This topic will cause some discomfort for many of you. The very thought of the presence of power groups seems contrary to the spirit and grace of the gospel. But power groups are very real in churches.
Perhaps our comfort level can increase a bit by calling the groups “influencers” rather than power groups. Choose your label. The fact of the matter is that most churches have a clearly known group that carries the most influence in the church. And it is not unusual for that group to have a clearly known leader.
It is common to assume that power groups are inherently bad. That is not necessarily the case. Some of them can be a part of the formal structure of the church; church polity requires them. But even some informal groups can be healthy for the church. Don’t assume a power group per se is negative. Here are eight types of groups. While a church may have more than one kind of group, only one of the groups will be the dominant power in the church.
- Family owned and operated. Thousands of churches are dominated by a family and its extensions. I once served in a church where half of the deacons had the same last name. It is not unusual that the church was founded by a member of the family. And the family tends to stick together when they want things to go their way.
- Work-around warriors. This group forms when there is a power or ministry void. Its formation is typically an indication of lack of confidence in the current leadership. They align themselves to get a job done they feel is not taking place otherwise. But the group rarely disbands after the perceived need or task is accomplished. They become an ongoing power group.
- Benevolent dictators. These individuals or groups garner their power in the church from a variety of possibilities. But they really don’t want the power for themselves. Their desire is to use their influence for the good of the church as they can best discern.
- Formal alliances. Often the power group in the church is the group who has formal authority in the church. They may be elders, members of the finance committee, deacons, or some other body of authority in the church.
- Money managers. Because they have a position related to money in the church, this group sometimes uses their financial power to gain greater power in the church. The group may be called a finance committee, a stewardship committee, or a budget committee. But their authority to call the financial shots can result in significant other sources of power in the church.
- Past-is-present protectors. The goal of this group is clear: fiercely defend the status quo. The group typically has a clear leader and numbers of eager followers. I recently heard one pastor talk about the problems he encountered when he changed the time of the worship service from 10:55 to 11:00. This group’s motto is “don’t mess with the way we’ve always done it.”
- Ministry militia. This power group is known for its fierce devotion to a particular ministry in the church. Anything done to diminish the value of that ministry or to bring change that will impact that ministry will be met with stiff opposition.
- Network systems. There are one or more people in the church that have uncanny networking skills. They intentionally connect to many people in the church. So when the leadership of the church wants to make a change, this group is critical for success because they are connected to so many other members.
What types of power groups would you add? What groups have you experienced in your church?
On Monday, I’ll address the issue of dealing with power groups.