Wednesday, June 24, 2020


People Say They’re Growing Spiritually During Online Church—Will It Continue?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

Have Christians grown in their faith during the recent “shelter in place” days when church buildings were closed?

The answer is YES, according to a recent survey of 2,948 Protestant churchgoers.

Pew Research compared two groups: those whose church pivoted to online services vs. those whose church didn’t offer online services. Those involved with churches that do offer weekly worship online are 13% more likely to say they’ve grown in their faith during this time.
Did the online worship cause spiritual growth? Not necessarily. But it’s fair to conclude that online worship is in some way associated with spiritual growth.



Online Worship Is Here to Stay – Even After the Pandemic

Most church leaders have decided that their commitment to quality online worship services must continue even after churches begin to re-gather in person (let’s avoid the term “re-open,” which wrongly implies that the church closed during the pandemic). Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church and popular writer, calls this future a “both-and church.” Tan Seow How, a megachurch pastor in Singapore, says in his blog, “Churches now have two storefronts—physical and digital….The future belongs to churches who can do both online and in-person services well … [and] who can clearly differentiate the purposes, audiences, content and elements for both platforms.”

The most compelling reason I’ve heard for continuing a quality emphasis on internet services is evangelism. It’s not to keep people online, but to catch people when they are online! It’s an empowerment tool for followers of Jesus to help their friends check out their churches—a contemporary version of “show and tell.” Churches are also reporting that their online services are making geography irrelevant in their outreach: through online services, they can literally connect with people around the world.

The Next “New Normal” for Online Service Metrics

What you count and what you celebrate creates your culture. An earlier issue of this blog analyzed How to Measure Online Attendance. My main point was the importance of measuring engagement. Engagers participate by liking, commenting, sharing, subscribing, making decisions (salvation, baptism, new-here forms), donating, and more–and my earlier blow includes a list of ten examples of measurable actions that attenders can potentially make during an online service. These are responses you can count and celebrate.

Now I’d like to push further: online church enables you to measure (i.e., to “count” and “celebrate”) in ways that in-person church cannot measure as cleanly. Could these be ways that we can discern where and how the Holy Spirit is at work in the people we seek to serve? Consider these helps in digital discipleship:

Action to Take

Remember that relationship always trumps technology, as Church Anywhere’s Tyler Sansom says. “If you can have a relationship with 50 people online, you have more of a shot of ever getting them into your church facility, if they live close enough, than if you have no relationship with 5,000 people who each watch online for 3 seconds,” he explains.

If the goal is spiritual growth continue from online services, then I believe it will happen only if your online services and metrics “drive engagement” rather than “feed consumption,” as Carey Nieuwhof describes it here and here. Again, please see my list of 10 online church “call to action” engagement points in a previous blog. While there, see also the conclusion of that blog for how ECFA can help you!


P.S. Hat Tip: I learn from many scholars of religion. I found the research above in Ryan Burge’s recent article, Survey Shows that Faith Can Prosper in Online Services. Take a look at @ryanburge on Twitter. To track Pew Research’s findings on Twitter see @PewReligion.


Monday, May 4, 2020

How to Measure Online Attendance?



The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in churches at arguably the fastest rate in history! Back in 2015, megachurches led the church world in offering online church: 30% of megachurches offered an online campus experi­ence—defined as more than merely video streaming the service, by also including interactive features, staff involvement and online attender accountability. Half of the 30% had begun their online campus in 2012 or later. Roughly one in three (36%) of them had at least one full-time staff person dedicated to this “campus” which on average served a median of 300 persons weekly. Plus, an additional 18% said they were considering this approach, according to the same research report.

Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to find a large church that isn’t offering quality broadcasts with some level of interactivity, and on multiple mediums at that—such as the church webpage, Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo, and Roku. Whew!

If online attendance numbers are to be believed, more people heard the Gospel online on Easter Sunday 2020 than at any year in the history of Christianity. This raises two important questions: Why is measuring online attendance important? And what is the best way to measure online attendance?



What to Count?

At best, a church’s online presence is an on-ramp, says church commentator Karl Vaters. It’s the most important one we have during the pandemic, for sure. “But an on-ramp is not the endgame,” he affirms.

The danger here? Content consumption isn’t discipleship! It speaks to the same problem whether online or at an in-person church service. We’re not to be hearers alone, but doers. As James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Even more, we’re to be transformed and renewed (Romans 12:1-2) as we meet God afresh through worship, fellowship and teaching. The buzzword today for such interactions is: engagement.

Are You Offering Engagement -- A Clear and Constant Call to Action?

Consequently, I’m seeing more churches go beyond the “vanity metrics” of counting online viewership. In fact, many churches "count" their online audience size only as those who DO something as a result of the broadcast. Here are ten examples (all of which can be measured and counted):

“Go into our online prayer room after the service”

“Come to our ‘after party’ immediately after the service to meet other people and discuss the sermon”

“Download this resource for use during the week”

“Call a friend and [fill-in response relevant to the sermon], and then in your online small groups, tell each other how it went”

“Please let us get to know you better by filling out a digital welcome/connection card -- or text us your name”

“Take this online survey to find the way that you can best serve right now”

 "If you prayed to receive Christ, begin telling others by putting something in the chat"

 “Ask God what He wants you to give financially, and then do whatever He shows you -- you can give online, by text or by postal mail"

 "Like, comment or follow us online so that we can connect more personally with you"

“Sign up for a ‘meet the pastor webinar’ which temporarily replaces our ‘pizza with the pastor’ get-acquainted event”

People who do a lot of fishing have learned to try many different hooks, and to learn what works. That’s where your measurements and statistical analysis comes in.

How to Count?

The possibilities for counting are all over the map--causing many people to announce that their church has grown during the pandemic, but I'm not sure that's the case. Some count total number of views, including those that were there for only 3 seconds. Others count “quality views” defined as anyone who stays 15 minutes or longer. Others count only those who stay for the entire service? A few count whether people comment, make salvation decisions, or indicate other recordable decisions.

How many people are watching through each device? The industry standard is 1.7 people. For churches in particular, XPastor.org’s David Fletcher says, “Count 1.5 if your church has lots of single adults, and as high as 2.2 if you have lots of young families. Anything higher than 2.5 is probably speaking evangelistically—based on current metrics.” That said, according to a recent Barna ChurchPulse poll (a convenience sample, not a true representative sample), 23% of churches use a multiplier, and the average multiplier is 2.3.

Or you can follow the example of some churches, such as Atlanta’s Renovation Church which has a “Click to Watch Online” step that specifically asks you how many are viewing, and anything else viewers want to share about themselves. That’s one way to have an answer with integrity!

“Don’t be one-dimensional by measuring only one number,” says Kenny Jahng in an interview with Carey Nieuwhof. “Use as many numbers as you can to work toward greater engagement.”

Here’s how one of ECFA’s member churches, Mill City Church, measures their online participation:


As Justin Steinhart, Pastor of Administration explains, "One of the things we felt very intentional about in our online gatherings was that we wanted them to reflect the current state in which we lived. We wanted to have a high production value, but also not feel overly produced or to make it seem as though church hasn't changed along with the rest of the world. So while the message hasn't changed, the medium and the method has; for us this looked like filming in homes, outside for Easter, or having announcements look as though the person was "zooming" in. Having this vision for our online gatherings, then helped us to determine what we wanted to measure. We currently use Vimeo for our streaming services, and they, like most others, provide a number of statistics that you can almost get lost in. We decided to narrow our measurements on a few areas and additionally include some we found interesting:

• Regional views - we wanted to know, who of those within physical distance of attending our previously in-person gatherings, were continuing to join us online.

• Average Watched - this percentage represents the furthest point in the timeline a video is played per person divided by the total length of the video.

• Finishes - this number represents the people that watched the whole video from beginning to end.

• National and International - We found the inclusion of these numbers interesting, as they help us understand just how far of a digital reach we're currently having.

We intentionally left off impressions from our measurements (the number of times the player is loaded with the video), because while those numbers are fun to see (upwards of 10,000 or more), they didn't necessarily give us a good overall picture of the data we were looking for in terms of trying to measure online attendance/views."

ECFA Can Help You Do Other Integrity Standards Well

If this blog has interested you, it’s perhaps because you have a heart for reaching people, a desire to see growth, an interest in good metrics, and a value of integrity of reporting. All four of those themes match the kind of church that receives certification from ECFA. Several hundred churches are among our membership, including around 50 of the nation’s largest-attendance churches. 

Not only does ECFA certification show that you’re aligned with our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship, but we also equip your team in how to do integrity well. Our webinars, ebooks, podcasts and more cover the kind of topics you see in the graphic below.

Plus, this is an especially great time to learn more since we’re currently waiving the $500 application fee and providing 50% off the 2020 certification fee. Thanks to a generous grant from our friends at Lilly Endowment, ECFA is able to provide this opportunity to churches who are interested in becoming ECFA certified.  For more information on the “why” and “how” of certification, click here: https://www.ecfa.church/JoinECFA.aspx or email apply@ecfa.org.




Monday, April 20, 2020

37% of Church Boards “Never” Talk about Pastoral Succession


By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

Did you hear about the senior pastor who just got hired by Zoom video? It was at a church I had previously chronicled as America’s oldest megachurch—Chicago’s 156-year-old Moody Church. It has stayed above the 2,000-attendance mark for more of its years than any other U.S. congregation.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, their pastoral candidate preached to the congregation online (using Zoom video). That was followed by a virtual question and answer session. Then the church held a “virtual” congregational meeting to conduct the vote (via Survey Monkey). "At the Vanderbloemen Search Group, we have helped thousands of churches find their pastor, but last weekend was the first time I saw a virtual pastoral election," said William Vanderbloemen, who oversaw the search.

I just exchanged emails to congratulate the new pastor. Philip Miller, age 38, is becoming the 17th senior pastor at Moody Church. He follows Erwin Lutzer who resigned at age 75 after a 36-year run. That will be quite a shift for the church! (The transition period was helped by Ed Stetzer, age 53, who served as interim teaching pastor.)

Certainly, succession planning does not apply only to retirement.  Many pastors will have multiple succession experiences across their working life, as will their church boards.

Sadly, however, 37% of church boards say they have had zero conversations about a pastoral succession plan across the last two years. This finding comes from a 2019 ECFA survey of pastors and church board members that drew 727 responses to that question (full report here).

What about Church Boards that DO Discuss Pastoral Succession?

Of those churches boards who do talk about succession, the table below shows some of the variations:




















63% of Other Christ-Centered Nonprofits Lack a Written Succession Plan

Churches are not alone in being ill-prepared for succession. Here’s what another recent ECFA survey told us, when we polled ECFA members other than local churches. We asked: Does your board have a written succession plan in the event of the CEO's death, long-term illness, or unexpected resignation? 63% said no (2018 data, see full report here). We also asked the related questions seen in the table below:














What Tools Can Help When It’s Time to Explore Succession?

According to yet another survey, 1 in 4 (27%) of charity CEOs plan on leaving in the next three years. (2017 Boardsource survey, page 58). Some will be retirement, but others will leave “mid-career,” perhaps moving to another charity.

Whatever your situation, here are some tools that can help you prepare for succession:

1. FOR NONPROFITS: See ECFA.org/succession for series #4 on succession planning.
With four short and informative videos, this toolkit highlights 11 principles that boards must address to be prepared for emergency and long-term successions. A 20-page Board Member Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide can be downloaded and photocopied for each board member and is perfect for brief board development segments at board meetings (one video per board meeting) or for your next board retreat.
2. FOR CHURCHES: The book Next: Pastoral Succession that Works, expanded and updated edition (April 2020) by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird.
Packed with new research, new interviews and highly practical solutions, this book directly addresses the questions most pastors and boards have about succession, and offers step-by-step guidance in what to do—including the advice, “start far sooner than you think you should!”

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What Are the Best Books about Large Churches?


By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

The best way to learn about large or growing churches is to visit one, participating in a worship service either in person or via the internet. The larger the church, the more likely it is to host an online campus with opportunities for online participants to interact rather than merely view it.


The second-best approach is to read about them. To me the most inspiring, practical, and engaging books are those about specific churches. My bookshelf is full of these profiles. Perhaps the best-known is Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church, which tells the story of Saddleback Church, but lots of other large-church pastors have written books that include the story of the church they serve.

 
My latest co-authored book is one of those profiles, titled Liquid Church: Six Powerful Currents to Saturate Your City for Christ. The lead author is Pastor Tim Lucas, who planted a church that grew in 12 years to 5,000 people, had 2,400 baptisms, and has had amazing community impact. (And yes, Liquid Church is an ECFA-accredited member, as are about half of America’s 100-largest churches.)

I’ve learned much from reading various “how God built this” stories, including historic ones. On my nightstand, for example, is the autobiography of America’s best-known pastor of the late 1800s, T. De Witt Talmage, pastor of the world’s biggest Protestant church—in 1892. Fascinating. Another book I co-authored profiled the first American megachurch to grow largely by small groups: On-Purpose Leadership: Multiplying Your Ministry by Becoming a Leader of Leaders by Dale Galloway with Warren Bird. (Megachurches are congregations with weekly worship attendance of 2,000 and more including children.)

If you wanted a baker’s dozen of other books profiling U.S. megachurches, here’s a list in no particular order:

Deep and Wide, by Andy Stanley

The Journey of T.D. Jakes, by Richard Young

The Rise of Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church, by Richard Young

The Blessed Life, by Robert Morris

When God Builds a Church, by Bob Russell

The Church that Never Sleeps, by Matthew Barnett

The Old Church Downtown: An Incomplete History of The First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, by Jack Hyles

Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy, by Macel Falwell

Goliath: The Life of Robert Schuller, by James Penner

Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement, by Dave and Jon Ferguson (Community Christian Church)

Harvest: The Amazing Story of Calvary Chapel, by Chuck Smith and Tal Brooke (Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa)

Vision Lost and Found: Story of a Church that Got Stuck but Didn’t Stay There, by Tim Stevens (Granger Community Church)

Go BIG: Lead Your Church to Explosive Growth, by Bill Easum and Bil Cornelius

In addition, there are many books about how a church grows from smaller to larger, such as How to Break Growth Barriers by Carl George and Warren Bird. See also Tony Morgan's Unstuck Church, Mac Lake's Multiplication Effect, Gary McIntosh's One Size Doesn't Fit All, and Dave Ferguson's Hero Maker.

Bigger Story Is Overseas

The world’s largest-attendance churches, by far, are overseas, as a “Global Megachurch” list that I managed for years at Leadership Network demonstrates (see leadnet.org/world). As with U.S. churches, there are many English-language books about individual churches, such as More than Numbers by Paul Yonggi Cho and Growing the World’s Largest Church by Karen Hurston.

One of the more recent ones is an overview titled Ten of the Largest Church Ministries Aggressively Touching the World, by Elmer Towns. Dr. Towns co-founded Jerry Falwell’s megachurch, Thomas Road Baptist Church, and also Liberty University. He is one of our nation’s earliest and most prolific writers about large, growing churches and Sunday schools (in most churches the Sunday school had a larger attendance than the worship service until the 1960s).   

An ECFA Contribution: Better Church Boards

I sense a growing interest among larger churches in how to better utilize their main church board. On the negative side, nearly every headline-making problem in a large church circles back, at some point, to the question, “Why didn’t the board help prevent this disaster?” On the positive side, I haven’t yet found a thriving larger church where the board wasn’t healthy and meaningfully supporting the pastoral staff.

One of ECFA’s specialties is governance, stemming from our commitment to excellence, integrity and appropriate transparency in leadership. In recent months we’ve released new tools for governance, applicable to any size of church, but especially needed in larger churches.

While our website provides many governance resources, let me mention two books and a board-assessment diagnostic:

1.     Lessons from the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance. Imagine saying to a board member, “Pick one of the short lessons in this book on how we can become a better board, and at our next board meeting take 5 minutes to teach it, and then we’ll discuss it.” If you do that meeting after meeting, your board will increasingly improve! Of course, you can also give a copy to each board member to read on their own.

2.     ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance contains 22 time-saving, tested, and well-developed resources. Do you have an orientation process for new board members? An assessment for the senior pastor or for the board? A board policies manual? Annual affirmation statements for board members? They’re all here, and more.

3.     ECFA ChurchBoardScoreTM is easy to use, unique and insightful, and it offers immediate feedback. It’s designed to help your board evaluate its performance, and then show how to improve in areas where you’re weak or uncertain.

It’s a quick process: you sign in, and then fill out about six questions in six sections—around 36 questions total. You immediately see your score on each of the six elements, and you can save the findings onto your computer, or print them out for group discussion in your boardroom.

Then the best part of the scoring is the wealth of very specific suggestions about how to improve. Each topic has a “why this matters” section with a short teaching from Dan Busby, and then you’re also pointed to specific ECFA resources, mostly ECFA books or free downloads, that enable you to learn and grow.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

What Do We Know about Mid-Size Churches?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.


Much has been written about megachurches—those that consistently draw 2,000 or more adults and children each week. In fact, my last blog in this series (see here) highlighted some of the “health” trends among the country’s roughly 1,750 megachurches. They represent roughly 5 million people each week.

But another group of churches draws an even more sizable crowd. Some 15-20 million people attend churches in the 500-1,999 range—the mid-size churches. If we profiled them, what would we learn?

Good news: I helped create a profile in 2015 (see the full report here), and ECFA has joined an effort to create an updated profile for 2020.

The back story to this research is how the largest-scale national study of U.S. churches occurs every 5 years (2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and now 2020). It covers churches from 5 people to over 50,000 in weekly worship. It was my privilege in 2010 and 2015 to be involved with the large church (500-1999) and megachurch (2000-up) portions of the research – and for the 2020 version, ECFA will be joining as a research partner.

Here are highlights from our earlier study of the growth, vitality and leadership of churches in the 500-1,999 attendance range:

• Just over two thirds of the weekly attenders are under age 50.
• Over a third of the congregations are multiracial.
• At least three-quarters report the use of small groups as central to their spiritual formation strategy.
• Nearly 7 out of 10 churches are currently led by the senior pastor under whose tenure the most dramatic growth occurred.
• Nearly 7 out of 10 offer a formal internship program.
• Half of these churches were founded since 1964.
• Far more (67%) are growing than declining.
• Multisite churches are growing at a far faster rate than single-site churches.
• Largest worship seating capacity for churches in this size range is 750 (median).
• Nearly every church (99%) had multiple weekend worship services with roughly half (49%) saying these services varied by style or type.


Want More On Church Boards?


ECFA conducted a national study of church boards and released the findings in an illustrated free download titled Unleashing Your Church Board’s Potential: Comprehensive Report from ECFA’s National Survey of Church Boards, by Warren Bird, 46 pages. Please take a look, learn from it, discuss it, and let us know your thoughts about it. For additional materials on church boards, see the bottom half of my blog titled “What Are the Best Resources for Large Churches?” Finally, please do subscribe to this blog so that we can keep you current on future research findings.

 ECFA.church/surveys



Thursday, February 6, 2020

What Are the Biggest “Health” Trends in Large Churches?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

The largest-scale national study of U.S. churches occurs every 5 years (2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and now 2020). It covers churches from 5 people to over 50,000 in weekly worship. It was my privilege in 2010 and 2015 to be involved with the large church (500-1999) and megachurch (2000-up) portions of the research – and now for the 2020 version, ECFA will be joining as a research partner.

Curious about what we learned? For 2015, here were some of the biggest findings for megachurches:

The more intentional a church is about small groups, the greater the spiritual vitality. In one part of the survey we asked churches how intentional the church was in engaging people in small groups. An amazing 79% said it’s “central” to their discipleship strategy. A median of 40% of adults in megachurches are involved in a small group. In another question we asked the extent to which they agree/disagree that their church is “spiritually vital and alive.” Then we compared the two response groups.

The more the global mission emphasis, the higher the per-capita giving. We asked churches which of three categories would best describe their global mission emphasis. Is there “some” emphasis? Is there “a lot” of emphasis? Or is global mission “our church’s specialty”? Then we calculated per-capita giving (total giving to all funds divided by worship attendance). The clear and unmistakable trend was that churches with greater emphasis on missions see higher financial giving.

The greater the emphasis on personal accountability, the greater the participation. We learned this by asking churches for their “approach to how members hold each other accountable for active participation and living out one’s faith in daily life.” Options ranged from “no emphasis” to “important and regular practice.” Other questions asked about levels of participation. Bottom line: churches that implement intentional systems of member accountability show significantly higher levels of participation.

The more intentionality about engaging young adults, the greater percentage of them in the congregation. In the typical megachurch, 1 in 5 people (20%) are ages 18-34, and 1 in 4 (28%) are ages 35-49. Contrary to stereotypes, large churches are successfully attracting young adults—both Millennials and GenX. Stated in research terms, the more intentional a church is about reaching young adults, the bigger the percentage of the attenders that they represent.

Members are coming less frequently. As with all church sizes, regular participants are attending worship services less frequently. This is a question tracked in the 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015 survey—and will be in the 2020 version. When we asked a church its weekly worship attendance and then compared that number to its total number of participants, the percentage keeps inching down. For 2015, it was 82%.




Want More On Church Boards?


ECFA conducted a national study of church boards and released the findings in an illustrated free download titled Unleashing Your Church Board’s Potential: Comprehensive Report from ECFA’s National Survey of Church Boards, by Warren Bird, 46 pages. Please take a look, learn from it, discuss it, and let us know your thoughts about it. For additional materials on church boards, see the bottom half of my blog titled “What Are the Best Resources for Large Churches?” Finally, please do subscribe to this blog so that we can keep you current on future research findings.


ECFA.church/surveys


Monday, September 30, 2019

What Size Should Your Church Board Be?


By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

“The key to effective leadership in the vast majority of today’s churches lies as much with their governing boards as it does with their pastor.”[1] Would you agree or disagree?

ECFA believes that governance boards are essential to the success of churches. Every church has a board with legal responsibilities related to strategy, operations, and policies. Its focus includes the church’s mission and funding. This board often holds the pastor accountable for annual or short-term goals or sets the senior pastor’s compensation. Such a board must act if the church wanders off mission, financially mismanages its various accounts, or violates its organizational charter in other ways.

ECFA recently conducted a survey of church boards. It drew 881 participants from many types of churches. They represented a broad range of church sizes, church ages, geographies, denominations and traditions. The pastors, board members, and others at these churches offered many great ideas, and we look forward to sharing them with you along with other ECFA research findings here.

Is There an Ideal Size for a Board?

In an earlier blog (here), I argued for church boards made up of 5 people minimum, at least 3 of whom could be considered “independent.” According to our survey findings, the optimal size from boards rating themselves as highly effective is 7 or 8 people, with boards close in size rating themselves almost as highly, such as 5 or 6 people, or 9 or 10 people. However, at 4 or fewer board members, board effectiveness is lower, and decidedly so. And on the other side, unfortunately our survey offered only large-board options of “9 members,” “10 members,” and “11 or more members.” Perhaps if we had offered even more specific choices—“11 members,” “12 members,” “13 members,” etc.—we might found a higher specific line of demarcation—perhaps 12 members or higher, for example—where effectiveness decidedly declines.  

If a church has an attendance of 2,000 and higher, add one person to all the numbers above. Thus the optional size for megachurch boards that rate themselves as highly effective is 8 or 9 people.



Frequency of Meeting

Three quarters (76%) of church boards in our survey meet in person 10 or more times a year. This meeting frequency does not change with church size. Church board effectiveness drops sharply when boards meet fewer than 4 times a year.

The typical board meeting runs 2 hours. Smaller churches have slightly shorter meetings, and larger churches have slightly longer meetings.

Length of Term

Do board members have term limits? The larger the church, the more likely it is to have term limits. In larger churches with attendances of 2,000 and higher, those who said yes to term limits are 79% vs. 21% no. For those who have term limits, the median length of board service is 6 years, and the average is 5.3 years. These numbers do not meaningfully change with church size.

In church boards that rate themselves as very effective and also have term limits, the most common pattern is for someone to serve 6 consecutive years and then be required to rotate off the board for at least a year.

How Board Members Are Selected

The majority of boards in our survey were selected by congregational vote. However, self-perpetuating boards—those that nominate or decide on new members—were more likely to be boards that describe themselves as highly effective. Why? Maybe congregational votes alone almost never generate the best selection of board members.

What to Call Your Board

What do church boards call themselves? Names are all over the map. In ECFA’s survey, the most popular terms were Elder Board and Church Board. The larger the church, the more likely it was to use the term Board of Trustees.

Make the time and effort necessary to pursue excellence in church governance! And if it helps, click here for other blogs in this series.



[1] Malphurs, Aubrey, Leading Leaders: Empowering Church Boards for Ministry Excellence, A New Paradigm for Board LeadershipBaker, 2005. Emphasis added to the quote.






 [WB1]I expanded my commentary to offer more specific advice, which does match the nonprofit ministry norm.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Should “Independent” Members Be the Majority on Your Church Board?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D

Some church boards are family affairs – maybe dad is the lead pastor, brother the executive pastor, mom the chief financial officer, eldest child the youth director, and so on – with family members making up the majority of the church board. Other church boards are staff-driven, with a pastor leading and other paid staff occupying a majority of seats on the board. Neither of these scenarios represents an independent board.

At first impression, such an arrangement might seem simple, easy, and even natural. But looking more deeply, who sets the senior pastor’s salary—family members? employees? How does a board with that composition avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of partiality in being self-serving? Also, if the pastor should go haywire, or if a rogue financial practice should develop, are family members going to risk making a stink that leave them uninvited for Thanksgiving? Are employees really going to risk losing their jobs by calling their boss’s hand?

Bottom line: will the potential blind spots built into the board’s makeup undermine the trust of those it seeks to represent and serve?

Boards primarily comprised of family members and/or staff are not considered “independent.” By contrast, an independent board is one in which the majority are not paid by the church nor are they a relative/spouse of other board members. This is such an important integrity issue that it is one of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship®.  The statement begins, "Every organization shall be governed by a responsible board of not less than five individuals, a majority of whom shall be independent...."[1]


More Ways Independent Boards Are Different 

What insight does research add to these questions? Beyond the just-made argument for integrity, do independent boards differ in actual practice from boards that are predominantly family and/or paid staff? Yes. ECFA’s national church board survey asked participants if their board meets the standard of being independent. We compared those who said “yes” vs. “no.” (And fortunately, only a very small percentage said, “I don’t know”!) The graphic below highlights some of the main differences we found.

Best-Practice Factor:

 Note especially that the members of independent boards gave themselves a higher rating as being effective. ECFA believes that “when a ministry encounters failure—or even worse, scandal—its difficulties can almost always be traced to a breakdown in governance.”[2] We encourage you to take the high road and structure your church board so that the majority of members are “independent” not only in terms of family and/or staff relationships—but “independent” in governance mindset.”

A formal report on this survey has not yet been released. It will be announced on this blog, and through other ECFA channels including this link for survey findings Meanwhile, please add your comments and questions to this blog. Also, click here for other blogs in this series.



[1] ECFA Standard 2 – Governance. https://www.ecfa.org/Content/Comment2
[2] ECFA Standard 2 – Governance. https://www.ecfa.org/Content/Comment2

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Does a Board’s “Care for Our Pastor” Increase with Church Size or Growth?


By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

“How does your board care for the senior pastor?” This was an open-ended question in ECFA’s recent survey of church boards. To my delight, 66% opted to reply (577 out of 878 total responses), and almost all were positive statements.

As the word cloud below shows, the word time was most cited, with a form of prayer, sabbatical, vacation, encourage, and support close behind.
Other observations:
  Common how-we-care themes were to meet for prayer and encouragement, provide adequate financial support including retirement savings, offer counseling, ensure time away, fund continuing education, and initiate occasional appreciation gifts. Specific ideas ranged from “provide babysitting for date night” to “we pray over our pastor at every meeting.”

• Numerous comments indicated that hard-working pastors need accountability not to be pushed, but to slow down or be better paced. One response: “make sure our pastor takes vacation and time off.” Another spoke of the pastor’s “accountability for self care and personal rest.”

• Many approach care as a conversation. Typical: “Ask questions about how life is going and challenges.” Another said “the pastor reports on his health and well-being.”

 Only a few indicate a specific plan, such as “every pastoral staff member … has an assigned elder board member” or “We have a pastoral care plan, which includes … planned marriage retreats, and planned time at home but away from monthly responsibilities to focus on long term goals.”

Looking Specifically at “Soul Care” for the Pastor
We also asked church boards specifically about “soul care.” Our survey statement was, “Our board chair (or a designated board member) regularly encourages our pastor to address ‘soul care’ topics in his or her life.” Responders were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed.

To clarify, the survey offered this definition: “In today’s culture, boards are increasingly recognizing the responsibility to attend to the senior pastor’s spiritual and emotional health – also known as ‘soul care.’ (This might include encouragement and accountability from the board that the senior pastor has regular times in the Word, prayer, reflection, taking a weekly day off, taking a full and uninterrupted vacation time each year, and following sound practices for personal accountability.)” 

The table below analyzes the responses.

A formal report on this survey has not been released. It will be announced on this blog, and at other ECFA channels including this link for survey findings. Meanwhile, please add your comments and questions to this blog. Also, see here for other blogs in this series.