314. Institutional Complexity and Individual Complexity — Taming the Church Organization

Churches have their own kinds of organizational complexity. However, church leaders, whether paid or volunteer, rarely take time to evaluate the nature of that complexity and whether it might be simplified. When services to clients, i.e., ministry programs, multiply, organizational complexity grows. Adding employees also increases complexity. When a congregation moves into its own facilities additional complexity happens. The expectations that clients and employees have regarding technology also enhances complexity. Size does matter when it comes to complexity. Key leaders find more of their time absorbed in dealing with organizational complexities — costing time, money, and sometimes personnel.

Added to congregational complexity are the diverse forms of individual complexity that employees  and board members bring into the organization. No person is the same. Those responsible for creating coherent leadership teams among staff and church board members have to consider how the individual complexity  of each participant affects the whole team. For example, generational differences and perspectives will probably be at play in these teams. Male and female employees will serve on ministry teams together. Education and experience factors will influence personal perspectives. And then there are social, economic and ethnic factors. How employees and board members view themselves, process change, and interact with others can be produce an incredibly diverse, but complex set of responses to organizational complexity.

I think that communication becomes extraordinarily important in managing these two different but inter-related spheres of complexity. Individuals and groups engage and re-engage within a diverse array of decisions, activities, and relationships. Leaders seek to generate alignment with the mission, vision and values of the organization, but this requires incredible skill in managing complexity.

Church board chairpersons function as a significant leaders in the congregation and part of their remit has to include managing board complexity. In themselves they will experience a remarkable variety of responses to board members, board actions, board decisions, congregational members, etc. Simultaneously they seek to guide their diverse boards in decision-making regard complex issues that involve complex relationships. This is why communication has to be a primary skill that chairpersons possess and hone. The larger the team, the greater the complexity and harder leaders must work at communicating with the members.

When such leaders have responsibility to help a board relate to the congregation, complexities increase. Board members may have had considerable time to process a decision. However, those in congregation who will be asked to approve the resultant recommendation, will not have the advantage of this extensive process. Board leaders have to think carefully about how to help the congregation receive good information, process it, and then be prepared to make a good decision. This is complex work and exercising due diligence is necessary.

Another responsibility board chairs have in this regard is having occasional conversations with their boards about ways to become more efficient in their work. Efficiencies can be generated through simplification, innovation, redefining roles and responsibilities, etc. Often wisely developed and carefully implemented efficiencies results in greater effectiveness. For example, when boards engage in micro-managing it creates unnecessary complexity in the relationship between the lead pastor and the board. Finding efficient ways to delegate authority with appropriate accountability can relieve some of this complexity.

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