Sunday, November 13, 2005

Staffing Ratios

In the past we've spoken quite a bit about staffing for growth and staffing ratios. Jerry Lee Holt, pastor of The Edge Christian Worship Center (SDA congregation), in the Twin Cities is again pushing the issue with the conference. As you might recall, Pastor Holt is the one who sent up a sensible (yet inflamatory) tithe proposal to the Minnesota constituency meeting in April of this year (which was handily defeated, if not dead on arrival). At that time, Jerry was proposing that the local church be allowed to receive back a portion of its tithe so that it could effectively staff for growth (since the Minnesota conference will not).

This time, Pastor Holt is lobbying the conference directly for more staff. I enjoy Pastor Holt's approach, since it focuses on facts and figures and research. The following points are taken from a memo sent to his church board as preparation for his upcoming meeting with Minnesota Conference President Bill Miller:

Facts to consider:

1. Within the SDA denomination pastors, for the most part, have completed 4 years of undergraduate school and a graduate degree (approximately 6½ years of education). In today’s market this equates to at least $100,000 of investment in direct out of pocket expenses for the pastor and his/her family.

2. Across all denominations the average life span (total years spent in the profession) of pastors is about 8 years. The average number of years spent in one parish is < 3 years. These facts are also true within our denomination.

3. The ratio of full time paid pastors to MN conference membership (since the 1950) has steadily increased [sic - he meant decreased (lots of people don't know how to cite ratios)] resulting in more members/households for each pastor to care for. Membership is illusive. Better indices may be actual attendance and households.

Generally attendance is < 50 [percent] of membership. This percentage may be high, and certainly differs among congregations. But, it’s a fair benchmark.

According to the U.S. Census in 1955 the average size of households was 3.37 people. Today the average size of households is 2.57. Households have decreased in size, with the most profound changes occurring at the extremes: the largest and smallest households. The composition of households has also dramatically changed. For example, the number of households consisting of single women 30 to 34 years of age has tripled since 1970.

For the Minnesota Conference of SDA the following statistics are relevant. In nearly 55 years the number of pastors remains almost unchanged. In 1955 there were 31 pastors. In 2004 there were 30.

1955 1 pastor: 154 members (estimated attendance of 77— an estimate of 22.8 households)

2004 1 pastor: 220 members (estimated attendance of 110— an estimate of 42.8 households)

Note: Annualized weekly attendance at The Edge (YTD) is 206— an estimate of 80 households).

Finally, in urban areas the geographic distance between parishioners’ households has significantly increased.

4. The pace of work, across all vocations, but especially among “knowledge” workers has intensified. Cell phones, instant messaging, beepers, fax machines, computers, etc. have made access continuous and have created a democratization of access. In 1955 only those in the middle class and above had telephones in their homes. Today even pre-teens have access to the most advanced communications technology.

5. People have fewer hours to volunteer: mothers now work full-time outside the home; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics the average worker in the U.S. works 44 hours a week, an increase of 3.5 hours since 1997. In contrast, in France, the average person works only 39 hours a week and has several weeks of paid vacation.

6. Throughout North America, since 1950, the expectations for quality services and programs have risen logarithmically.

7. Pastors have no job description, everyone has a different idea of how/where pastors should invest their time, and there is no agreement on a pastor’s primary purpose and subsequently how “success” or “effectiveness” is defined.

8. The time model I created (see attached) fairly portrays the time many SDA pastors spend in ministry. It appears >65 hour work week results from external pressures applied to the pastor as well as internal pressures.

Pastor Holt makes a tremendous case for why he needs more staff right now. Hopefully, someone will listen. If we refuse to staff for growth, we're setting up our growing churches for failure (and setting up our pastors for failure).

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The New Adventist Boogieman: Congregationalism

In the days of early Adventism, church structure was mostly congregational. The Adventist boogieman was the Antichrist. In fact, early Adventists were so paranoid about the "Antichrist" and "Babylon" that they wanted nothing to do with "organized religion." Adventists were proud of their status as a movement (instead of a denomination). And they wanted to be certain that they got by with only the minimum organization. They were afraid that a hierarchical structure would cripple the message/mission/movement and mimic the worst qualities of "Babylon" and the "Antichrist." This feeling was so strong that, to this day, the Adventist church has "no official creed!"

Fast forward 150 years to 2005. The church is no longer afraid of "Babylon" or "Antichrist" or "organizational hierarchy." The new boogieman is congregationalism. Impassioned e-mails, speeches, and conversations are peppered with references to the "threat of congregationalism."

So, what is congregationalism?

According to WordNet, congregationalism is a "system of beliefs and church government of a Protestant denomination in which each member church is self-governing."

But aren't our churches self-governing? We get to select our own elders, deacons, and officers. We get to decide our own worship schedule, format, and style. We get to decide what outreach events conduct, how much advertising we do. We get to (have to) construct our own best practices and procedures.

What's different? We can't hire our own pastors. We can't decide what to do with our tithe. We have to support a (half-broken) educational system and a world-wide mission structure. But mostly, Adventism is congregational.

Interestingly, I know of several "congregational" churches that support the best (and fastest growing) private Christian schools in my community. Those "congregational" churches also support world-wide missions through their church budgets. Many of them commission and send missionaries from their local congregation. Those "congregational" churches have grown large and add value to their denominations.

I believe that Adventist structure was meant, originally, to equip and facilitate local (congregational) ministry. Now, however, the structure seems to be an end in itself.

What do you think? Is Ron Gladden's Mission Catalyst Network really much more "congregational" than Adventism? Should we, theologically, be more concerned about "congregationalism" or "hierarchicalism?" Is there any way to convert the Adventist structure from a ruling/governing role back to an equipping/facilitating role? Where is Adventism's proper place on the continuum between "congregationalism" and "hierarchicalism?"

I'd be interested in your views.

If you'd like more reading on the difference between MCN and SDA, please read Structural Issues, 1 and Structural Issues, 2.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Possibilities for Structural Change

My last post was about adequate staffing in local churches. How could we ever pay for it? It's a good question. How do other churches pay for adequate staffing? Without going all congregational, is there a way? In an earlier entry, we looked briefly at conferences stepping out in faith - hiring staff ahead of growth in healthy churches and seeing the tithe come in as the people come in.

But recently, I've come to the conviction that a large-scale structural change is needed, which would affect every level of church hierarchy.

Ever since 1983 (at least), serious changes to the Adventist five-tier hierarchical structure have been studied, proposed, and ignored. See this 1994 article in Adventist Today for a brief history of some organizational reform proposals.

One of the best recommendations I've seen was first introduced ten years ago, in October of 1995. You can read the whole thing at Let me quote a little of the article for you:

To mixed reviews, Alfred C. McClure, president of the NAD, reported the recommendations of the Commission on Mission and Organization, which had worked for the past one and a half years. He suggested that the unions and local conferences examine their operations and initiate creative restructuring in order to work more efficiently.

"We have been in the same organizational structure since 1903... Now instant travel and communication, CompuServe, and video conferencing have produced a different environment. We don't want to change for change's sake but should periodically examine the way we do business." Whereas the denomination formerly took considerable pride in its structural uniformity at all levels, now experiments in organizational downsizing are encouraged at the union and conference levels.

The Commission's recommendations centered around three related moves: (1) dissolving all conference departments except youth and education, (2) eliminating duplication of departments at conference, union, division, and general conference levels by having the division office serve all churches with an 800 call-in number, (3) organizing churches in the same area into a district and designating one of the pastors a district leader.

The commission, chaired by McClure, specifically recommended dissolving smaller conferences into districts, giving the leader the title of conference vice president.

This was the actual recommendation. Ten years ago. And it makes a lot of sense to me. Local conferences were organized back in the day of the horse and buggy. Sometimes it took 3 days to get from the church to the conference office. But modern communications and transportation make the local conference presence quite redundant. The union would have to bear some restructuring, but the cost would be minimal, compared with the cost of all the local conferences.

If the local conference were dissolved ("except youth and education"), think how much money would be saved on a yearly basis. I believe we're talking tens of millions of dollars every year, just in North America! Now, imagine what would happen if that money could be used to adequately staff the local church... I believe it would result in the growth of God's kingdom. And I don't believe staffing at the conference has that effect.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that those who actually have the power to reform the Adventist structure are the least likely to do it. They seem to have a vested interest in the status quo. Last October, when the church planters met with Don Schneider to talk about the future effectiveness of the church, Don wouldn't even talk about changes in the area of Adventist education, because those changes would affect his daughter's employment. Mind you, he didn't base his arguments on church growth principles or theology or logic or best management practices or a clear "thus saith the Lord." He just didn't think that would be best for his daughter's career...

I'm waiting for the day when the church decides to do whatever it takes to please God and grow His Kingdom.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

How Many Staff?

The last question on the RMC advertisement for the new Tithe Reversion Policy was "How many staff members does your church need?" We've visited this topic briefly before (see this article), but now's a good time to bring it up again. How many staff members does your church need?

This is a serious issue, because it's one the local church can do little or nothing about. A local church can remodel or beautify its campus. A local church can start new ministries and groups. A local church can decide how much evangelism and outreach it does. A local church can determine how much it wants to spend on advertising. A local church can implement a discipleship track and assimilation process. But a church cannot hire additional pastoral staff. Somehow the conference retains control over that one puzzle piece.

Does your conference know anything about staffing for church growth? Or do they just have a staffing policy that says your church has to have $400,000 in tithe per year before they add additional staff? You should call and ask them what their staffing formulas look like. You might be surprised.

So, back to our original question: "How many staff members does your church need?"

To answer this question, we go to a great book on church growth: When NOT to Build by Ray Bowman and Eddy Hall. This book contains an entire section on "inadequate staffing" (starting on page 53 and going to page 59). Allow me to give you some excerpts (all emphasis mine):

Lack of space wasn't keeping this church from growing. So what was? The greatest immediate barrier was inadequate staffing. This church, with a staff consisting of a solo pastor and a secretary, was averaging about 175 in attendance. For years attendance had fluctuated between 150 and 190. A decade earlier, though, attendance had regularly run between 200 and 250. What made the difference? More than anything else, it was staffing. During those years when more than 200 were attending, they had a part-time associate staff member in addition to the pastor.

The pastor of this church was stretched way too thin and he knew it. His hands were full just trying to maintain the status quo; he had no time or energy left to lead the congregation in reaching out to the community. This church will continue to fluctuate between 150 and 190 in attendance until they expand their staff. Only then will their staff have the time to move beyond maintenance mode to lead the congregation in reaching out...

How can you tell if your church is understaffed? We use as a rule of thumb a ratio of one pastoral/program staff member for every 150 in average worship attendance, with the provision that staff must be hired ahead of growth. This means, for example, that when a church with a solo pastor reaches or approaches 150 in average attendance, it is time to add a second pastoral or program staff member, either part-time or full-time, so the church can continue to grow beyond 150. Depending on the leadership style of the solo pastor, the point at which a second staff member is needed may be anywhere between 125 and 175. A church with two full-time pastoral/program staff members should consider adding a third staff member as the church approaches 300 in attendance, and so on...

How much support staff does a church need? The basic guideline we use is that a church needs one full time support staff person for every two pastoral/program staff members. A church with four full-time pastors or program directors should have two full-time support staff...

The section goes on to talk about how it's a mistake for the second staff member to be a youth pastor, etc... You really should get the book.

Does your conference know anything about staffing for growth? Are they willing to staff ahead of growth? Again, the formula looks like this:

  • 1 pastoral staff for 0-150 in attendance
  • 2 pastoral staff for 151-300 in attendance
  • 1 full-time support staff for every 2 pastors
Why won't the conference staff your church this way? You should ask them.

RMC Tithe Reversion Advert

This fullpage ad appeared in the most recent issue of the Mid-America Union Outlook. It advertises the new Tithe Reversion Policy in the Rocky Mountain Conference. It focuses attention on the very real need for local churches to use more of the tithe for local staffing and local ministries.

(I believe you can click on the picture for a larger version of the ad.)

Again, I have to applaud the Rocky Mountain Conference for taking the lead and showing the Adventist church that all power for change is in the local conference.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Rocky Mountain doing the impossible

Some Conferences and Unions have claimed that changing tithe policy would be impossible because every Adventist in the whole world (I'm paraphrasing here) would have to agree to such a policy change (In October 2004, Don Schneider actually claimed that all 1 Million North American Adventists would have to be in his office with a unanimous vote before he could pioneer any changes).

Well, Rocky Mountain has done the impossible. You can read the story here. If a church exceeds its tithe goals for the year, the conference sends 50% of the excess back to the local church (for the work of the ministry). This certainly flies in the face of those who claim that the conference is the only legitimate "storehouse" for tithe (while the church is a legitimate "storehouse" for offering... or some such thing).

You can read the whole new tithe policy here.

Ever since October 2004, I have claimed that all power for institutional change is held at the local conference level. May God richly bless those who are willing to create the future of Adventism, instead of merely waxing nostalgic about the past.

Will Eva and Corporate Adventism

In the most recent issue of Ministry Magazine (September 2005), Editor Will Eva writes his final editorial. He is leaving the "corporate" Adventist environment to become an associate pastor of the Spencerville, MD church. He writes that the corporate milieu has not been helpful to his personal spirituality. In the next-to-last paragraph, he takes an opportunity to lash out at the structure that will not hire an additional editor to the magazine's staff.

What's most interesting to me, however, is Will Eva's understanding that the local church is "where it's at!" And he heaves dismay at the complacency of the corporate church. In the exact middle of the article is a slightly cryptic paragraph that could be unpacked a great deal. He writes:

"I have to say that my degree of personal and corporate concern escalates further when I observe that things merely strategic and administrative seem to be incrementally eclipsing things prophetic and visionary, and the prophetic voice, so crucial to the life of a spiritual organism, no longer seems able or allowed to meaningfully address our administrative initiatives in the way it was actually designed to."

He goes on in his next paragraph to say how even a "sensibly restrained prophetic voice" is neglected and devalued, because it produces "group discomfort."

Ellen was sent to Australia. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern. Jesus wept over the Jerusalem that had killed the prophets. Is our current structure doing the same thing? Are we ignoring what God wants and what God is blessing, so that we can have things just as they have always been?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Finally Some News

I received this e-mail as a follow-up to our Discussions at Glacier View Ranch last October:

From: Roger Walter []
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2005 7:45 AM
Subject: Announcing: Church Planting/Leadership Conference

Hey all, this is just a brief note to let you know of something that’s coming up this fall. This isn’t a high-tech announcement, but we wanted to get something before your eyes before more time slipped by. The Adventure has been asked by the Rocky Mountain Conference and the Mid-America Union to host a Church Planting/Leadership Conference October 5-8 right here in beautiful Colorado. Things are happening pretty fast, but this will be an exciting time that is coming together. This is simply an introduction and an invitation to come.

At The Adventure, we just believe that the hope of the world is the local church and that we need more churches for more hope. Mark it in your calendar and come on out to Colorado – October 5-8. More information will be coming soon to an email box, or mailbox near you….

Make a Difference!

Roger Walter
Lead Pastor/Head Coach of The Adventure

Monday, June 20, 2005

A Different Perspective

The people at Former Adventist Fellowship Forum claim they have seen through Ron Gladden and his Mission Catalyst Network. They have done the analysis - looked at the requirements that pastors sign off on the SDA Fundamental Beliefs on a yearly basis, seen how MCN uses the writings of Ellen G. White, see how MCN is still teaching soul-sleep, annihilationism, and the Sabbath - and they have concluded...


While some within the organized church are howling that MCN might not be doctrinally pure, those outside the church are howling because it's just what it claims to be: "Same Cart, New Wheels"

In fact, many of them have insinuated that all of this is just a clever ploy to reach more of the world with the exact same Seventh-day Adventist message! One decried how MCN is just going to be another way "to attract members to the SDA church and its beliefs."

Maybe this woman's sentiment sums it up best: "The bottom line is that they still will believe the 27 fundamental beliefs." And if you don't think that's enough, try reading Project Sunlight again.