Is your church or ministry structured as a collection of silos? When I was in high school I worked at a great little church camp in Ohio. Like most camps it was organized by different departments. There were the camp counselors and then there was the non-counseling staff. The non-counseling staff was further broken down in their respective areas: day camp, maintenance, kitchen, lifeguards, etc. My first year I was on the day camp staff. My second summer, I “moved up” to lifeguard staff. The at the time, the lifeguard job was considered by many on staff to be the equivalent of a promotion because it was by far the cooler job, probably because the lifeguards were definitely cool (at least we thought we were). Despite this “promotion” there was still a lot of competition between the departments over which one was the best, which one worked the hardest, which was the most competent, etc. You name it and we turned it into a competition. Despite the rivalry (and frequent pranks), the truth was that we weren’t on different teams. We were all on the same camp staff. We all needed each other.
Of course that rivalry seems juvenile because it was. It was a lot of fun, but juvenile. But a lot of churches have fallen back into this behavior. Staff members are hired to their respective ministries because they care about that ministry, they are passionate about that ministry. They excel as advocates for that ministry, but often they wind up building silos instead of churches.
What is a church silo?
Good news, everyone! It is time to get rid of your church silos. The bad news is that it is going to be hard, and probably hurt, and possibly be the best thing to happen to your church in a long time. So what is a church silo? A church silo is just a compartmentalized church. A church where each department acts with the interests of that department before the interests of the church as a whole. The problem is that most pastors don’t realize they are in a silo. But you might be ministering in a silo if any of the following things are true:
- You’re constantly busy all the time.
- You frequently run into scheduling conflicts with other ministries in the church.
- When asked what your church’s primary gifts are, you would reply that they excel at everything.
- You are unaware of what other church departments are currently working on or their next big event.
So why are silos bad?
- For starters, they make you busier. Time is always a valuable and rare resource in ministry and when you are working in isolation from the rest of the church then you’re not taking advantage of the team that God placed you with. You’re a wide receiver without a quarterback, an outfielder without a shortstop, a hand without an arm. If you are trying to play every position, you’re just going to run out of time.
- Church silos are also bad because they hide the true goal of the church. Your goal is to minister to your local community. Your ministry is just one part of that, not the whole thing. A former firefighter buddy of mine gave this illustration: his fire chief lined up all of the new recruits and assigned responsibilities to each one. The first guy he put in church of making sure the fire truck was gassed, equipped, and ready to go in an emergency. The second guy was in charge of personal equipment, making sure everything is filled, charged, cleaned, and put away, ready to go in an instant. On down the line he went. When he was done, he started over and asked everyone what their job was. The first guy said he was in charge of the fire trucks, the second guy said he took care of the equipment, etc. Then the fire chief told them they were all completely wrong. Their job was to put out fires. Everyone was a firefighter. Sure they each had responsibilities, but if they forgot what their main job was they were all in big trouble. The church exists to put out fires. Don’t forget it.
- Church silos eliminate the possibility of ministry team work. Structuring your leadership and your ministries in silos prevents the kind of teamwork that accomplishes great things for the kingdom. If you don’t have regular communication, regular teamwork, or interaction with each department, you’re going to be a lousy team player. Silos keep you away from the people who need you the most, and the ones who you need.
What Does A Flat Church Look Like?
A flat church means an open and communicative relationship between each ministry. Honestly a flat church looks like a great marriage or a great team. My marriage is healthiest and happiest when we communicate freely. I need to know my wife’s struggles, especially when I am the source of those struggles. I also need to know my wife’s victories. I need to celebrate them and enjoy them because they aren’t just victories for her, they are victories for our family! If I don’t know what her victories are, or if I’m oblivious to all of the hard work that went into them, then I’m isolating my wife.
A flat church has an open table. Ministry leaders aren’t competing for resources, they are strategizing on how to work together to create the biggest impact possible. They are each aware of the church’s strengths and weaknesses. They are aware of each department’s struggles, and they are aware and grateful for each ministry’s victories. It looks like a church where the different departments are aware of what is going on and how to integrate into a cohesive strategy.
Your communication person/department is vital to this. A flat church has an open table, but one of those seats at the table needs to be your communications person. They are the signal caller, the keeper of the calendar, and the constructive feedback all rolled up into one. And your communication person needs to be a strategist. Some of the responsibility of keeping things level needs to fall on them. If the communications pastor or leader has a seat at the table and silos are still happening, then you might need to look for a change.
Ultimately we are all responsibility for our own ministry, but we are also responsible for how that ministry integrates into the church. Make sure you aren’t living in a silo even if that table isn’t open. Look for ways to integrate your ministry into others even if your church’s communications strategy is to automatically post sermons to Facebook. Find a great team and your church can do big things!