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.
[2] ECFA Standard 2 – Governance.

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.

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

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:

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