these skills.
  • A reporting system of progress and challenges weekly or monthly.
  • A clearly understood structure of leaders and workers. Reporting systems and support channels made clear and accessible.
  • A recruitment plan and system for workers that is disciplined and not needs-based but structured into the life of the church.
  • A plan for celebration and rewarding workers.


The last eight points are rarely handled well in most churches and that is one reason workforces in churches are hard to fill and are often left unfilled.  Taking the time to do these steps will over time cause not just a happier workforce but I predict strong church growth.

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