Monday, February 22, 2021

Parish Leadership 3: Structure for the Future Not the Past

Building on my first two blogs on Discernment and Community, I now want to ask a question about Vestry Structure, namely, how then should we organize to accomplish our work?

We need to start with the current realities. If a church hired and organizational consultant who knows nothing about the church and its purposes, the leadership would learn an interesting fact about a church works.  (I am speaking about the the typical congregation with a full-time ordained clergy person and attendance between 80 and 150.)

The consultant would point out that the church seemed to be organized to do two things.  First, most of the energy of the congregation functions to provide a Sunday morning services.  That is because the consultant would have seen the altar guild, the servers, the acolytes, the ushers, the clergy, and the parish secretary working at this task. 

Then consultant would also add that observing the full-time ordained leader pointed to a second purpose. Despite the old joke that clergy only work on Sundays, the clergy person is involved in a multitude of activities related to their office.  The consultant also notes that between 40 to 50% of the church’s budget is used to support the rector.  The consultant would note that besides Sunday morning, the parish seems organized to support the work of the Rector. 

Of course, the consultant would also note that organizations like the church school, and the men’s group, and the Wednesday bible study for a smaller number of folks also happened.  Many congregations would also have some sort of organization to provide for outreach. but these other organizations and ministries would just seem haphazard.

All of this becomes even more interesting when we compare this typical parish organization to the stated mission of both the wider Church and a local congregation.  We would see the lack of congruency between the organization’s stated mission and its actual operations.  I have worked with congregations and Vestries that have complex organizational makeup but who have never stopped to ask the question “How would we best organize and structure our parish to accomplish the mission we believe god has given us?

The sad truth is that 80 to 90% of Episcopal congregations are organized based on how we have always done things.  And Vestry is made up of a committee 9 to 12 people who spend most of their time reviewing the budget and the operations of the congregation. In other words, maintaining what we have known and expect to know into the future.  This would be fine if our churches operated in the 19th century in a dominantly Christian culture but now our churches are in the 21st century among predominantly non-churched people.

How then should the vestry organize?

I said in the last blog how important it is for the Vestry to build community life and model to the rest of the parish this intrinsic value to accomplish the Church’s bigger mission.  What we need today is to stop what we are doing by precedent and take a more radical step.  This step is by necessity what new planted churches and communities naturally do to get started.  They are forced by low budget, no building, not enough volunteers, and an immediate agenda to organize directly around a mission and 3 to 5 core values. 

That is what we do in revitalization of congregations.  We start with the mission and because it has a history, we allow 5 to 7 core values instead of just 3!

Let me pause and say what this does not produce. It does not produce a Vestry made up of 7 to 10 committees or even a Vestry where all elected members act as liaisons to parish organizations.  These two forms are all over the Church and are largely, in my experience, a waste of time and energy.  The only organization of the Vestry itself that I have found effective is when the sub-committees are organized around the Vestry’s work. You will hear more about this in my next blog on practical matters.

So, I want to see that every vestry member has a notebook. On page one is the mission of the parish and its core values, and on page two are the current one to three year goals.  When I see this, I find a Vestry that is either doing its mission directly or are preparing to do so.

The Vestry’s primary work now becomes oversight of its mission and the work around those core values.  Organize around this principle and you will have what organizational consultants call Organizational Congruency!

In my next blog, I will discuss what this might look like, and in my last blog on leadership, I will discuss stewardship and the budget seen from the point of view of the mission and core values. 

Questions so far?  Do not forget you can email me at


No comments:

Post a Comment