Monday, June 24, 2019

Does Your Church Board Track Outreach as Carefully as You Track Finances?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

Which is more important to God’s mission for your church: sharing the good news about Jesus, or managing church finances well? Hopefully doing the second option leads to doing more of the first-- but at your church board meetings, which goal gets more time and attention?

We’ve all heard phrases like “what you measure improves,” and “expect more of what you inspect,” and even “what you celebrate, you’ll get more of.” So, in our recent survey of church boards, we asked about three goal-setting topics. This is what we learned:

In other words, slightly more attention is fixed on setting goals for finances than on setting goals for growth and outreach.

Who is the exception? What kinds of churches (or under what circumstances) do we see greater focus placed on goals for growth and evangelism? I looked at 16 different variables and, sadly, none were the exception where setting/reviewing goals for “growth issues” surpassed setting/reviewing goals for “financial health/sustainability.”  

(1) Church size didn’t matter, nor did (2) board size.  Nor did the (3) senior pastor’s age, (4) length of time the senior pastor has served at that church, or (5) whether the pastor is the founding pastor. Nor did the (6) age of the church or (7) whether it’s multisite. Nor did the (8) perspective of the survey taker (i.e., senior pastors, board chairs, and board members all had the same perceptions). Nor the (9) size of the board, (10) how the board is selected, or (11) whether the board goes on an annual planning retreat, nor even if the board does an (12) annual performance review of itself or (13) of the senior pastor. Nor whether the board (14) considers itself highly effective or (15) feels it’s very clear on its roles and responsibilities.

My biggest surprise is that (16) growing churches didn’t register differently in how often they reviewed or set goals for growth. Whew!

There are a lot of “maybes” that could explain why the frequency of financial goal setting exceeds that of growth issues. For example; maybe financial issues change more frequently, and thus merit closer attention, whereas outreach is steadier and more consistent. Maybe you can think of other “maybes.”

What about YOUR church? Let us know your thoughts at and be sure to take the survey for yourself.

Take the Survey—And Get the Illustrated Findings
By the way, thank you to the almost 900 people who have taken our church board survey so far. Click here to participate! This survey is designed for pastors, board chairs, and board members. We value your time, so we’ve made it quick, easy, and loaded with incentives. Plus, for your efforts, we’ll send you a free illustrated summary of the findings. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

Should Senior Pastors also Chair the Church Board?
By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

In your church, does the senior pastor also serve as chair of the church board?
Whatever your situation, what is the best practice when it comes to the leader of your board?
We’re in the middle of a survey of church boards, and that’s one of the issues we are exploring. Among the 800+ survey participants, the pastor and board chair are separate people 53% of the time. Here are the responses so far:

Take the Survey—And Get the Illustrated Findings
Our survey is designed to help identify the best practices of church boards. It’s not too late for you to share where things are working well—and where they are not—for your own church board. Our survey asks the question, “How Effective Is Your Church Board?” It is designed for pastors, board chairs, and board members. The only thing missing is YOUR input. We value your time, so we’ve made this survey quick, easy, and loaded with incentives. Please take it here, and for your efforts, we’ll send you a free illustrated summary of the findings. 

Ways It Doesn’t Seem to Matter
Just because most pastors don’t serve as board chair, does that mean that is the better practice?

To my surprise, certain variables remain the same in either case:
The age of church
The age of the senior pastor
• The amount of churches that are growing
• The personal fulfillment level of board participants
• The level of reported board effectiveness
Even the level of board’s micromanagement

Two Big Differences
In other ways, the differences in whether the pastor is the board chair or a separate person from the board chair were noticeable. The following are two areas of large difference. We don’t know if one causes the other; that’s up for speculation. What we do know is that the differences matter. Here are two of the top comparisons so far:

1. Size of the church. The larger the church’s weekly worship attendance, the more likely it is that someone other than the pastor is the board chair. Stated another way, the median attendance when the pastor is the board chair is 350, and the median attendance when someone else is the board chair is 927.

2. Size of the board. Likewise, when ECFA’s survey looked at the total numbers of members in a church board, we found that the larger the board, the more likely someone other than the pastor is chair. Current results show that when the senior pastor is the board chair, only 18% of the boards have 11 or more members. When someone other than the senior pastor is chair, 36% of the boards have 11 or more members.

While these are the patterns, they don’t tell us which is right or wrong. There are rationales and exceptions for both ways. One argument for someone other than the pastor being the board chair is found in the book Lessons from the Church Boardroom by Dan Busby and John Pearson. In a section on removing dysfunctional board members, they observe, “These situations demonstrate another reason why the board chair should be someone other than the senior pastor.  If the senior pastor must personally handle these matters, his or her effectiveness in other roles will likely be diminished” (p. 114).

When was the last time your church had a discussion about whether it’s more effective for the pastor or someone else to serve as board chair? Please let us know your thoughts at

Monday, April 22, 2019

You're Likely to See More Financial Growth from Current Givers than from New Givers

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

For churches that are growing in their giving, would you guess that they experience higher amounts of giving from: (a) attracting more new givers or (b) inspiring current givers to grow in their generosity? No doubt you’d like to put energy into both options (please do!), but to help educate your planning process, which is more likely to generate the greater financial impact?

The answer is: (b) inspiring current givers, according to stewardship research conducted by ECFA. Churches whose giving is growing tend to emphasize strong teaching on giving, which increases the per-giver amount. Thus rather than expecting that the generosity of new attenders will mature quickly, these churches supply training in biblical generosity for believers who are already progressing along a pathway of spiritual growth.

All churches teach stewardship at some level. “Every church has a stewardship culture, either by design or by happenstance - a set of beliefs and values regarding an individual’s relationship to their money and possessions,” writes Dick Towner in his book Revolution in Generosity: Transforming Stewards to Be Rich Toward God.

The question is how much training do they do, and how specifically do they offer that training? The table below shows what churches with high levels of per-attendee giving said in an ECFA stewardship survey:

Beyond Training, What Else Can Be Done?

Even among senior pastors who are strong in teaching biblical stewardship, many need improvement in developing relationships with major givers, according to the survey. More than 77% said their senior pastor’s ability in teaching biblical stewardship was either extremely effective or very effective. Yet almost half (47%) said their senior pastor’s ability in developing relationships with major givers could be improved. Specifically, 53% rated their senior pastor’s ability in this area as strong (22% selected “extremely effective” and 31% “very effective"). However, the remaining 47% indicated a need for improvement (26% selected “moderately effective,” 16% “slightly effective,” and 5% “not at all effective”).

Translation: Just as you encourage those with gifts of teaching to teach, and servers to serve, likewise encourage givers to give (Romans 12:8). One way to develop relationships with givers is to set up a council of givers that meets quarterly or twice annually. Call it your Stewardship Team, Dreamers’ Council, Mountain Movers, or another name. Open it to anyone, but specifically invite those who seem to have the gift of giving. Over breakfast or dessert, share your heart and vision and thank them for their role in making it happen. Then continue by sharing upcoming plans, and dream aloud and together of what could happen as additional finances materialize to support those dreams.

ECFA Is Here to Help

We offer many resources that support the financial stewardship of your church. To start, see

See also these earlier blogs in the Large Church Trends series:
Smart Churches Assess Themselves - In Groups and Regularly!
Effective Boards Spend MORE of Their Meeting Time on the FUTURE

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Smart Churches Assess Themselves - In Groups and Regularly!

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

After your last trip, how many times did you receive a survey asking, “how did we do?” You get asked by your airline, rental car company, hotel, and more … but probably not by the one that’s floundering! Whenever you tell yourself, “I hope this company sends me a survey, because outside eyes like mine can see where they need to improve” – too often they don’t.

Likewise, churches that review their progress inevitably get better. If we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7), then smart church leaders are constantly examining the seeds they’re sowing. As management expert Peter Drucker taught, what gets measured gets managed.

Self-assessment can help that happen. One researcher compared several thousand pastors, dividing them between those who meet in peer groups to those who don’t. Her report title said it all: “Is the Treatment the Cure?” Bottom line: as the graphic below illustrates, amazing things happened when, as this researcher framed it, “pastoral leaders met regularly with other ministers or pastoral leaders in a small group for continuing education and support.”1

Introducing ChurchBoardScoreTM

Good news: ECFA recently released a free assessment that your church can use and discuss as a peer group—ideally as a church board.

Named ChurchBoardScoreTM ( this online tool will help your board evaluate its performance, giving you instant feedback from your self-assessment.

The best parts of the assessment feedback are the suggestions of very specific and practical ways you can improve. In fact, we’re finding that even those who get a high score tend to peek at the coaching tips to learn how they can become even better.

Don’t let the “free” entry fee throw you. This new tool took months to develop. It’s quite robust in the guidance it offers. We believe ChurchBoardScore will enable your board to have some lively discussions, to get better, and your board will want to come back in a number of months to take the assessment again.

Tip from research: Anytime you assess as a group, and then discuss and apply what you learned, you’ll improve all the more.

1Marler, Penny Long, “A Study of the Effects of Participation in SPE [Sustaining Pastoral Excellence] Pastoral Leader Peer Groups,” April 2010, presented to Austin Presbyterian Seminary.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Effective Boards Spend MORE of Their Meeting Time on the FUTURE

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

Think about your church’s last board meeting. What percent of time was spent on the future vs reviewing the present or past?

ECFA recently surveyed the nonprofit side of our membership (i.e., Christ-centered ministries like schools, pregnancy resource centers, and relief and development agencies). Here’s what we learned:

Want to increase your board’s effectiveness by 15% (as in the graph above)? Then spend more of your time in the future!

A new release by ECFA President Dan Busby and long-time associate John Pearson, Lessons From the Church Boardroom, makes the following proposal: Invest 80% of board work on future ministry opportunities, and allocate only 20% of board time on the past. Why? The authors suggest several reasons, such as enabling a board to focus more on leading indicators (ones that tell you where you’re headed) than lagging indicators (ones that summarize your past performance).1

Here are some other ECFA survey insights about nonprofit boards...

Why not review recent board minutes to assess what percentage of your valuable board is invested in looking forward? Better yet, how can you plan your next board meeting to spend MORE time focused on planning for the future?

For more great insights on church board governance, check out this recent release from ECFAPress, Lessons From the Church Boardroom, available here on Amazon. It contains a bonus chapter with a free self-assessment and helpful analysis for your board!

1Lessons From the Church Boardroom, Lesson 38, pages 204-207.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Welcome to Large Church Trends - ECFA's Blog for Large Churches

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

Welcome to Large Church Trends! My goal is to put fresh, practical, actionable insights into the hands of church leaders. I especially want to resource those going into the unknown – those trying new ways to connect the timeless good news about Jesus and the unchanging Scriptures to today’s challenges.

You might not know that ECFA has a well-established research arm, which I've recently been privileged to join. I’ve been described as one of the nation’s leading researchers of large churches, and this blog is a primary way I’ll communicate many helpful findings from ECFA and others.

Please take a moment to subscribe (see upper right of this page), or even to make a social media post like this: “Dr. Warren Bird, nationally known author and church researcher, writes at ECFA’s Large Church Trends blog. Visit to take a look or subscribe.


Warren Bird
Twitter: @warrenbird
Vice President of Research and Equipping