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Prepare to abandon your leadership comfort zone

A single-shot congregation with a primary focus on Sunday worship can benefit from decentralized leadership.

The Sunday event provides necessary focus and direction. In effect leaders are functioning as team heads — music team, facilities team, greeting team — and the overall leader serves as coordinator of many lay ministries.

The Multichannel Church, by contrast, requires much more centralized leadership. Not the dictator everyone fears, but a CEO-style leader who sees the whole (Sunday and weekdays), sees the vision of what can be done (on-site, off-site and online), sees the many moving pieces that must be coordinated, sees the extensive communications that a complex enterprise requires and brings all of these elements together.

The Multichannel Church leader doesn’t function alone, of course. He or she works with an elected leadership group whose charge is the future, somewhat like a corporate board of directors, and a program team (staff plus volunteers) who implement mission and ministry, somewhat like a corporate managers group.

This kind of leadership requires some substantial rethinking by clergy, and it requires different leadership contributions by staff and lay leadership. Those differences can be emotionally difficult to pursue.

Many pastors prefer the host-coordinator role. It fits their personalities, and it is far easier to comprehend. Not easier to do — any church leadership is difficult work — but easier to get their minds around. We do this one main thing, we form sub-teams to make it happen, the teams know what to do or can learn, and the outcomes are clear: people like or don’t like the Sunday service.

Many members prefer the team-leader role. It, too, is easier to comprehend, and it lends itself to rewarding dependency on the team leader. These are my ushers, I recruit them and train them, and they are loyal to me.

Goals are clear — a smoothly functioning worship apparatus — and most work can happen within the limited span of Sunday morning.

The Multichannel Church steps on those toes. The pastor no longer serves primarily as Sunday host, but as chief executive of a complex enterprise. It’s still about mission and ministry, touching and transforming lives, but the work isn’t done by standing outside church and greeting people. It’s done in setting many ministries in motion, recruiting the right people to lead them, holding them accountable and serving as primary communicator.

Some elders must step back from trying to run the church and do instead the much harder and more ambiguous work of sensing trends, measuring effectiveness, glimpsing the future and making sure staff and infrastructure are adequate for that future. This is hard work, and it can’t be done by quickly scanning a monthly financial report and voicing some opinions.

Other leaders must function as a team, taking guidance from the overall leader, not from inherited tradition.

The future of mainline churches depends on leaders grasping the new requirements of Multichannel Church leadership and making it happen. It won’t be easy.