Understanding Your Church: Part 4 – The House

Steve Petty
Written by Steve Petty


So far we have looked at Cats, Collies, Gardens and that those three categories cover 80% of all churches nationwide. Now, we begin to get more complex.

If your congregation averages between 175 and 225 in average attendance then you are looking at a House. This is the most awkward size of all the churches. It is the most difficult size and it requires a great deal of work from the local pastor. Fortunately it represents only about 8% of all the churches nationwide.

Think of your house at home. There are lots of rooms and each room has a specific function. There is a family room, living room, kitchen, dining room, maybe a kitchenette, several bedrooms and bathrooms, perhaps a garage, porch, patio area, etc. Within each space very specific tasks take place. Food is prepared in the kitchen. Food is eaten in the dining room or kitchenette. People are entertained in the living room, but the family hangs out in the family room. Bathrooms have showers and tubs and sinks and WC’s. The garage holds the cars, the tools, the boxes, and maybe various and sundry storage areas. Just to keep things fun, it may have a garden, a couple cats and a collie to boot.

The “House” church is large enough to have very specific areas devoted to very specific areas of ministry. There is a much greater chance that the church has several staff with very specific ministry assignments. It may have a Choir Director, Organist, Office Assistant or Administrative Assistant, Youth Director, Children’s Director, and maybe even a Seniors Director, one or more custodians, gardeners, etc. Several of the staff probably have an office, either in the administration area, or within the area where their ministry takes place. It is probably not large enough to support a second full-time clergy with full benefits.

The pastor of a House find that their first responsibility is to be the leader of the Staff. The pastor of a Garden will be personally involved with every ministry and every member of the church. The pastor of the House is one step removed from that kind of personal involvement. It is likely that church members will have a close relationship with the staff members who lead the areas they are most involved in. Choir members may feel closest to the Choir Director. Sunday school teachers will relate most closely to their Director. Youth will have a great relationship with the Youth Director. Office volunteers with have a strong tie to the Administrative Assistant.

For many pastors, working up from smaller sized churches, this may seem threatening or simply wrong. Pastors of Collies and Gardens build strong relationships with all the people and are rewarded with the love and affection of the whole congregation. These pastors serve their congregations directly, personally, one on one.

The pastor of a House must learn a whole new set of skills and find a whole new set of rewards. Most pastors are not trained to do this and the result is that we have pastors appointed to Houses, who operate them with the skill set they used successfully with Gardens or Collies, and quickly move that church into a very contented Garden or Collie. It is an easy slide from a church with an attendance of say 150 down to 115. Money is tighter, staff are let go, until the size is comfortable for the pastor to operate.

The successful pastor of a House, will learn that their most effective roles are congregational leader and staff leader. Most of the congregation will know the pastor as an effective preacher/teacher. The only people who will experience the pastor in a pastoral caring roll are those who have experienced a personal or family crisis, requiring the pastor to step in personally. Over time, usually about three years, the whole congregation will have experienced this love and care either through their own crisis, or second hand through a close friend who has been there. When the Sr. Pastor is recognized as a loving helpful resource in times of crisis, the quality of their preaching and teaching is seen as more beneficial as well.

While this pastoral role must have the highest priority for a pastors time when the family crisis arises, nonetheless the pastor will see his/her most important role as the leader of the staff. In this role the pastor multiplies his/her care and leadership through the other persons who carry out the ministry and are directly involved with church members.

The wise pastor will lead the staff, encourage their creativity, listen to their concerns, and seek staff solutions to staff problems rather than being directive or dictatorial.   This pastor will develop a working style that allows him or her to have group time with the staff several times a month, and also one-on-one time with each staff member at least once a month. These times can be formal or casual, but they are critical to the whole organization.

The ideal staff will see themselves as a team, leading the congregation. They will not be threatened by the popularity of other staff, but understand the function of each job, and each personality in the overall ministry the staff carries out. The pastor must exemplify these understandings and constantly work to keep the whole staff on the same page; coordinating pastoral care appropriately, coordinating the church calendar to the best efficiency of congregational energy, and being a cheerleader for all the staff.

The pastor of a House will learn to lead the key lay leaders in the same way. It will be important to design an operational structure that clearly delegates authority, while also allowing frequent coordination and committee freedom to operate efficiently. Lay leaders will know the pastor personally, be communicated with often about the churches direction and their roles, and yet have freedom to work creatively with their specific areas and staff. Failure to make this connection to lay leadership can be fatal to the whole organization.

The pastor of a House, will need to be on site fewer actual hours than the pastor of a Garden. The typical work load might be handled some weeks in 40 hours, but more often 50 to 70. The pastor will also be able to take work home, getting out of the office for hours on end, knowing that the staff is on site and if needed, they will call.

The major new learning for a pastor moving up to a house is the critical role of delegating authority to the staff and lay leaders without micro-managing them. Not delegating authority competently will result in frustrated laity, staff and pastor;  the staff and lay leaders will find it difficult to trust one another, and sometimes openly express criticism of others and the Senior Pastor.

A well run House is an operation that can grow easily 5 to 10% a year net growth. But it will take constant attention from the pastor, as team leader carrying out the ministry and as congregational leader clearly identifying the direction the church is moving and leading the charge.

Most pastors are not prepared either administratively, pastorally, or psychologically to lead the House, so this awkward size church is typically in dangerous decline. Pastors who learn to lead a House will enjoy seeing people and ministries blossom before their eyes.

Do you worship in a House?

Steve Petty