Understanding Your Church: Part 6 – The Ranch

Steve Petty
Written by Steve Petty

As we mentioned in the Mansion, it is very hard to grow a church thru the 450 a week average attendance barrier to the next size. The Ranch averages 450 to 1,000 in attendance, and while it represents just over 2% of all churches nationwide, on an average Sunday 20% of all worshipers will attend a Ranch.

The Ranch represents a major shift from the Mansion. A church that wants to grow into a Ranch will need to completely rethink the way they operate and make substantial changes.

Typically a Mansion exists in one location. While there is one head of operations, most of those operations take place within the confines of that one large structure. It may have several households, a few cats and a couple nice collies, and perhaps a generous garden out back, it still happens under the watchful eye of one Sr. Pastor and staff on one site.

The Ranch is more likely to be spread out. The substantial majority of the ministry will take place at the Ranch house (main sanctuary and offices), but a portion of the operation may take place in the other buildings and some even at other locations. The Rancher will understand that his staff has now become hierarchical and deployed. The Rancher relates to a team of foreman who oversee the on and off campus locations. For example: the New Life Youth Center may operate in a large house near the High School, the Happy Trails Senior Center may be near the Mall, the Bert and Ernie Pre-school may be on campus but in an entirely isolated location. The Rancher might have a head foreman (COO) and chuck wagon operator (CFO) who have large responsibilities for the whole operation. But the Rancher/Pastor will have a visionary oversight of everything.

It is difficult to prepare a new Sr. Pastor for this role. They must have all the ministry tools required to be the leader of a Mansion and then acquire a few more. The effectiveness of their ministry will depend on the understanding that they cannot continue to personally do everything they did before. The good Rancher/Pastor knows he/she is not taking care of a cat, collie, garden, house, or mansion, though all those entities may exist within the Ranch. He/she must make the leap to the new leadership role to be a Rancher.

There is a loss of closeness with a large percent of the congregation. The Rancher/Pastor has to build close relationships with key leaders and key staff leaders, but the demands of leading these staff mean the loss of closeness with the broader population of the church. Pastors who were successful with a Collie and are asked to make the quantum leap to a Ranch are most vulnerable to this sense of loss, knowing that they were once loved and adored by the whole congregation. This sense of loss may encourage them to try get to know all the people in the Ranch congregation. This may seem to be the loving and pastoral thing to do, but it undermines the staff delegated to pastor different groups within the church, and it dilutes the amount of time the pastor has to spend with key leaders and key staff. Either one of these can prove fatal to his or her pastorate.

Another frustration for the Sr. Pastor is the volunteers and staff who do not understand that this is a Ranch and must be operated like a Ranch. Staff who are developed within the Ranch are more likely to understand how it works. But staff and volunteers who have come to the Ranch from smaller settings may unthinkingly try to do things that were successful in those settings, or unconsciously try to whittle the massively large paradigm down to a more manageable and easily understood size that is more familiar and comfortable. Their ministry areas may be cats and collies, but they exist within the Ranch and their connection to the Ranch is paramount.

Planning the operation of a Ranch is best done in eighteen month, five year and ten year blocks of time. Finances are intricate cash flow operations that handle payroll, operations, and capital expenses, with well-coordinated financial drives. Millions of dollars are raised, saved, moved, endowed, and spent in the course of a single year. The annual stewardship drive is a large well planned series of events overseen by the Sr. Pastor, the CFO and many of the key leaders of the church.

People usually do not join the ranch as much as they join a small group within it. There may be a dozen cats; small Bible studies or ministry outreach classes. There may be a few collies; that 100 member Adult Sunday morning class, or the 75 voice Chancel Choir. There are some gardens; the women’s organization with all of its circles and general meeting, the Youth program broken into age groups for fellowship and Sunday school. People connect with other people, make friends, and build relationships within these areas of the Ranch. The Rancher understands that the ranch hands and the foremen really keep the organization alive and growing. His/her ability to lead, to earn the admiration and loyalty of the staff and leaders is critical in the operation of the whole ministry. Some churches that have grown well to this size and thrived with volunteer lay leadership when smaller, may falter badly, experience conflict within leadership, and experience severe splits because the laity are unable to make the shift to a staff led church. Yet few laity will be willing to devote the 40 to 60 hours of work it now takes to lead the various ministries.

The leap from the Mansion to the Ranch is a quantum leap. The operating structure of the church must change, becoming at once more detailed and also more streamlined. Few pastors have both the communications skills and the administrative skills to handle this large a church. Typically, the church grows to this size with one visionary, charismatic; take charge pastor who serves a very long ministry. When this pastor leaves the church it is highly likely that the next pastor will not have sufficient skills to maintain the Ranch; partly because nothing has prepared them for the immensity of the job, partly because all the successful methods that worked in the last church will not work in the Ranch. Typically the new minister comes from a situation that is much smaller, but at which they have excelled. There is no guarantee that such knowledge will translate into success at this level.

Many churches are now learning to look for a pastor who has served on a large church team with another capable Rancher. This pastor is much more likely to understand the full spectrum of responsibilities now thrust upon them and have experience with programs that will work in the Ranch setting.

Is your church a Ranch?

Steve Petty