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Does One Size Really Fit All?
Church Structure for different Size Churches
 
I remember, as a young girl, the first time I heard the phrase “One Size Fits All” was on a commercial on TV describing some article of clothing--an article of clothing that promised to fit you whether you were a size 2 or a size 22. At least that’s what seemed to be implied. I vividly recall how I felt about this concept. I had major doubts. The first question that popped into my mind was, “How in the world could One Size Fit All?” Some of us are very thin, some are very tall, some are a size 8, while others are size zeros (just for the record I have never almost been a size zero).  However, after my momentary skepticism, I began to warm up to the idea. Maybe this is the wave of the future, I thought. It started to appeal to me that everyone of every size could wear the same things.  After watching a few infomercials and visiting “One Size Fits All” stores it was time to shop! I was ready to jump head first into that proverbial “One Size Fits All” box. After trying on a pair of one size fits all pants that were a bit baggy on me I soon fell out of love with the concept. In other words, one size didn’t fit all. I have since learned that the "one size fits all" usually refers to things like wristwatches, necklaces, bicycle helmets, military garments, and, in women’s clothing, open/flexible garments (which are usually medium sized clothes that are able to expand. Go figure.)[1]
 
As Theology majors, a group of us used to sit around and jump head first into this one size fits all box as well. We didn’t know it then. We were just innocent students enamored by the success and size of the biggest evangelists and the largest churches. We strategized and dreamed of how we would run our future churches. We imagined implementing the latest technology and running the most elaborate crusades and initiatives. We discussed baptizing by the hundreds. We diagramed and graphed how we would organize our churches. We envisioned doing relevant ministry and creating new ideas and concepts! Each one of us wanted to be like E. E. Cleveland, Carlton Byrd, Mark Finley, Fredrick Russell, and Dwight K. Nelson. Really we didn’t want to be different we wanted to be them! Our small gatherings were going to become Miracle Temples and Pioneer Memorial Churches.
 
It seldom crossed our minds that many of our first churches would probably have no more than 30 members; and half would comprise of one large family whose been in that church for 35 years. And for the last 25 years that family has gained so much influence and clout that nothing in the church seems to run without “the family’s” say so. (Does this remind you of the Mafia at all or is it just me?) We never thought about how the over arching organizational structure as outlined in the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, would impact ministry and how deeply those family members would hold it as law. We understood that we definitely had to function within the “structure” however; there was no way for us to know what that actually meant…especially within the smaller churches and unfortunately within some of the conference offices.
 
The reality is most of us naive, and zealous Theology majors were hit with some harsh realities, which have resulted into major frustrations (more than likely your story as well). The box that we, (or you), wanted to be in was not the box we found ourselves in. We realized “One Size Fits All” hugged a little tighter than advertized.
 
Gary L. McIntosh hit some frustrations early on in his ministry. Bob Morrison, McIntosh’s mentor at the time, suggested that Gary was the “victim of a fundamental misunderstanding and then he said: One size doesn’t fit all.”[2] From this concept Gary wrote the book “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church.” Gary was trying to lead a small church like one would lead a larger church, not unlike many of us across the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. The inverse is also true, that many of us try to lead a large church with a small church mentality.
 
Does a “One Size Fits All” organizational structure work within the diversity of congregations across the North American Division?  And if McIntosh’s argument is true,  we as a denomination have to be open to even bigger questions. You see Gary McIntosh suggests that not only should there be a difference in the organizational structure of a small, medium, and large church but that not every pastor who will successfully lead a small church can successfully lead a large church.
 
McIntosh outlines three different size churches: small, medium, and large and that each, naturally, demonstrates specific characteristics based on the category of size it falls into. Churches tend to naturally have similar personalities simply based on their size. A small church is defined as 15-200 members. A medium church is defined as 201-400 members. A large church is defined as 401+. 
 
He further purposes a central organizing principle for each: small church-relational, medium church-programmatical, and large church-organizational. McIntosh’s Typology of Church sizes is this: a small church is a single cell church, made up of only one or two families at the center of the church. Therefore, in a small church the leadership resides in those key families. The pastor is usually a “lover”. The decisions are primarily made by the congregation but driven by history.  A medium church is a stretched cell church.  In a medium church the leadership residues in committees that the original key families still control. The pastor is an administrator. The decisions are made by committees and are driven by changing needs. A large church is a multiple cell, a collection of families as opposed to one or two key families. Leadership resides in select leaders. The pastor is a leader. Staff and leaders as driven by vision make decisions. How does the structure work in the different size categories?
 
 “The governing board must change from being a decision making board to becoming a policy-setting board. In the medium church the governing board and standing committees most often make the decisions. However, as the church becomes larger, the members of these boards and committees normally do not maintain enough contact with the totality of the church’s ministry to be able to make day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month decisions. This falls into the hands of the paid staff. Likewise the senior pastor must exercise directive leadership. No longer can the pastor afford to take a neutral position. The pastor must have a strong sense of purpose, vision, and hope for the church.”[3]
 
This is significant due to the fact most SDA decision making comes through a board no matter the size church.
 
Pastor Furman Fordham, senior pastor of the Riverside Chapel SDA Church in Nashville, TN, states, “Not only do I think we don’t need one structure for all of the different size churches. I don’t think we should have one structure for every church of a particular size.” Pastor Fordham argues that there are several examples of different organizational structures in the bible. One being the Patriarchs, another being Moses implementing Elders to oversee the tribes, the Judges, and also the Kings/monarchy, these all serve as organizational paradigms in scripture.
 
Pastor Fordham is passionate about this topic and has written a book called “Mission Driven Ministry. The thesis of this book is that a church should organize based upon its mission. Mission should inform structure not the other way around. Furman asks the question, “Where did the burden come from for us to have one structure? Instead of proving to me that we should have different structures where is the proof that we should be or have a monolithic structure?” He contends if we believe that various churches have their own unique mission. “The church manual is too specific on organizational stuff. We are trying to micromanage the world church.” This is ironic because as Dr. Carlton P. Byrd, Senior Pastor of the Oakwood University Church, notes, the initial resistance to organization and structure was so strong that when a Church Manual was proposed in 1883, it was rejected. However, now some pastors may feel the Church Manual is too specific as it relates to church organization.
 
Pastor Fordham suggests each local church should define its mission by asking the following questions:  First “what is our mission in this church, in this time, and in this community?” Second, “how can we communicate this mission?”  Third, “How can we develop a ministry around each step?”  That may mean dissolving every other ministry in the church. Pastor Fordham states, “Every ministry would surround our mission.”  Fourth  “how can we  implement a support system for this mission?” Finally “how can we add a youth component that is based off the very same mission.”
 
But are there common elements in structure for all sizes? Dwight Nelson, Senior Pastor of Pioneer Memorial Church thinks so. “It makes sense for the church to be set up on a basic infrastructure that is common to all churches…basic structure is sound. It is sound if you reduce any particular church to fit that structure. One size would fit all in that sense”.  Nelson, however points out, not all churches are alike. He intimates there are huge differences that come to the body of Christ including size. He agrees that each church should follow the basic church manual infrastructure but it should be adjusted to fit the local church.  Nelson says as pastor he looks at the manual but also evaluates the world around him.
 
So where did our current church structure come from?
The Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) movement was growing so fast in the late 1800s, as was the world that housed the movement, that organization or organizational structure became inevitable. The church pioneers set out to intentionally organize based off of biblical principles.   The organization named the people that  the organization would serve, how the funds would be dispersed and a process by which leadership would be selected. As a result the SDA church has been operating under the same organizational structure for over 100 years.
 
Is it possible that our structure has not evolved with growth or with the “times”? According to Keith Jacobson, Senior Pastor of the Carmichael Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sacramento, CA, “We have a system born of a different century that many feel is flawed due to its inability to adapt to changing times and social shifts of which there have been many in our church's history. Fundamentally we seem to have an organizational pattern that addresses the 150-250 member church.”
 
For example, Jacobson argues that larger churches are assigned the task of mentoring interns, whose organizational structure is quite different than the structure of the smaller church that the intern will likely be called to. Currently serving as an intern myself, I can understand Pastor Jacobson’s argument. 
 
Jacobson suggest that it might be more helpful to place interns in highly organized/effective churches that model the "norm" for that conference. Do not place them in the exception- a place they have little to no chance of serving. 
 
So how should a congregation arrive at their ideal structure? Allan Martin, Associate Pastor of Arlington says “I believe the sheer diversity of congregations that transcends the sole category of "church size" necessitates considerable dexterity as to organizational structure. Assuming that there are no aspects of how a church operates that transgress our theological tenets or are outside of community-wide held ethical and operational norms, it seems reasonable that each church would carefully peruse the manual and glean wisdom as to what it offers as a viable template for organization. Then from there, it would be incumbent upon each church to cultivate optimal functional structures [NCD] for organization and operations. I believe that church size is merely one variable. Functional structures would beg a more holistic vantage point of a church beyond merely size.”
 
It seems the sentiments of these pastors are similar though they have each served as pastors of churches of different sizes, demographics and socio economic churches. Perhaps it would be best if there were different options for structure available for congregations. If the sentiments of these pastors even somewhat capture the frustrations and opinions of pastors not only across the NAD the discussion should continue. What do you think…Does one size really fit all?  Share your thoughts with me on our discussion page.
 
Rebecca Davis serves as Associate Pastor at Berean Church, an Adventist mega church in Atlanta.
 
 
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_size_fits_all
[2] Gary L. McIntosh, One Size Doesn’t Fit All (Fleming H. Revell, 2002), p. 16.
[3] Gary L. McIntosh, One Size Doesn’t Fit All (Fleming H. Revell, 2002), p.160