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Home > 2014 > March Online Only > Well-Oiled Machine or Well-Watered Garden?

In 2004 I was hired as executive director of Kensington Community Church. They had two campus locations, 55 full-time staff and 5,900 people in weekend attendance. They were effective. You don't grow a church to 5,900 people without being high-speed. However, one thing I immediately noticed was that they lacked efficiency.

Gardening Chaos

I saw a culture that was extremely organic. Having come from a military, business, and non-profit background, I quickly figured out that this environment was different from what I was used to. If this church was a garden (as some metaphors have it), it was very messy one, full of tall weeds, uneven rows of vegetables (some healthy, some rotten), underdeveloped soil, and a variety of rocks scattered about.

Meetings happened in the hallways when people were in a hurry. They rarely started or finished on time. When there were meetings, they were regularly interrupted or people wouldn't show up at all. Staff seemed to do what was "right in their own eyes." The administrators were in full-blown rebellion according to the lead pastor. When I asked for job descriptions, I was often met with bewilderment. There were limited processes to organize the work that needed to get done, reporting lines didn't make sense; (for example, the singles director reported to … the finance director), and HR policies were virtually non-existent. End-arounds were common as staff would get a senior leader to buy into their idea without consulting their department head first. The pain and frustration was high due to the lack of clear protocol.

Their organizational "garden" could have desperately used some posts and fencing to keep it all together. It needed to become more of a well-oiled machine and less of a messy overgrown garden. Their goal was (and still is) to reach 50,000 people over 12 area campuses by the year 2020. But order was needed to address the chaos.

The Machine Run Amok

On the flip-side, I visited a friend's church a few years back that was so organized it felt like a top-secret military base somewhere deep underground. They were also a large church. At times though, their efficiency got in the way of their effectiveness. Some of the leaders at this church would have equated efficiency with the will of God.

In this environment, human flourishing seemed impossible. It was sad. It was predictable. They took Paul's admonishment in 1 Corinthians 14:40 to the extreme, "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way."

In an overly oiled machine church, things are finely tuned. Each person is a cog in the wheel ; decisions are made at the top, and trickle down through a hierarchy. Stability is highly valued. There is little room for human error. Labor is clearly divided. Rules, regulations, policy, and detailed manuals rule the day. This is the world of paperwork and complicated "strategic" plans that collect dust. When I examined this church I saw flow charts everywhere, and people walking around the office like zombies. ...

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Posted: March 31, 2014

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