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Congregational Support
By Dan Vis
September 25, 2018
Comments: 10

If you are serious about wanting to grow your church, you are going to have to think long and hard about addressing the question of how members get their support through the crises of life.

You see, in most churches, there's an informal, unspoken agreement between the pastor and the congregation. As long as the pastor is there to provide support during times of crisis (sickness, marital issues, teen rebellion, loss of a job, whatever), then the members will support the pastor, both through their tithes and offerings, and in terms of his programs and agendas. As long the pastor keeps himself available to meet these needs, things go smoothly.

There are problems with this model however.

First, it leaves the congregation pastor dependent, and deprives the members of the blessings that come with learning to bear each other's burdens. Rather than investing his time equipping members to care for and support one another, the pastor finds himself hopping from crisis to crisis. Often he ends up discouraged at the lack of spiritual maturity in his church, and exhausted from the constant emotional strain.

Second, it limits the numeric growth of that church to that particular pastor's capacity for meaningful relationships. Depending on his personality, experience, and skills, he may be able to maintain strong personal connections with 50, 100, or even 200 people. But rarely will a church on this model, grow much beyond that number. In fact, attendance will tend to rise and fall with each new pastor, topping out at whatever ability he has to connect socially.

While pastors should be there for their members at important times, (weddings, funerals, etc), God never intended them to be the sole source of emotional support for a congregation. What's needed is a shift in focus away from pastoral support toward congregational support. A model should be implemented which empowers the members to minister to each other, and allows for numeric growth beyond what a single individual can maintain through his relationship skills.

Existing Models

While most churches follow the typical approach of pastoral support, I've seen at least three different models designed to facilitate congregational support:

The SS Model
One model, involves transforming each SS class into a ministry team. Each teacher sets apart a small portion of the class period for sharing the week's experiences, outreach reports, prayer requests, etc. When done successfully, the classmembers connect to one another, and are encouraged to get involved in ministry.

This is probably the easiest model to implement because we already have the required structure in place, and these classes already meet consistently. There are some limitations however. Not every member attends SS, and an even smaller number arrive on time! Worse, the percentage that do, seems to be dropping! Teachers are often reluctant to give up a significant portion of their class to these kinds of activities. And the time allocated to this (usually just 10-15 minutes) is not really enough for meaningful bonding and sharing. There's also the fact, each member of a family may attend a different SS class--meaning they are all part of different ministry teams!

While it's a step in the right direction, this approach is unlikely to provide the level of congregational support needed to promote full member empowerment and numeric growth.

The Zone Model
Another approach I've seen used, is to divide the entire church membership into zones or districts, each under the supervision of a local elder. The members are sometimes further subdivided among the deacons and deaconesses. Essentially these leaders become associate pastors, and are made responsible to provide support to their assigned portion of the church.

At first glance, this appears to be a logical solution, especially if the church is partitioned geographically. But there are problems with this approach as well. It spreads the responsibility for care to a slightly larger group (the elders, and possibly deacons/deaconesses), but still keeps much of the church out of the support process. And elders are not always able to fulfil this responsibility. Older elders often have wisdom, but may lack the energy to provide adequate support to members. And younger elders often have families, heavy church responsibilities, and busy careers, leaving them short on time. Plus, there's no obvious time for the members in these zones to meet together and forge relationships.

With the right training and support, and the right selection of church officers, this model can help--but it also is unlikely to produce a full shift to a system of true congregational support.

The Small Group Model
The most successful approach I've seen in the many churches I've visited over the years, is the small group approach. And particularly, the Care Group model, which we advocate here at FAST. In this approach, multiple small groups are organized and each church member is assigned to a specific group. These groups meet together weekly for fellowship, Bible study, prayer, and often a meal. They plan ministry activities together, as well as social events. Between these, and the weekly meetings, there is ample time for rich bonding to take place.

The small group leaders are appointed through the normal officer selection process of the church, and chosen for their willingness and capacity to serve in this specific role. Elders can be assigned as mentors and coaches to these groups, but do not have to bear the primary responsibility for leading a group.

Group members going through some crisis in their life go to the entire group for support--not just the leader. Serious issues can be referred to the pastor, but most needs can be fully met within the small group.

Church members who do not attend a small group can still be assigned to one, and that group makes it their goal to include that member in their events. Members with support needs are directed to their group first. Communication is disseminated through their group. Prayer support is provided by their group. And the ministries of the church can gradually be transitioned to these groups. As more and more structure shifts that direction, there becomes more and more incentive to get engaged.

It's not a fool proof system. There are challenges to making small groups work, just as there are with any model. But it has the potential to fully shift a church from a system of pastoral support to a system of congregational support. If your church can make that shift, you will be empowering your members for service, and laying the foundation for numeric growth beyond the relational capabilities of the pastor.

And your pastor may just get enough of a break to take a quick vacation!

Comments

How important is it to transition from a system of pastoral support to a system of congregational support? How important is it to empower members? To extend the numeric potential of a church beyond the social capacity of one person? What do you think of the various models presented?

Posted by Qing Ling on 10/24/18
Thank you Dan :) you're pretty awesome too. All to God's glory amen?
Will do.
Posted by Dan Vis on 10/22/18
You are great Qing! Remember you can always request topics too. So if there's a tough question your church is wrestling with, send me a hint. :)
Posted by Qing Ling on 10/22/18

Yes had that managing ministries article pegged too Dan, thanks for tip!
Haha my Pastors get your emails direct already I believe, but I will still highlight specific memos when they relate to our church's journey... Which lately seems to be quite a few of FAST'S current topics! The memos are a great tool for prompting discussion. :)

Yes, FAST is really good at making Scripture RELEVANT. Praise God!

Posted by Dan Vis on 10/21/18

Thanks for sharing this article Qing, as always! Just hope your pastor doesn't feel overwhelmed with all the memos you pass on. :)

Since it's nominating committee, don't forget to share this one if you haven't already.

And thanks for highlighting so well what our goal is--trying to bring the Scriptures to real life in our day. An important and worthwhile goal...

Posted by Qing Ling on 10/19/18
Dan your monday memos are such a blessing because in it you dissect and make in plain language and clear structure and biblical references, a God-given model for how we do LIFE. the use of testimonies/case studies has a great impact in helping the rest of us envision the theory you explain come alive in a real-life situation. keep up the great work! i'm sharing this with my pastors to take to their nominating committee :)
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/27/18

Thanks for the testimony Dan. When you are able to get this model working, the results are indeed pretty amazing.

Did my best to get it out by Wednesday, just for you Lynn!

Posted by Lynn Badger on 09/27/18
So timely thank you
Posted by Dan Pratt on 09/27/18
Two or three years ago my family and I visited a church that was utilizing the CARE group model. We were in the area for three weeks and felt so welcome there. What a blessing it was to become close to so many in such a short time. (We knew nobody in the church when we arrived.) I don't remember who the pastor was or if there was even one there when we were there, but we still remember many of the members. A real eye-opening example of how CARE groups really work!
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/26/18

Thanks for the confirmation Deanna. Any progress toward the goal of transitioning from pastoral support to congregational support is positive, but the more complete the transition the better!

The Gateway church (which has grown to 4 or 5 campuses now) has operated for years using the Care Group model without any pastor at all. Appreciate the comment...

Posted by Deanna Dekle on 09/26/18
I agree. I have seen what you have described and it is true reality. It does take planning and willing hearts to make the shift. Thank you again for being able to put these in words and make it plain.

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