At ARC, we frequently encounter churches whose structure is killing them. At the other extreme, we also encounter churches whose lack of structure is killing them.
In the case of the former, the church’s structure no longer matches the needs of the congregation – either because the congregation has grown or shrunk, or because the identity of the congregation has shifted in some way. These congregations are sometimes described as those places where the church’s mission is to serve its structure. On the other end of the spectrum are churches whose mission – in part at least – is to avoid structures as much as possible. Most often a dynamic among “church start-ups”, these new or new-ish churches are often populated by people who have fled structure-driven churches and are determined to avoid the “structural sins” of the places they have left. Specifically these churches want to be purpose-driven, alive, Spirit-led, not structure-driven.
If, for just a moment, we image the church as a chicken, we might see parallels between the structure-free churches and Gary Larsen’s Far Side comic, “The Boneless Chicken Ranch.”
And, we might see parallels between those churches with too much structure and the chickens caught in a tiny factory-farm cage.
Interestingly, neither chicken can fulfill its purpose in being a chicken – hopping about, taking dust baths, pecking in the dirt… Similarly, neither churches without structures nor churches with too much structure can fulfill their purpose in being churches. The “Boneless Church” may have great vision but without bones to support its movement it cannot live into, move with or achieve its vision. At the other extreme, the caged church sees so little sunshine and green grass, if it has a vision it no longer remembers how to move its body to get there. And, even if it tried to move its body, the cage the structure creates over the church limits any chance of movement.
There is a third way, of course, a way where churches, like happy chickens, have bones to help them move and blue sky, green grass, bugs and dirt to let the church go about its job being church. In this third way, churches allow themselves to establish (or re-establish) who they are and why they exist. We often talk about this as God’s calling for the church. These churches allow themselves to grow the structure they need so that they might live into and even enjoy the identity to which they have been called.
What is the leaning of your church? Do you have a structure? If no, how can you build one in a way that supports your purpose? If yes, how does your structure equip or limit you with respect to serving your purpose? How does your structure open itself for God’s leading? Contrary to popular belief, structure considerations are exciting conversations. They provide us with opportunities to remember who we are and to dream about how to go about being who we are. Most importantly, structure conversations – when translated into action – give us the bones to move with joy into the purpose to which we have been called.