Future Church – More Scalable

Church v.2020 – Ten Changes:
#9 More Scalable– Less Fixed Costs

When compared with the American church of 2012, the future church (v.2020) will be intentionally and strategically more scalable as it progresses toward fewer and fewer fixed costs.  This change in philosophy will be evidenced in many ways, including:

  • A willingness to evaluate the annual operating budget, especially human resources, in light of mission and vision.  In 2012, many congregations spend in excess of 50% of the budget on human resources related expenses.  Among the most likely ways to reduce this percentage are
    • Employing fewer seminary educated clergy, especially in denominations that expect such for ordination and require or recommend minimum salaries and benefits.
      • For smaller parishes that have typically paid for a full-time solo pastor this will result in sharing a pastor with another congregation or ministry (or with several other entities) or relying on a trained lay pastor (with the type of training varying widely depending on faith tradition and congregational size).
      • For larger parishes that have employed two, three or more clergy a move toward a new staffing structure that considers all positions apart from “Lead” or “Senior” pastor open to both lay and clergy applicants.
    • Employing more part-time and specialized staff.  Flexible part-time positions allow for growth and contraction in both hours and positions that is coordinated with the overall shifts in each employee’s area of responsibility.  This model also promotes a hire from within mentality that reinforces a more egalitarian community (more on the shift toward a more egalitarian community will be discussed in the #2 change needed for the church of the future).
    • Recruiting, training, and recognizing increasing numbers of volunteers to do most of the mission and ministry of the congregation.  Paid employees leverage their passions and abilities to empower others to use their gifts. Specialized training is made available within the local church, and funding is provided for external training in areas that extend beyond the in house expertise.
  • A less is more approach to real estate that decreases the total amount of money spent to purchase, build, renovate and operate the buildings and grounds contained within the church’s physical campus.  This category is the second largest in many congregations’ annual budget and the primary expense associated with capital fund budgets in nearly all congregations.  Some of the most common ways this budget reduction will be realized include:
    • A move away from single-use space, especially those that are only used for a few hours a week.  Every space, including the space used for worship, will be put to use for as many hours as reasonably possible.  To achieve this goal some congregations will invite the community in as guests and/or tenants.
    • A move away from the idea that owning is always better than renting.  While many congregations begin in leased space and later move into buildings they purchase, the new mentality will question the necessity of real estate ownership.  When purchasing proves to be wise stewardship, the question will be how little is needed to achieve the desired outcomes rather than how much is needed for future growth and expansion.  Some congregations will mix and match by owning one part of their physical space while leasing another.
    • A move toward decentralization, particularly as such is enabled by technology (more on the shift toward being less geographically dependent as a result of technology will be discussed in the #4 change needed for the church of the future).  This is not a move to online churches or internet campuses in place of physical gatherings, but rather a new approach that blends the best of both worlds (physical and virtual).

So What?

In recent years the issues relating to scalability have become more prominent primarily for two reasons: a prolonged recession and an even longer trend toward numeric decline in membership (stretching decades in the mainline).  Rather than being proactive most congregations are dealing with these issues in a reactive manner as dwindling resources make doing things the way they were always done impossible.  As we move toward the future church (v.2020) I expect an even greater number of churches to visit this topic because of hardship.  However, I also believe more churches of all ages (years since founding) and sizes will do so proactively.

  • Is scalability a part of your congregational DNA or are most of the human resources and building costs viewed as fixed expenses that cannot or should not be dramatically changed from year to year (especially decreased)?  [note: Many congregations that view these as mostly fixed choose to cut already small ministry and mission budgets in challenging budget cycles.]
  • If strategically revisiting your congregation’s budget and moving toward a budget that was more closely aligned with your mission and vision was achieved in the short term and fully implemented in the longer term, what would you see as the most significant outcomes?
  • How effectively does your congregation leverage its physical plant? More specifically, during a typical week how many hours are each of the following types of spaces used: worship, education, fellowship, and office?


  1. […] A move away from being guided primarily by strategy and budgetary allocations to being open to the leading of the Spirit.  This shift does not do away with the need for good planning, but requires that such planning be done with built in flexibility.  Additionally, this challenging transition is aided by a more scalable approach to mission and ministry (scalability was discussed at length as the #9 change for the church of the future). […]

Speak Your Mind