How would people describe your church’s organizational and leadership structure? Close-knit community–or secret syndicate?

Every congregation–and each ministry within it–takes on a style of governance that shapes its work and effectiveness. As I’ve worked with churches over the past 40 years I’ve noticed several different organizational profiles. Some work well for certain congregations. Some are disasters.

Take a look at these predominant profiles. See which ones look familiar to you.


The family-run church relies heavily on two or more related persons in key positions. It may involve a married couple, and/or their children, and/or their siblings. When the relationships among the family members are healthy, this style can work. When all relatives work in harmony and compliment one another, they can accomplish much. But, this form, to work well, requires an intentional objectivity. Other staff and members need to feel free to discuss one family member’s performance, actions and demeanor, without fear of mob retaliation. The family-run church can become clannish. You’ll know you’ve crossed the line when the community starts saying things like, “That’s the Joneses’ church.”


The celebrity-centered church focuses on the public persona of the top person–often referred to as the “lead pastor.” This individual typically sets the mission, drives the agenda, and centralizes decision-making. Without the encumbrance of others, the celebrity pastor can get a lot of things done, through expediency and laser focus. The celebrity, typically lauded for oratory skill, knows how to attract a crowd. But that often leads to an inebriation of pride, ego and power. Today’s celebrity pastors sometimes insulate themselves, appointing a big-government-styled “cabinet,” replete with a chief of staff, to keep the people at bay. And when the celebrity eventually steps down, the people may no longer have a reason to gather.


Some churches are closely managed by a select group of lay people–deacons, elders, boards or councils. This structure can provide continuity and congregational representation–if these people are seasoned leaders with a unified heart and mutual trust. They can provide valuable guidance and perspective to the paid staff. Or, sometimes they can become a cliquish gang, wielding power ruthlessly. Or sometimes, if the group is populated by selfish grandstanders, or lacks interpersonal trust, it can become an ugly riot of emotional outbursts. Little gets accomplished in that kind of atmosphere.


Some operate a church as a team sport. The staff, volunteers and members all view themselves on one team, working toward the same goal. When it works well, the team-oriented church recognizes and empowers the various strengths and specialties represented on the entire team. Everyone knows where he or she fits. But a good team needs a good coach. Without a good coach, or with a coach who loves the spotlight or won’t let the players play, the team can become unfocused and disjointed. And, sometimes a close-knit team can become so internally-focused it forgets to look outside the locker room to the larger world outside.


Some churches follow a highly democratized model. All members frequently come together to make decisions, large and small, for the good of the congregation. This process can help to make everyone feel involved in every aspect of ministry. Everyone can rally around a common, well-known vision and mission. But, this structure, with its layers of committees, can become so cumbersome that it slows forward progress to a crawl. Every little decision needs majority approval. And this style often attracts highly political operatives who attempt to manipulate public opinion through not-so-subtle campaigning and arm-twisting. And a democracy-weighted church can gag itself on Robert’s Rules of Order.

Sometimes a church’s structure becomes its very focus. People become devoted to the system, rather than to God. Ultimately, the best structure is a Jesus-centered one.

So, what have you seen? Which style of governance do you think works best (or worst) for the churches you know?