Systems are the Key to Sustainable Church Growth

In 2005, after a dozen years of working with students, we moved from Arkansas to Atlanta to start a new church.  It launched in 2006 in a movie theater.

Our church grew quickly in the first year —from a launch team of about twenty-five people to over eight hundred people on our one-year anniversary. That’s like a cute little puppy growing into a 100lb guard dog in no time flat.

A little after that one year mark, I had a mini-crisis, because I realized that we didn’t have any systems in place to deal with the rapid growth. We had succeeded in getting people to church, but we hadn’t answered the question, “What next?” How are we going to disciple these people? How are we going to stay organized?

We realized that we didn’t have healthy systems to sustain this growth. You might not get excited about systems, and if you’re a visionary leader, systems might want to make you drive your car off a cliff. But systems are important.

If you’re attracting people, but not keeping people, you could have a systems problem. If you’re launching programs, and changing them all the time, that’s a systems problem. Many of the problems we were facing were systems problems. We failed to realize that while systems were not sexy, they are a huge contributor to success. I was getting mad about problems in our church, but they would be repeated frequently because we were not addressing the systems that created the problems in the first place.

So eighteen months in, I went to work on our systems. I made a list of every system that needed to exist in our organization—things from how we hired and interviewed people, to how a service got planned, to how the truck was loaded. Next, we wrote them down.

It took us months and months and many meetings, but eventually, we wrote down every system in our church. We began to implement these systems, and do things the same way. It revolutionized the day-to-day operations of our church. People problems seemed to go away, because our people knew what we expected of them. Volunteers knew what they were responsible for and who to call in case they needed something. Meetings took shape because we knew the goal and the desired result.